May 29, 2007

I'm an Inside/Outside progressive

In These Times reports on political scientist Michael Heaney and sociologist Fabio Rojas' research on the progressive "Party in the Street"--a term they coined to describe the "Inside/Outside" phenomenon, in which "many left-leaning Americans navigate between social movements and the Democratic Party."

“I see Inside/Outside as absolutely essential,” says Bill Honigman, PDA’s California state coordinator. “There are going to be times when the party needs to be shook up a little, and the only way to do that is from the outside. By the same token, you can’t do it all from the outside. You have to be involved in the party to change things when it’s going the wrong way.”

Demonstrating examples of movement-partisan groups that engage both in direct action and legislative advocacy, the article profiles Progressive Democrats of America, CodePink, the Aurora Project, and MoveOn--noting that it earned the ire of antiwar movement for its dismissal of the Out of Iraq Caucus' withdrawal bill.

The piece discusses the challenge of striking a balance between free-rein grassroots mobilizing that has the capacity to bring radical new ideas into public discourse, and the more pragmatic political approach, which ultimately legislates change.

The author cautions against "allowing Democratic electoral victories to become ends unto themselves," and highlights the value of "formulating a strong progressive platform that addresses the concerns of middle- and working-class Americans." The danger of political obscurity in attempting to shift the Democratic party to the left can only be overcome through "sustained, local mobilization and leadership development" with the goal being to "shift away from issue-based pressure groups that have dominated left politics since the '70's."

Air America host Laura Flanders makes a crucial observation--organizations like PDA must also “work outside of its comfort zone.” Aurora Project head Bill Fletcher, Jr. notes “a recurring problem in progressive circles, where they come to be dominated by what can best be described as white economic populists. But when it comes to issues of race and gender, there’s a soft peddling in the way of bringing us all together.” This is a source of great weakness for groups like CodePink.

I've had countless conversations with activist friends on the agency of the Inside/Outside approach--it's a favorite topic for Tizzie-P and me. I definitely wore both hats in college, as a Campus Dems officer and organizer in a couple local and statewide campaigns, and as a member of an antiwar group and newscaster on KCSB, the university's independent radio station that proudly proclaimed the motto "bringing the revolution to your radio." When I would table for the Dems, fellow DJs would jokingly ask me if I'd lost a bet. In officer meetings with the Dems, it was difficult to get some of the more cautious officers on board in taking a stance against the war, and taking to the streets, and more lefty peace and justice groups and activists were often maligned in quiet conversation. But the club's power was undeniable, with one of the largest memberships of any political club on campus, if not the largest, and it was certainly the group most responsible for the success of the Associated Students campus voter reg drives (hat tip to Hill). Like a microcosm of the larger party, it was the matter of convincing the middle-of-the-road folks to accept new ideas.

For some on either side, with the exception of those that straddled the line and shared the "Inside/Outside" identity, you're either selling-out or a crazy hippie. I don't see why you can't do both--it can only make the progressive movement stronger if we act in both capacities, standing firm on principle and unafraid of dramatic--though smart--tactics, while acting pragmatically through the right legislative channels. As PDA National Director Tim Carpenter says, “Every great social movement begins in the street. But it ultimately ends in the halls of Congress.”

May 28, 2007

Propaganda in translation

Currently one of the most dugg political news items on Digg: "Wiped off the Map - The Rumor of the Century." It links to an article on that details the dangers of heresay in foreign policy.

Somehow our media turned Ahmedinijad's benign statement "As the Soviet Union disappeared, the Zionist regime will also vanish and humanity will be liberated." into the menacing "Israel will be wiped out". Our media also conveniently ignored the statement by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that "We will never start a war."

I first heard this challenge to hawks' manufactured conventional wisdom on Iran last May at a forum organized by a friend in UCSB's Center for Middle East Studies. Panelists said the phrase "wipe off the map" doesn't even exist in Farsi. They cited Professor Juan Cole, who'd previously called attention to how this statement had been seized upon by neocons drumming up support for launching attacks on Iran:

The phrase is almost metaphysical...It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.

Prof. Cole also debunked the myth of Ahamdinejad's clout:

Of course Ahamdinejad does wish Israel would disappear, but he is not commander of the armed forces and could not attack it even if he wanted to, which he denies.

