I went back and forth with my friend Shane last week having one of those political science discussions that could've gone on forever - and still might - and ended with us agreeing for the most part.
Shane argues that the progressive movement lacks strong enough convictions to hold Democrats accountable. The conservative movement has the Federalist Society, Ayn Rand and the Christian right to ground its ideas independent of the GOP's political desires. The movement demands allegiance for its votes and its money and in turn, the GOP slavishly listens. For better or worse, the movement has succeeded in kicking out those whose beliefs differ - thus, no more moderate Republicans. This winnowing might eventually undo the GOP if the conservative movement's demands exceed its vote-getting power...but for the moment, the marriage thrives.
The Dems don't have the same ideological obligation to a movement. While the conservative umbrella gets smaller and more exclusive, the progressive umbrella gets ever bigger. I've always liked that the progressive movement has a bigger umbrella and can handle dissent within, but if the term "progressive" is too broad, it loses meaning - the Stupak amendment to the House version of the health care bill is the latest example of the problem. If a cohesive progressive movement had held Dems accountable on the defense of a woman's right to choose, then poor women wouldn't have been sacrificed at the alter of politics. But if a movement doesn't demand or can't agree to demand an action, then why should a political party strictly uphold any belief beyond its own political ambitions? After all, where are traditional Democrat voters going to go?
I bring this up because I've been gaining new respect for the conservative movement while reading Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine which looks inside the current Supreme Court, profiles the justices, their opinions and legal philosophies, the legal strategies that worked and didn't, and chronicles how the conservative movement gained influence in the Court. It's been a fascinating look at how the groundwork was laid and built upon for decades for the confirmations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
After seeing the history laid out, I find myself chagrined that the best the progressive movement seems to have is "Palin 2012" and "Down with the crazy Christians!". I exaggerate, but it was easier to be a progressive when it was solely a reactive movement that could blame everything on Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Now, Dems have power and I supposedly agree with them because I don't agree with the GOP...and yet Bush's policies are still in place on trying detainees held at Guantanamo, the definition of torture, warrentless wiretapping, a woman's right to choose, and don't ask don't tell policies on gays in the military. I'm disenchanted. And I wonder who actually represents me. Well, no one represents me since I'm a DC resident, but that's another blog post.
So, who represents me? Before I can answer that adequately, we need more political parties - after all, I might align with the Dems but if they're not advocating on my behalf then who am I going to vote for instead? And most assuredly, we need election reform - voters should never be put in the position of voting "strategically" as it was artfully called in the 2000 presidential election. So, while I've certainly been talking about convictions, I see the lack of convictions as evidence of structural problems. Consider that a promise for part 2!
And thanks, Shane, for the links and the arguments.