Hello to C&L readers. This is the first piece of many I hope to bring to you. This was written just before the 2014 election, and pertains perfectly. As I'll point out later, it looks like the Democrats did it to themselves. Or rather, the bipartisan corporate consensus held off almost all progressive challenges and forced several progressive incumbent losses — your call on the formulation. (For audio fans, I'll be discussing this idea with Sam Seder on Ring of Fire radio. Tune in if you can.)
A version of this essay first appeared at Down With Tyranny.
As documented frequently by Howie Klein and others, Steve Israel, the DCCC, and to a lesser extent the DSCC, have been disasters for the Democratic Party, if "success" means "taking or keeping control of Congress" and "disaster" means "failing to try to do that." These Democratic train wrecks have been well document on these pages-- for example, here and here. But click any link tagged "Steve Israel" or "DSCC" to get the gist.
You also know that corporate-aligned Democrats, including most party leaders and many who work with them, are more than eager to excoriate any progressives who dare to consider forcing neoliberal Dems out of office, especially if hurting neoliberals also hurts party chances in elections. Attacking the party from the left and attacking neoliberal rule of the party are cardinal sins, almost hanging offenses. The venom goes very deep.
The magic phrase, the one you hear the most, is "Ralph Nadar!" but excoriation comes in other flavors. Like: "Do you really want Romney to be president?!" Or: "The one thing that would make me vote for Hillary Clinton ... Jeb Bush!" Or these days: "OMG, it will be your fault if we lose the Senate!" Always with the exclamation point. Always with the scorn, the flecks of virtual spittle, the virtual hair on fire.
The main idea — if there's one bridge too far, it's risking the party to gain an intra-party advantage. It's intolerable, according to party leaders, to use Tea Party tactics against corporate Democrats. Which leads to the question in the title: Are Democratic Party leaders already "Tea Partying" progressives?
An Exercise In Taxonomy
Consider this an exercise in taxonomy, in naming and classifying things. In other words, is one thing like another? Not: Is this thing good or bad? Just: Are these two things alike?
1. We know what it means to "Tea Party" Republicans, what the term means. It means that one party faction, in this case Koch-funded "Tea Party" candidates, mounts a campaign to remove its party rivals from power ... even at the cost of party success as measured by winning elections and controlling institutions like Congress.
The italicized part of the definition is important — in some circles this extreme tactic is a form of treachery, or at least bad manners. It's widely thought, for example, that in 2006 AFP-led and -financed Tea Party candidates were created to take out or block non–Tea Party-funded candidates, even if they cost the party its chance to control the Senate.
There are many examples of this in recent Republican politics. It's almost common wisdom that the Koch-led billionaire caucus is taking over the Republican Party (some call it a "merger and acquisition"), and one of its tools is, "We we are willing to cost the party elections — even whole houses of Congress — to expand our control of the party itself." (Some Democrats are comforted by these gifts, but they shouldn't be. When Koch control is secure, it's full steam ahead for the newly-dominated "Republican" Party. I predict by 2015 the Kochs will be firmly in charge, fully ready to roll.)
So that's point 1, the meaning of the phrase to "Tea Party" your rivals. It means hurting the party to defeat your enemies within it.
2. Progressives, or those among them who hate the corporatists, sometimes talk about "Tea Partying" the neoliberals who dominate Democratic Party policies. Alan Grayson, for example, explains at 2:15 in the video how the Tea Party disciplines Republicans who "get out of line," and how Democrats should do the same. But whenever progressives — in or out of the party, in or out of office — talk about how we should "punishing" Democrats, the counter-argument always becomes — Yes, but at what price? At the cost of losing elections? At the cost of losing the House? The Senate?
3. For progressives who are strongly aligned with the Democratic Party, risking party wins is a bridge too far. For some, again, it feels like treachery; for others, bad tactics, or at least, bad manners. On the other hand, progressives who are less aligned to the party — I, for example, have never been a Democrat — would consider a more "take no prisoners" approach, but this group is apparently smaller. As a result, progressives take it on the chin for the party as a whole, mostly all the time. When the party wins and progressives win, fine. When the party wins and progressives lose, too bad for progressives.
