The nomination of John Kerry in 2004 was an act of “pragmatism” (to be sure, misguided pragmatism, I mean, seriously, a Massachusetts Senator as the pragmatic choice?) by the Democratic electorate. While most Democrats liked Kerry on the issues (except the big one Iraq, of course) voting for John Kerry was largely a collective act of pragmatism imo.
It’s interesting that Kerry was the pragmatic choice for the Democratic electorate as he behaved as a “pragmatic” politician in the run up to the 2004 campaign, and for too long in the general election campaign. It was a mistake for the Democratic electorate and a mistake for Kerry.
Of course after he lost, John Kerry became a brave politician. And credit to him for that. I will always have great respect for John Kerry now for one reason especially, his willingness to lead a filibuster fight against Sam Alito. Kerry and the many “idealists” at Daily Kos shamed me into joining what remains, in my estimation, the Netroots’ finest moment – leadership from the bottom up that led to a principled and WISE fight against Sam Alito’s confirmation. The interesting result of that fight, in the face of predictions of political doom, was an invigorated Democratic base and a Democratic Establishment that learned in 2006 that the sky would not fall if they ignored the DC Establishment and stood for something.
Does this have lessons for us as Democrats and activists? I think it does. I’ll explain on the flip.
Those who have read me over the years should be aware that I have advocated for a Politics of Contrast for the Democratic Party. The essence of the idea is to clearly delineate differences between the Republican Party, its policies and values, and those of the Democratic Party. Whenever Democrats do that, as during the Alito fight, the image of Democrats, EVEN AMONG THOSE WHO DISAGREE WITH US, improves. Democrats become seen as people who believe in something and care about those things they believe in.
In short, “pragmatism” in politics is usually NOT pragmatic. It is stupid politics. What Democrats need to be reminded of is their strength in 2006 derived from their willingness to fight fights they knew they would probably lose. Because it defined the Democrats as standing for something and the issues they fought for defined themselves and the Republicans. The more Democrats did that, the stronger they became politically.
As the Democratic base, as activists, when we urge the Democratic leadership and the Party as a whole to do this, we are being “pragmatic.” We are being politically shrewd. We are in an era, and it is not always this way, when doing the right thing also happens to be doing the smart thing politically.
Many might now ask me – so why is not the fight for impeachment one of those idealistically “politically smart” fights, for the Party and for us? My reasoning has always remained the same and it remains so now – we have a more important fight to fight right now:
(1) It will NEVER happen . . . Remember, to remove Bush from office requires a 2/3 vote from the Senate, which means 17 Republicans (I count Lieberman as a Republican) must vote to remove from office. It simply will never happen. No realistic person can think it will. So let’s be clear, impeachment here is nothing but a symbolic gesture.
(2) It is likely to have negative political ramifications for Democrats in 2008. I care less about this than most. If Bush and Cheney could be removed, the political cost could be worth it. But since they can not be removed, then it simply is not.
(3) Impeachment would preclude discussion of of all other issues, most notably Iraq. Indeed, impeachment would be the worst possible development for ending the war in Iraq. It supplants getting out of Iraq as the centerpiece issue for progressive activism.
Last, and probably least, the progressive base and the Netroots would be utterly defanged and treated as completely irrelevant if it chooses to waste its time on pushing for impeachment. No more than a handful of Democrats will vote for it. The Media will portray as on par with 9/11 conspiracies. It is to throw away the progressive base and Netroots’ power as a Left flank in the political discourse. It relegates it to crazy Larouche status.
. . .
But my ultimate bottom line is that the essential role the progressive base and the Netroots can and should play on ending the war in Iraq will be completely squandered. That is the part that I will find hard to forgive.
We have a fight to fight right now – ending the Iraq Debacle. We can win that fight and we can sway Democrats on it. Let’s fight that fight.