Guardian columnist Jonathan Steele joined Prof. Cole in disputing the dubious translation:

The fact that he compared his desired option - the elimination of "the regime occupying Jerusalem" - with the fall of the Shah's regime in Iran makes it crystal clear that he is talking about regime change, not the end of Israel. As a schoolboy opponent of the Shah in the 1970's he surely did not favour Iran's removal from the page of time. He just wanted the Shah out.

Good to see the story has regained some traction--too many still take it as a matter of fact. The only reason it remains at all controversial a year later is that intellectually lazy anchors and conservative pundits can't seem to mention Ahmadinejad without this catch phrase in the same breath. In doing so, they persistently reinforce the false notion that the Iranian president is politically powerful and poses a threat, framing talk of preemptive attack.

May 01, 2007

Progressive prognosis

The American Prospect had a debate on whether Hillary Clinton is an undercover progressive, or a centrist hamstrung by her liberal reputation. The argument in favor rests on her gender--Clinton is uniquely positioned as the lone woman on the ballot to take a leadership role in defending freedom of choice and in ending the war. This treats Clinton as a token--despite her record, an inherently liberal candidate because she is a woman. The argument against her electability is far more convincing:

Of course, a candidate who appeals to the Democratic base because of a long record of leadership on key progressive issues or unusually liberal policy positions is someone to be welcomed, even if her positions make centrist outreach that much more necessary. Clinton, however, doesn't fit the bill. Rather, she is, on the merits, the least progressive of the major Democratic candidates in the race, and also the one with the least appeal to moderate and independent voters -- the exact reverse, in short, of what liberals should be looking for in a nominee.


The psychodrama that is Clinton's long fight with the right -- and with deep-seated forces of sexism and ignorance in the country -- has tended to blind too many people to straightforward assessments of her actual views and political record. (A recent Mother Jones cover story spent 4,500 words ruminating on the various roles Clinton has come to play in the culture -- "the Eleanor Roosevelt Hillary," "the Lady Macbeth Hillary" -- without discussing her record or stated political views at all.) Now that primary season is upon us, and some choices have emerged in the Democratic field, such assessments are overdue. And they demonstrate that Clinton's record is, in fact, fairly unpalatable from a liberal's point of view.

She has not...stood out as a leader on any major progressive causes during her time in the Senate -- she was not a central player in congressional Democrats' make-or-break fight against Social Security privatization, for example, and has declined to use her name and platform to make any significant issue a signature. One area in which she has stood out from the Democratic pack is in adopting socially conservative rhetoric and positions, whether pushing a bill banning flag burning, attempting to "reframe" the abortion debate, or calling for an increased federal role in video-game censorship. She has also famously engaged in a series of high-profile team-ups on various issues with hard-right Republicans, including Sam Brownback, Bill Frist, and Newt Gingrich. The political benefit to Clinton in such gambits has been considerable. But liberals should presumably find nothing to applaud in any of this unless they expect something real -- and progressive -- in return.

And there's the rub. Clinton's national reputation as a liberal is pervasive, and it means that even beyond her apparently genuine centrism, she's uniquely hamstrung in staking out any boldly liberal stances on a major issue. At the same time, her national reputation as a liberal is so firmly entrenched that she will likely find it extremely difficult to broaden her appeal to the electorate.

Liberal Democrats should want a nominee who is, in fact, a liberal. And liberals and moderates alike have should want a nominee who's seen as a moderate by the median voter. Clinton, however, is a moderate who people think is a liberal. This is a terrible combination of qualities from almost every point of view -- except, perhaps, for the faction of her advisers whose views are probably too right-wing to be associated with the Democratic presidential nominee, unless they can latch onto the one candidate both blessed and cursed with an undeserved reputation for liberalism. Well, bully for them. But liberals should open their eyes.

John Edwards, not Hillary Clinton, is the true progressive candidate in this race. He was the undisputed victor at the CA Democratic Convention in San Diego last weekend. His speech changed minds, for sure--eloquent and full of passion and substance, offering up clear plans for providing universal healthcare, defending workers' rights to organizing and to a living wage, ending the occupation of Iraq, restoring America's reputation in the international community, and dealing honestly with structural racism. Listen to his address here.

MoJo Blog cites an interesting development from a new Rasmussen poll:
Obama and Clinton are the frontrunners, but Edwards does best in general election match-ups. He leads all GOP hopefuls and is the only Democrat to lead the Republican frontrunner, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.