4. At the same time, despite the fact that Democrats are often good on what I call "identity" and "rights" issues — for example, abortion rights, LGBT issues, immigration reform, marijuana and incarceration reform — majorities of both parties seem to send the nation to war with eagerness; send money to the one-percent in "wheelbarrows" (as Stephanie Kelton phrased it); give blank checks to Pentagon, FBI and CIA spies and torturers; and adhere to the expanded Nixon doctrine — "If the president, or any of his lieutenants, bundlers, or wealthy friends, do it, it's not illegal."
So what's a real progressive to do? Seriously, what does one do in these circumstances, with these constraints, the main one being, it's "wrong," according to Dem leaders, to Tea Party other Democrats?
Are Democratic Leaders Already "Tea Partying" The Progressives?
Which leads to point 5 in this examination, which is also where we started in the first couple of paragraphs:
5. Is it possible this "Tea Party" tactic — defeating party rivals at the cost of party success — is already being used against progressives by Democratic Party leadership? In other words, does the DCCC's clear surrender of the House, and the risks to control of the Senate that Harry Reid and the DSCC are taking — all to prevent progressives from increasing their minimal power — amount to "Tea Partying" progressives? It seems so to me. As Howie Klein wrote recently about the DCCC surrender of the House:
Continued, unchallenged [Republican] control of the House became a foregone conclusion the day Nancy Pelosi reappointed a failed, incompetent, corrupt and vision-free Steve Israel to run the DCCC for another cycle. Its numerically impossible for the Democrats to win back the House under Israel guide lines of ignoring Republicans who were members of his Center Aisle Caucus and his decision to give free passes to all GOP Leaders and committee chairmen, even vulnerable ones from Obama districts like the contemptible Fred Upton (chairman, Energy and Commerce Committee) and John Kline (chairman, Education and Workforce Committee).
No, the Democrats have no shot whatsoever at winning back the House and if Steve Israel chairs the DCCC for a hundred years, Boehner and Boehner the II and III and IV will be Speaker for a hundred years. Thank you, Nancy Pelosi. For The DCCC it's become an attempt to re-shape the Democratic House caucus into a more New Dem and Blue Dog tool-- less progressive and more under the thumb of the corporatist Republican wing of the Democratic Party. Most of Steve Israel's recruits are conservatives, maybe not as bad as his prized Sarah Palin of Ohio, but far more conservative than the average Democratic members currently-- despite the walloping House conservadems were given by the Democratic base in 2010's Great Blue Dog Apocalypse. ...
My question isn't, Is this thing good or bad, what House Dem leaders are doing? My question is, Is this parallel correct? It's an intellectual exercise, no matter which side of the tactical fence you fall on. Is this thing like that thing, or not?
Is It Fair To "Tea Party" Those Who Are Tea Partying You?
Now for two follow-up questions. Is turn-about fair play? Is turn-about smart play?
This is a multi-sided issue with answers both ways. If you think (a) Democrats are a much lesser evil than Republicans, then continue to support corporate and neoliberal Democrats, where necessary, with my blessing (but frankly, not my thanks). If you think (b) both parties are playing a take-no-prisoners game against the everyone else — populists in the electorate, such as yourself and your friends; and Tea Party voters in the electorate, those not paid by Americans For Prosperity — then you might consider stronger action. In other words, if you think the game is a Left vs. Right conflict, you probably want to vote Left. But if you think the game is Rich vs. the Rest, you probably want to defeat the Rich, everywhere.
And if you're in that second group and noticed that Steve Israel, the rest of his ilk, and the DSCC, are willing to surrender the House and the Senate to keep you out of power, would it really be ... a bridge too far, a hanging offense, bad manners ... to consider returning the favor? It would certainly mean accepting the rules of the game as the other side plays it, and it could mean a better chance of real progressive victories.
Your call on that. I just wanted you to notice the game as it's played against you, and to name it for what it is. It's called "Tea Partying the progressives" — losing elections to keep you at bay.
Which suggests an interesting thought. If a truly hard-core progressive — an Elizabeth Warren or Zephyr Teachout, say — were the party's strongest presidential candidate, would corporate Democrats choose a lesser candidate anyway, one with a greater chance of losing, just to keep the White House in the hands of someone's One-Percent candidate? Again, your call, but we may see that tested fairly soon.
P.S. I've often fantasized about the formation of an "Open Rebellion Caucus" among progressive office-holders in both houses of Congress — a group that says No and openly defies corporate Democratic leadership. I believe I've seen one forming in the House already. Next time I'll give an example of a golden opportunity to form an Open Rebellion Caucus in the Senate, an opportunity that was not taken. Stay tuned.