I read your new book Crashing the Gates over the weekend and I will be recommending it highly to my 230 friends. As someone who's been barking semi-successfully about a lot of this stuff here and there for a while, it's great to see both a solid indictment of encrusted Party poopers PLUS how we're less than the sum of our parts PLUS some decent strategies for reforming the whole mess.
But let me suggest that GREATER STRATEGIC CLARITY about 2006, 2008 and beyond is needed from the Kos-o-sphere VERY SOON because folks are all over the map right now with too many top-level strategic goals. What follows in this post is first, a definition of the various calls to action, and then my recommendations about how to move forward with a few. Feel free to use, or lose, or abuse.
PROGRESSIVE BABEL IN BRIEF
Leaving aside the usual spate of single issue progressive appeals, last week I got about 20 different passionate emails from smart people and columnists calling for one or more of the following PRIORITIES:
(1) giving up on the national Democrats as useless weenies
(2) creating a national Democratic message so that we are "for" something clear
(3) an immediate major campaign to impeach Bush
(4) taking back the House
(5) taking back the Senate
(6) dumping Hillary in 2008
(7) pumping Mark Warner or other folks in 2008 as a new Internet-fueled Howard Dean
(8) doing something serious about Diebold and voting machine fraud
(9) doing something about public financing of campaigns since "lobbying reform" is so much insider b.s.
(10 something else I can't remember there were so many
Such is the downside of distributed democracy - everyone has a passionate opinion about what needs to happen.
But your opinions matter a lot guys, and finding the right mix between "elite" strategist opinion and the Netroots borg is maybe not so dumb as an interim strategy between now and the time that the Netroots actually does take over AND revitalize the Democratic brand?
Putting on my former Democratic party strategist hat (and I'll stack my Party hack credentials AND my track record up against anyone's), here's my honest advice about how the tribe can IMMEDIATELY can stop flailing around strategically and lock down on a few clear GOALS and hopefully the resources, strategy and work will follow. But my voice ain't yours - so I urge you to adapt, improve but PLEASE take this on.
Censure and Impeachment's Gotta Wait.
Remember that great 1970s show Kung Fu with David Carradine: well, close your eyes and hear the master's advice to us on impeaching Bush: "do not let your hate of Bush get in the way of smart strategy, grasshopper."
Seriously all hard-core Bush-haters need to take a deep breath and recognize that this idea is realistically a NON-STARTER without actual subpoena power or control of one House of Congress and the relevant committees. So is censure, although all props to Russ Feingold for being more creative than the rest of the Senate class, as usual.
Even if we did agree that impeachment could happen with the wave of a wand to bring around Bill Frist, do you think we'd do better or worse in 2008 if Bush was gone and someone like McCain was in there as the new incumbent? (And I say this as someone who called for Clinton to resign in the summer of 1998 so we could get Al Gore in there and lock down 2000).
So do not pass go here spending your time on impeachment - go directly to Take Back the House/Senate.
Take Back The Congress -- and Get Subpoena Power.
This is a HUGE job. This will be harder than 1994. Getting this done will require holding our noses and supporting lots of Democratic weenies we should plan on tossing outside the gates in the future (example: it seems questionable to challenge California's Jane Harmon now as some are suggesting -- I don't see this as any smarter than voting for Nader in 2000, and hey, before you label me in some fashion know I voted for Nader in 1996 as a protest vote over Clinton's telecomm, welfare and campaign finance failings).
That said, while we need to help Rahm Emanuel and crew, as I have posted before, I shutter at the thought of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats doing a big photo op and a Democratic Contract with America. I am with the folks who suggest we give up on the national Democratic Party as a source for coherent national message anytime soon (yes, we should still hope for the best) and instead focus intelligently on helping our best candidates speak clearly in their own voice.
Trust me, there is no such thing as an organized Democratic national voice unless we have the Presidency -- or for the six months we have a nominee which will happen in June or so of 2008. The rest of the time we have a bunch of Senators and Governors who go their own way when they need to without any fear of a challenge - another argument for Party discipline and parliamentary democracy we can do another time.
So can the folks stick their heads down and work for the key Congressional Senate or House race in their district and not litmus test less than perfect candidates into oblivion? Can they do it while they watch National Democrats annoy us all on a regular basis with weenie-ness, wonky-ness and more "better together"? It takes a level of discipline we don't have as a "movement" yet but it's easy to develop. Netizens, MoveOners and others must wear blinders like the best thoroughbred race horses, run their race, work hard and stay in their lanes.
And if working for lame Congressional Democrats isn't everyone's thing (and trust me, it won't be!!), I'd urge you to offer up a few 2006 "work options" instead so that everyone is rowing in the right long-term direction. Here are two that come to mind: (1) doing something serious about Diebold and voting machine fraud; (2) doing something about public financing of campaigns since "lobbying reform" is so much insider b.s.?
2008 and Beyond: The Era of Post-Party Politics and "Reach Issues" Must Begin
While I think it is mission critical to take back the Congress to get subpoena power and restore some political balance, the argument you make in your book that we should essentially focus solely on getting inside the gates of the Democratic Party is reason for a SECOND BOOK.
Because we need to do more than that to advance progressive values, issues, frames or whatever you want to call them.
Look at this way. While an alum of the 1992 Democratic success, I've been saying for a decade that there "isn't anyone home" in the castle when I meet confused and frustrated Democrats looking for leadership or infrastructure from the "Party". No Kings, no queens, no rice or beans even in the cupboard. My advice has been forget instant answers and get busy with the "do-it-yourself" politics you all have taken (thankfully) to new heights.
And while I hope and trust over time that new leaders like yourself will change that reality about the Party, we must also be mindful of other necessary jujitsu strategies that will change the Party and the behavior of candidates.
So besides "inside the gate" strategies, we also need for you and others to focus on creating more REACH ISSUES for the 2008 field. By that I mean issues so exciting that politicians of all stripes fall over themselves trying to OWN the idea that they outbid each other, forcing real policy change beyond the rhetoric and the framing. The Apollo Alliance's multi-year push for energy independence, to toot my horn a bit, is a good example (my Apollo idea was adopted quite effectively, along with many others, by the authors of the thought-provoking Death of Environmentalism paper you cite in your book).
Moving forward, we need to consciously create other issues that surely cut Democratic like health care, public investment, and broadband for all -- but un-harness them initially from the "taint" of Party ownership until we really fix the Democratic brand and have built true candidate accountability. Because we live in a post-party era, where half of America doesn't vote and thinks both parties stink, where "not left, not right but forward" will be the message that wins right? So whether it's Mark Warner, or Oprah as an independent, or something else we can't predict, I think your next book should help define the politics of change around "reach issues". And if the Democratic brand is smart enough to embrace that, then that castle can shine on the Hill again.