Quite a few Progressives started changing strategy this year. The strategy of working for the “lesser evil” (as Kerry seemed to become after he tried to run to the right of George Bush on Iraq) seemed to be a complete loser for the Left. No matter how many hours of time we gave, we could not overcome the truth that Harry Truman (whose Senate seat Claire McCaskill and Jim Talent are running for) had spoken so long ago, “Given a choice between a fake Republican and a real Republican the American people will choose the real Republican every time”. It’s time for us to stop pretending that the “lesser evil” strategy can even get the lesser evil elected (much less influence them afterwards), when the voters will always vote for someone — anyone — with strong convictions over anyone trying to “run to the middle”.
And so many of us in all those Progressive issue-oriented groups (but why promote issues when you have nobody on your side in power to listen to you?) decided to try a different strategy: In the voting booth we would vote for the lesser evil if they are the only one with a serious chance, but every day until then, go find a Greater Good and work on their campaign. And when we didn’t hear back from Claire, that’s what many of us did. Turns out there are lots of “greater good” candidates out there whose campaigns we can work on without the slightest hesitation.
After months of doing just that myself I was frankly surprised to hear that Claire was meeting with groups of Progressives to have a dialogue. I thought she had totally written us off. So I went to her breakfast meeting on Iraq and foreign policy. Before I went, I had another look at her website to see if she had ever put anything there on any issue other than stem cell. I was amazed to see she had position papers on a whole range of issues. So I read every single one. And I was frankly amazed to see that in quite a few areas Claire seems to “get it”, she seems to realize that she seriously needed to address the issues that people feel are coming to a crisis point and she needed to stop trying to run to that nonexistent middle. (More details on her issues papers in a future blog entry… )
The world has changed in the last few decades, and the old, worn-out category of Left vs Right with some vast middle in between
no longer applies to reality (just as the idea of a vast middle class in this country is about to fade into oblivion too). And when politicians now try to “run to the middle” they are lying to themselves and to us. What they are really doing is simply running to the corporate cash and trying to say as little about any issues as possible in order to disguise the fact that they are about to sell out the voters on all sides to the highest corporate bidder.
So after looking at her website and reading her issue papers, I was surprised that Claire almost seemed to have listened to the question I had asked her months earlier, whether she could take up all those issues where she could get support from both Liberals and Conservatives, both concerned about the selling out of our country to the corporations by both Republicans and Democrats in power in Washington. (OK, so I’m being too full of myself to actually think I could have changed her direction, but maybe I gave her an extra nudge?… )
So I came to the meeting with more hope than I expected to have. Others came and saw little hope. They looked at her Kerry-cum-Bush-style position on Iraq and her unfair and unbalanced position on Israel and saw no changes, while I saw what she said about family farms versus the agricultural combines, small-business based alternative energy sources versus factory-farmed ones, saw my own concerns about guestworker programs and illegal immigration dealt with (attacking the sweatshop owners rather than the workers), and I saw much progress and the hope for even more progress in her views in the future.
To me she seems to be in transition from a lesser evil DLC Dem to a potentially greater good Progressive. Of course, her opposition is suggesting her conversion to pushing for the needs of the people rather than the greed of the corporations came only after she failed in her efforts to get all that corporate cash which instead went to Jim Talent…but I am willing to accept conversion experiences from whatever source — as long as they stick.
After the meeting broke up, I managed to catch up to Claire as she was walking to her car, and asked her my question,
Why did it take you so long to come speak to us? Back in April we could have filled up Central Reform Congregation with 600 long-term activists eager to hear you. You would not have gotten all of them, but it you had reached out to us you could have had hundreds of experienced people ready to spend the greater part of a year dialing the phones and pounding the pavements for you, and maybe bringing hundreds of their friends to help, while by waiting until now all you can get is a few more votes on election day. Why couldn’t you make time for us six or eight months ago?
And her reply was,
That was the biggest mistake our our campaign.
And she is right. She is running neck and neck and the other side has a way of mysteriously getting enough votes to win at the last moment. It is amazing that she can be this close with such a monetary disparity in contributions, especially the disparity in corporate contributions. But money itself does not win elections. It has to get translated into human labor, either paid or volunteer. With hundreds (perhaps even a couple thousand) more experienced volunteers, she could have put it away, like Jeff Smith did. All it would have taken is to have given us an evening or so of her time. And said to us some of the things she is finally saying in her position papers.
She then said,
If I don’t win, I’ve been told the big money people will write off Missouri as a hopeless cause and won’t send any more money here in the future.
She acted as if that were the biggest threat we could hear. But I didn’t hear it that way. When Claire took so long to speak to us, the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of activists found their way to other campaigns, and we now have a large number of Progressive candidates (many of them women) who are likely to win their races instead of simply being a hopeless noble cause. And they will have won without all that “Big Money”, without owing their success to “Big Business”, to the “Special Interests”. Some of them may themselves not be quite aware of it, but they will owe their success to “netroots”, the use of the Internet by activists to connect with each other and leverage their power for political change. Many of our candidates who will win on November 7 will have gotten help from those who started getting together through MoveOn.org or by meeting on Yahoo Groups such as Change for Missouri or Progressive Dems of St. Louis or Instead of War. Whether the big money comes or whether it doesn’t, there will be more and more people realizing that people who give their time are worth more than people who merely give their money.
And in five, ten, twenty years, we will have a wave of experienced legislators ready to play in the big leagues. I hope Claire can be one of them, and I hope she realized in time the need to correct the DLC Dem mistake of ignoring the base and running to the big money.