FISA failure demonstrates why we need real progressives in Congress

By Martin Bosworth

I’m still mulling over the massive Democratic capitulation that enabled King George to pass into law the most sweeping violation of Americans’ privacy yet–legalizing an illegal program, and making it stronger to boot. Why did this happen? Why did Democrats in both chambers of Congress roll over and give Mr. 28 % carte blanche to spy on Americans without any recourse? Why throw away all the political capital that could have been gained from opposing him? As I said in my previous post about the FISA collapse, it wasn’t just Democrats who helped push this ugly bill into law–many of the supporters were newly-elected netroots Democrats, who came to Congress on a platform of change and opposing Bush on his draconian usurpation of the rule of law. And the same thing happened in the House–Netroots darlings like Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, who charmed the masses with his law-and-order, straight-shootin’ background, voted to support this odious justification of lawbreaking.

It’s not the first time this has happened, either. Jon Tester, another netroots favorite, voted against this bill, but earlier in the year voted in favor of the Iraq supplemental, the first big capitulation that had progressive shaking their heads in dismay. It may not be fair to judge the records of neophyte Senators just on single votes–but if people like Claire McCaskill are going to knuckle under to the GOP on this most crucial issue, how can we trust that she can pass laws on other progressive topics, like the credit card reform law she is co-sponsoring with Carl Levin?

It’s failures like this that are causing angry, disenchanted voters to gravitate to “second-tier” candidates like Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, and yes, Ron Paul. The more the system fails us–the more we see how our victories turn to ash for no discernible reason–the more the “extreme” candidates will grasp people’s attention. And maybe that’s how it should be. Just as the first wave of progressive blogosphere-supported candidated displaced many incumbents, the next wave of even more forthrightly liberal candidates will displace this current crop.

Chris Bowers is absolutely right when he says the progressive movement has stalled. We eked out a razor-thin majority in the Senate and a stronger majority in the House, but Dems did so by propping up a lot of right-leaning “Blue Dogs” that only switched parties or shifted views due to the sheer authoritarian cultist horror that is Bush II. I hate to admit it, but Ed at Captain’s Quarters is dead right–the Democratic machine used the netroots and threw them away:

After its exposure in December 2005, the DKos community and the rest of the Left that propelled the Democrats to power insisted that the TSP was one of the leading examples of the Bush administration’s attack on freedom and liberty. The Senate promised to hold investigations into its operation and to even perhaps impeach George Bush for violating the Constitution.

And what did they do? They endorsed the TSP instead. It serves as a big, ugly admission that the Democrats never took the hard Left seriously, but pandered to them instead for political contributions and to buy a noise machine. Attendees at the YKos conference — which I do consider a marvel of organization by Markos Moulitsas and a genuine accomplishment by their community — may want to remember this when they assess their impact on actual policy.

It’s quite ironic that this surrender–and that IS what it is, a surrender–took place right as Kos and company were congratulating themselves for their victories at YearlyKos. We have to take a step back and realize just how much more we need to accomplish. Having a Democratic majority is clearly not enough. Simply electing Democrats in the hopes of building a progressive coalition isn’t enough. Hell, maybe even electing a Democratic President (as seems likely) won’t be enough.

We need to demand real strength from our elected officials, and to fight for real progressives who won’t collapse into Jell-O at the first sign of resistance from Bush or any future GOP leaders. We need to remind the Blue Dogs and “moderate” appeasers that the more they ignore the wishes of the American people, the greater the likelihood that they’ll be joining Rick Santorum on the unemployment line.

Building a coalition that can create real progressive values has merit. But that coalition has to have real progressives in it. It’s time we thought differently–rather than win for winning’s sake, let’s get stronger candidates out there who won’t sell us out just to please the worst president in American history.

12 replies »

  1. Thanks, Martin. As you well know, I want to know more about the influence exerted through campaign financing. I know I’ll never live to see full taxpayer-paid campaign financing as long as the current Supreme Court retains its current attitude toward political speech by corporations.

    Begin by attacking issues relating to campaign financing. Inasmuch as the rules governing contribution limits are a mere fiction, advocate for absolutely iron-clad disclosure rules.

    Let them have all the money they want — as long as we can see clearly where it came from.

    Then we can begin to at least see who’s buying whom. At present, our declared presidential candidates are not being fully honest about their campaign funding. Frankly, no one who runs for national office is.

    We cannot expect honesty and transparency in legislation from elected representatives who are not honest about the money that elected them.

    As you rightly point out, we bought a false bill of goods from these Democrats. Let’s wise up.

  2. It’s always about the money first and foremost, Denny. Even “netroots” candidates (I know you hate that word) who got largesse from individual small donors supped at the large-donor teat.

    But I wonder if ideology played a part this time, though. How many of these so-called “agents of change” rolled over because they feared losing support for reelection, and how many genuinely believed they needed to support this godawful piece of work to look Tough On Terror?

  3. You know, Martin, I read this just before watching PBS News Hour. They did a piece on YearlyKos. I could only laugh bitterly at the smugness of Kos and his cronies. They think they’re making a difference and that they’re being listened to – but this vote is clear proof that they’re being played.

    You’re absolutely right – we should use this vote as a bellwether to guide us toward reflection on what our next steps toward furthering the progressive agenda. This should make it clear that the politicians that the blogosphere supports will feel no compunction to act in ways that reflect the views of their supporters….And we should regroup and respond accordingly.

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