James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, January 21, 2005

Democrats: Selling liberalism or selling out

The question of whether the Democratic Party survives as a real alternative to the increasingly right wing Republicans may be decided very soon.

The answer matters greatly. It is, in the real as well as figurative sense, a matter of life and death.

And for a change the rank and file can make a difference in the outcome.

If the Democrats continue on their present road to permanent futility, the extreme right very soon could have an unbreakable hold on this country’s government. Democracy, the future of which already is in doubt, quickly will be reshaped into an oligarchy of the very rich, and this will become another in the long line of countries that have sought world domination through any means within their reach, but mainly through armed force.

(Ooh, I can see the self-styled moderates pointing at me with one hand, while the other, with extended forefinger, makes rapid circles beside the temples of their thick skulls. "Another lefty lunatic," they are thinking. To which I reply: Lunacy is the refusal, or inability, to recognize reality.)

Soon, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and some state party organizations will decide on new leaders, or at least whether they will have new leaders. With the DNC, there is no question of "whether." Terry McAuliffe, who never was up to the fight, is not seeking reelection as the organization’s chairman.

It’s a tossup right now whether the national party reshapes itself under the leadership of a genuine liberal, or progressive if you like, or goes on bumbling haplessly under what most members of Paul Wellstone’s "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" have come to think of as Republican Lite misleaders.

There are several candidates for the DNC chair. The Republican Lites seem to favor Indiana Rep. Timothy Roemer, who is one of those phony "centrists," and leans decidedly right on issues such as abortion and the bungled "war on terrorism." There’s another candidate or two of that ilk should Roemer go down. Liberals have a couple of decent-to-excellent choices, including former presidential candidate Howard Dean (excellent) and the possibly decent Simon Rosenberg, chair of the New Democrat Network.

The latter needs considerable vetting to discover his present beliefs, however. He’s waffled a bit, but also stood up to the "centrists" who turned vicious in their opposition to Dean’s presidential candidacy.

Those who favor Republican Lite – they’ve been busy little bees ever since the election – say that the American public has moved right, and the Democrats must follow them. Some of them are concerned with holding on to their well-paid party sinecures, all of them are concerned with chasing corporate contributions. If the party moves "left," they believe, the corporate scraps now tossed to Democrat lapdogs will be withheld.

Could be, but so what? Corporate contributions always go at least three to one to the Republicans and always will. In fact, the imbalance has grown much greater since George and Co. captured the White House. It is absurd to sell your soul for the leavings.

MoveOn, ACT and other organizations proved last summer and fall that liberals can raise serious money without giving away anything to the power-grabbing billionaires. I believe that if the Democratic Party started telling hard truths, selling its viewpoint to the public and taking firm stands, it could, with the help of the new liberal outifts, raise enough to outspend the Republicans.

The press mostly has ignored the question of who will lead the Democrats’ party organization. What little coverage there has been has focused primarily on Dean, and that coverage has centered on recitation of the press mantra that he is a radical.

He is a liberal, but if you look at his record in Vermont, the radical claim dissolves.

A great deal of what has been written is nonsense, but political reporters gave up thinking for Lent about two decades ago and decided to stay with the sacrifice permanently after discovering how much easier it makes their jobs.

In Minnesota, the Democratic party chair (here, it’s the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL), the sometimes astonishingly inept Mike Erlandson, says he will decide soon whether to seek a fourth term in the job.

He claims that various party leaders and office holders are urging him to stay, which means that he wants to hang on, but is looking for some important public support before he declares that publicly. He wants to be able to bow out as though it is his own choice if it turns out that liberal activists really are ready to rumble.

Erlandson, who supposedly also holds a full-time job as chief assistant to Congressman Martin Sabo, is neither intelligent nor energetic. His style during his years as DFL chair has been to respond with petulant and sometimes downright stupid statements when state Republicans do something outrageous. Otherwise he’s been largely invisible. He reacts, almost never acts.

Lately he’s been trying to take credit for the very large Democratic turnout in the November election and for the fact that the state held for Kerry. Especially, he’s claiming the party organization (he) is responsible for the Democrats’ gain of 13 seats in the state House of Representatives (leaving them still in the minority). In fact, the presidential race and the various 527 organizations got out the vote; and the vote turnout, coupled with unmistakable servitude of the House Republicans to a handful of very rich Minnesotans, led to the November results.

Obviously it’s time to put genuine, articulate, intelligent liberals in charge of the party organizations. And it can be done.

The party chairs will be chosen by relatively small groups of other party officials and office holders, but Democratic voters, especially those who worked on campaigns even in small ways, can influence the choices. All it takes is calls and letters – preferably many of them – to those party officials and office holders. Find out who your precinct, ward, county and state chairs are, and call them. Call or email your Democratic state legislators and members of Congress. Tell them you urgently desire to see real Democrats leading the Democratic Party. If you have suggestions or favorites, name them.

The people who make the choices will listen; they need you.