Tuesday, May 27, 2008

WHY LOSING ISN'T ALL THAT BAD

STEVE COBBLE, THE PROGRESSIVE Over the course of four decades of progressive politics, I've concluded that politics is not always just about success at the polls. And winning is not always getting the most votes. Sometimes, winning in politics is changing the landscape. As Barry Goldwater unfortunately demonstrated back in 1964, sometimes politics is about changing the behavior of a major party. Or, as George Wallace unfortunately showed in '64, '68, and '72, and Pat Robertson in 1988, politics is about strengthening a constituency that a major party can then adopt or co- opt.

Sometimes, as George McGovern proved in 1972, politics is about bringing new blood into a stagnant system, training a new cadre of organizers, changing the rules of the game. And sometimes, as Bobby Kennedy and Jesse Jackson highlighted, politics is about poetry as well as prose, offering a new way of thinking about America, challenging the power structure head-on, giving voice to the voiceless. . .

In his '88 campaign, Jackson inspired the young, won thirteen states from Alaska to Vermont, down to Georgia and Louisiana. He filled basketball arenas from Columbus, Ohio, to Portland, Oregon, and won in Puerto Rico. Jackson walked the picket lines and settled strikes during campaign stops, marched students directly down to the voter registration offices, stayed in the homes of families without jobs or health care. . .

Despite not winning the nomination, the Jackson '84 and '88 campaigns made a lasting mark. We strengthened the infrastructure of the Democratic Party, over the resistance of the party insiders. The millions of new African American voters registered and mobilized by the Jackson campaigns are still mostly voting today, providing a strong progressive base upon which most Democratic electoral victories are built.

Consider the fact that the Senate is in Democratic hands today partly because of Jim Webb's razor-thin (less than 10,000 votes) victory over George Allen. This victory was built upon overwhelming African American support, due to revulsion about Allen's views on race and ethnicity. We'd do well to remember that Jackson won Virginia twice, and registered thousands and thousands of new African American voters there. . .

Jesse Jackson's campaigns registered so many new voters that it has strengthened the Democratic Party for candidates all over the country. His campaigns paved the way for Barack Obama.

So did Howard Dean's campaign. Joe Trippi and his Internet Deaniac crew rightfully have been given credit for creating a new source of strength for progressive politics. . .

Progressive politics profits from those who try but fail to win the nomination. These so- called second-tier candidates identify issues that the country will benefit from in the future (anti-apartheid movement in '84, health care for all in '04). They elevate constituencies (peace activists, fair trade groups) that are sneered at by elite pundits and the mainstream media. They build grassroots strength for future activism on issues (civil liberties, inequality) that are currently ignored inside the Beltway. . .

An obvious illustration is John and Elizabeth Edwards. They pushed both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton to more seriously consider health care, poverty, and fair trade issues than they would have otherwise.

But why stop there? Why not trace the evolution of the frontrunners' current policy positions at least back to the 2004 Kucinich campaign?. . .

On key issues- opposition to the Iraq War, opposition to the Patriot Act, opposition to NAFTA, support for national health insurance-the Democratic Party has quietly moved toward Dennis Kucinich. . .

Politics is never just about what the elites tell us is possible. It's often what we decide to make possible with our words, our actions, our hopes. And there is more than one way to win.

1 Comments:

At May 27, 2008 12:14 PM, Anonymous Tom Puckett said...

As Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez's character in White Men Can't Jump) says:

Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs.

 

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