A dime’s worth of difference buys a lot.

I remember the year 2000. I remember thinking that things were pretty good with Clinton, and Gore promised more of the same. I was a fairly raging moderate. I remember when Gore won, and how much it seemed like an injustice to stop the vote counting. (This was before I learned about the overvote situation.) Still, when Bush won, I remember thinking he can’t be as big a caricature of a conservative as the liberals would have us think. And then Bush let the arsenic back into the drinking water as a favor to mining companies. And, of course, the Iraq war. History, I think, has already shown us exactly how close the caricature of Bush the Tool came to being reality.

Then I remembered something else. The very people who were furthest-left, the ones who were the best predictors of how Bush would behave once in office were also claiming that Gore was too right-wing. Ralph Nader, for instance, would go on to write a book about how two parties are basically the same. So in 2000, the liberals didn’t show up to vote, and Bush won.

And in 2004, the liberals didn’t show up to vote, so Bush won. And in early 2005, Bush tried to destroy Social Security.

And I remember the anger in 2006. That anger caused liberals to turn out in droves. It was a red-hot palpable thing that burned away Republican majorities. And Nancy Pelosi– bless her San Francisco heart– passed some major progressive legislation. Granted, much of it was vetoed by Bush, or Filibustered in the Senate, but it did pass.

And so in 2008, we liberals were still upset. And we showed up yet again. We put a liberal in the White House! For a few days we had a filibuster-proof Senate! Huge majorities in the house! We passed a universal healthcare bill! We ended the Iraq war! We got pissed that we didn’t pass enough good stuff and didn’t bother showing up to the polls in 2010. Republicans took the House, and many governorships and state legislatures.

Are you pissed at what’s happening in Wisconsin? Are you whipped up in a furry about cuts to Planned Parenthood, NPR, and your local school district? Guess what: we knew this would happen. This is exactly what we said would happen if you didn’t show up to vote. When you don’t show up to vote, Republicans win elections and fulfill their campaign promises to be giant flaming douche bags.

So: there’s tremendous energy in Wisconsin to recall a bunch of Republicans. Fantastic! Where the fuck was that energy in 2010 when it could have put a union-friendly Democrat in the governor’s mansion?

No matter how much you may want Democrats to be further to the left than they are, no matter how little you think they do for the working person, no matter how corporate-owned you think they are: understand that institutionally, their hearts are in the right place.

How I know that Democrats wouldn’t do this? When the time came to uphold their sacred principles, the Democrats left the state, faced arrest, and dared the governor to send in the troops. We get mealy mouthed sometimes. Compromise is in our nature. When the existential threat comes, though, we recognize it, and fight with every tool in our arsenal. Remember: we got universal healthcare while the Republicans were busy patting themselves on the back for making it impossible. We lost the South– possibly forever– in order to restore the franchise to black folks.

We don’t have to like the mathematical necessity of the two party system. I personally detest it. I’m trying to get into a position where I can help smash it. But in the mean time, the math absolutely dictates that we are stuck with two parties. And given the choice between the party of cartoon evil, and the party of occasional competence, I know where I’m putting my energy. Every fucking time.

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2 Responses to “A dime’s worth of difference buys a lot.”

  1. Here’s where I take issue with the tenor of this post and this argument in general. Votes are earned, not won by default.

    We sort of, kind of ended the war in Iraq and escalated the one in South Asia substantially. Healthcare passed, but only after every last Blue Dog got his pound of flesh, and after every “centrist” Republican had delayed the proceedings while opposition and misinformation intensified.

    Detainee treatment is still a travesty, and Obama’s DoD is giving an American serviceman the business.

    A blatantly fraudulent video railroaded ACORN out of existence. That couldn’t have happened without the collusion of Democrats, who refused to go to bat for an organization that was reliably on the side of poor voters and increased turnout. In other words, on the side of Democrats. And let’s not forget Rahm’s reaction to organized labor’s efforts to deep-six Blanche Lincoln. Labor’s job was to donate money and mobilize voters come early November. Not actually have input on who the Democrats choose to represent them.

    Stimulus needed to be bigger, but Dems never fought for it. Never pointed out that state budgetary crises would be devastating the economy just as the stimulus was trying to fix it. Never got ahead of the story either, so voters went to the polls in November angry at a failed economic policy and with no one to blame but the people in charge.

    Voters and liberals owe the Democratic Party shit. Their enthusiasm and anger put the Democrats in power and the Democrats squandered a lot of those assets. It wasn’t a fit of pique that kept liberals from the polls in 2010. Enthusiasm matters, and it needs to be nurtured. It requires symbolic acts and hard fighting. On a national level, Democrats have not delivered that. And on a local and state level, their constituencies have been slowly whittled down and backed into a corner.

    The example of the Wisconsin Democrats is inspiring. As was Pelosi’s management of the house and the ACA strategy. It’s great to see Democrats fighting for what we believe in. But they are hindered at every turn by a party that makes craven tactical decisions at the expense of its relationship with its supporters.

    You blame disaffected voters for Wisconsin? Why are they disaffected? Go lecture the people responsible for that.

  2. I agree that votes are earned, and yeah, I know we’ve fucked up. I said that we’re the party of “occasional competence”. I’ll even admit that I speak about the Democratic party in the first person, and that this clouds my thinking.

    Nevertheless.

    Nevertheless, I think we’ve done the best we can with a broken system. I’ve said I want to smash that system. Look at what Pelosi got passed the House that wasn’t able to get out of the Senate. You see squandered opportunities. I see a system so broken that it took over 40 years to get the most basic form of universal health care. I’m not sure that Jesus Christ descending from Mt. Rushmore with tablets could have gotten it faster.

    The American system is broken. Fundamentally, at it’s core. One party revels in its break, one party is only slowly descending. My feeling is that we owe it to ourselves to put dems in, and further owe our posterity to create workable institutions from which governance can happen.

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