There Is No Plan

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The American Left Needs Discipline!

with 3 comments

populism is my middle name
Populism is my middle name.

Sometimes being smart can really let you down.

I reside on the American Left. It’s a great place to be, when it comes to the cut and thrust of conversation on Twitter, or Daily Kos, or the numerous Progressive blogs and publications that I inhabit.

But when it comes to power, living on the left truly sucks.

We just don’t have any power in this country. People can hardly spell Kucinich, and Bernie Sanders is regarded as a kook from a kooky state. As for Ralph Nader, he just gets blamed for eight years of Bush. Sure there are some fabulously progressive men and women in Congress, particularly in the House. But for the most part we on the left are in the wilderness, and have been pretty much since Roosevelt.

And yet here we are with our country at a watershed moment in its short history. Will the nation rise again, or is this the beginning of the decline? Will rampant unemployment, the great lie of real estate riches, Wall Street turning bailouts into bonuses, two wars going badly, and health care in intensive care bury this great experiment? Or will we finally corral all that’s best about this nation into a vibrant, brilliant, innovative, energetic social contract that finally puts some punch into the “pursuit of happiness”.

Sounds like a job for the Social Democrats among us. Sounds like our message should be resonating with the downtrodden. We should be in charge. But we’re not. I mean, we’re talking sense. We know what’s wrong with this country. People should listen. The echo chamber replies.

So what’s the problem here?

Well, there’s a bucket-load. Enough to fill a big box store full of cheap Chinese crap. And those problems fall into two broad categories. “Them” problems, and “Us” problems.

Let’s start with “them”. You know, the corporations, the sclerotic, risk-nothing Congress, the salacious, saturated, ratings-hungry mainstream media. Not forgetting the Roberts’ Supreme Court, K-Street lobbyists, and the “Teabaggers” too. Oh, and let’s hear it for Rush, Beck, O’Reilly and all the other petty tyrants who pepper our airwaves.

Wow. And we wonder why we’re getting spanked by the centrists in our own party and the GOP. What chance do we have against a veritable perfect storm like that list? I mean how are we going to make the media actually do stories, or get the lobbyists to look for new lines of work, or get Congress off their be-hinds to actually take some chances?

The answer is to look more closely at that wall. There’s a tiny hairline crack in it.

It’s called the people.

Which brings the discussion neatly to the “Us” problem. There’s only one.

We need to get through to the people and we’re not talking their language.

But wait? We do an awful lot of talking. Tons of it. On Twitter, and Facebook, and the blogs. Sometimes we even make it into the New York Times.  But the problem is this. We only ever talk to or at each other.  When we’re not viciously pummelling each other on some tiny point of principle, or parading our political correctness at the expense of good sense, all we on the left do is complain about how hypocritical “they” are. We decry the media, ridicule the Teabaggers and GOP, we fume at John Roberts, and Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner, and Joe Lieberman, and Max Baucus, and yes, even occasionally, his holiness, the President.

What we don’t do is get our message to the people. You know, the poorly-educated, lead-em-by-the nose, don’t-know-their-own-interests, people who actually live in America. Without reaching the mass, the incremental centrists currently in charge of the show are the best we’re going to do. And judging by the mountain of problems this nation is facing, it’s not going to be enough.

There’s a word for what the left needs.


we can do way better taglines too

we can do way better taglines too

And right now, there’s only one outfit that’s whipping up the mob. You’ve guessed it. “Them”.

The Democratic Party is simply too nice these days to get its hands dirty, so the right gladly fills the vacuum. And they do a really good job. Their propaganda is first class; persuasive, simplistic, brutal, visceral, and reptilian. The right is supposed to be in headlong retreat, but you’d never know it. In some ways their propaganda machine has never been in better shape.

And the funny thing is, they’ve got a grip on a population that really should hate them.  The right feeds the people an anachronistic American mythology with one hand, while outsourcing their jobs with the other.  They whip up a hatred for Wall Street while simultaneously kissing its collective ass. It’s really very impressive.

And what do we do?  We castigate Fox News Channel for being Fox, and long for more impartiality (whatever that is), when what we should really be doing is getting our own damn Fox. We could call it the Bloodhound Network. Bloodhounds eat foxes for breakfast.

And when they take all the headlines, with their outrage and sloganeering, do we learn from them?  No.  Do we take notes?  Not a chance.  Instead, we throw up our hands in horror and do the whole shocked, shocked thing thirty tweets per head per day. Useless and weak.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. The left can find its populist voice. and tap into the long-dormant left-wing strain of American Populism that was once a big part of this country’s political landscape. Granted, it’s going to be very hard for a bunch of life coaches and organic farmers on Twitter to make much headway in the heartland, but it turns out we’ve got just the guy to do it, if only we could get him the right advice.

The President is our conduit.

more of this...

more of this...

A photogenic, rhetorically gifted, intelligent President sits in the White House meeting his cautious wonks when he should be out there pressing the flesh and, frankly, converting people. He’s a five-tool player bunting for a base-hit. His ratings are going down. The nice guy start didn’t fly. He needs to shed his wonky, technocratic image roll up those shirtsleeves, and climb into the bully pulpit. Get loud. Get street. Get funny. Cut the other side down. Consign bi-partisanship to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

The writing  is on the wall. A recent Pew Poll suggested that the right are far more energized than the left. One year ago we were so motivated, some of us were still staring at the polls as the dawn rose on a work day. Now, we’re feeling disappointed. We, the left, the base, have been left behind by the compulsive compromises of a President who doesn’t seem to realize that politics is not about being Mr. Nice Guy. And that’s not good for business, especially with the mid-terms starting to look like they might be more than a little unpleasant.

The President needs to be a son of a bitch. He needs to make decisions and make them fast. Less soaring speeches. More short, punchy speeches with short, punchy words. Less playing bartender in the Oval Office, more arm-twisting centrist Senators.  Time to ax Lieberman, time to support primary challenges. Time to make some serious threats, and use us, the base, to back them up. Time to remember that the kookie left were the peeps who pushed him over the top. Time to be seen as strong. Not thoughtful, not careful, not deliberate. Strong with a capital S. The guy earned his political stripes in Chicago. It’s time he started acting like it. In short, he needs to start leading by example.

It might help if Rahm Emmanuel, the toothless pit bull, got some canines and helped the White House straighten out its message. It needs to choose its friends.  But more importantly it badly needs some enemies.

Public Enemy number one is Wall Street. The White House needs to tell America plainly that the Right is running a con-job on them, and start leveraging that enemy for our political gain. Go after Wall Street with a vengeance and the Teabagger meme might just fade away as fast as it astroturfed its way into our consciousness.

Enemy number two are the big corporations (close cousins of Wall Street), busy outsourcing Indiana and Michigan to China. You want a heartland voter?  Blame the Chinese.  They fix their currency.  And then fix us but good.  But not on our watch, say we.  Free trade is cool, as long as Beijing plays by the rules. Make them.

Enemy number three. Special Interests. Time to put the lobbyists – of all stripes – out of business. Time to take money out of politics and make it whole again. Tell the mob that they can pick the craziest, nuttiest loon they can find and let him have a fair shake at power even without cash and they might just buy the idea.

And one more thing.

Take back the talking points of the right. The family, God, liberty. Maybe even guns.  I checked with the USPTO and turns out the right don’t have a patent on any of them. They’re fair game.

I can hear the sighs as I write this. This guy’s dreaming. That’s not going to happen.

Damn straight it won’t. Not without us. The base. The kooky, Commie left that can see the writing on the wall.

We are the opinion formers, we are the influencers, we are the technologists, we are the writers, journalists, intellectuals. We are the scientists, the doctors, heck, sometimes even the trial lawyers. We have more power than we think. We go to the right dinner parties. We are most of the media. We comment on the right blogs. We’re organized. Most of us are on Twitter, for the love of Pete (as is @barackobama ). We just need a simpler, more ideologically-driven message to make that matter. We need to look beyond “them” and master the weaknesses that bedevil “us”.

So let’s move on from “Move-On” and start to make our debate count with a new passion. Let’s agree on some simple solutions that fit neatly into 140 characters. And then after we’ve got a our manifesto, let’s feed those tweets and status updates up the chain and make sure they’re seen and heard by the President himself via Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the virtual cocktail party that is the social internet. Not just once. Not just every month. But all the time, and with every fiber of our being. If POTUS gets five million @barackobama and @whitehouse tweets a day from us, with nice simple 140 character nuggets – it’s probably the only way we’re going to get the dude fired up, and put a little unconventional into the CW that his phalanx of pedestrian advisors keep doling out.

Together the Democratic Party in the White House, and we on the left can make sweet music. Together we can learn the art of propaganda and put it to good use – in a good cause. Together we can create focus, find enemies, and hold to a lexicon that’s simple and direct.  And together we can focus on a simple historical fact; that the mob is always angry, hungry and easily influenced.

Turning 20% of them into our footsoldiers might just be easier than people think.

We just need to get a little discipline.


Written by coolrebel

November 12, 2009 at 2:58 am

Posted in Washington

3 Responses

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  1. The only issue I take with this is the assumption that we have the base or any semblance of unified progressive thinking in the Democratic party. Democrats in office today are people who are not Republicans. In many cases, those Democrats call themselves Democrats because Republicans are not popular in their districts.

    A couple of months ago, North Dakota's Democratic caucus called Kent Conrad out on the carpet, reminding him that their party platform included universal single payer health insurance, and he was elected because they backed him and funded his campaign. It was a remarkable letter.

    It hasn't made a discernable difference that I can see, but of course, we're putting the rubber to the road now, so perhaps it will.

    I completely agree with you about party discipline, message discipline, etc. (though I wouldn't go as far as to support censure of candidates who deviate, a la South Carolina GOP) I firmly believe that we need to primary each and every elected representative who opposes health care reform.

    While we're at it, let's start working on the narrative. The left spends far too much time blustering over right wing idiocy instead of taking hold of the narrative and advancing it. If the press won't do it, we'll have to get out there and talk to folks one on one, till it starts to take hold.


    November 12, 2009 at 11:11 am

  2. ancient history, edward. on this i agree with da prez. look forward not back.


    November 12, 2009 at 4:29 am

  3. Nader deserves all the blame he gets. He knew he couldn't win, so he should have told his supporters to vote Democratic on election night in 2000. Those voters would have precluded Republican stealing of the election. So he is directly responsible for the ruinous eight years of Bush, and he and his supporters can deny it, but other progressives will continue to despise him because of it.

    Edward Virtually

    November 12, 2009 at 3:32 am

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