The slogan “More and Better Democrats” has taken firm root of late in blogospherical political culture. After Darcy Burner recently adopted it for last month’s fundraising appeal to mark Bush’s visit to her district to plump for her opponent, I decided to do some wordsleuthing to derive its original usage. This has all been DKos-Search-and-Google-based work, so of course it’s not definitive — and I’d welcome any corrections — but I found it interesting for reasons that will become obvious.
The phrase has been attributed to Darcy and to Howie Klein, but most often (and, as it turns out, with fair reason) to Atrios.
Today is the second anniversary of the first utterance of the phrase in the progressive blogosphere and the first anniversary of its first use as a political slogan. Within three hours after its appearing on Eschaton, it was stolen and used repeatedly and self-consciously on this site as a rallying cry. The perp, I was surprised to discover, was me, one year ago today.
So that means that I really /can/ explain its original usage: it was coined out of despair and grief. That’s because today is not /solely/ the anniversary of “More and Better Democrats.” Read on.
Note: This diary is not associated with any candidate or campaign. Also: in this essay “here” and “this site” = Daily Kos, from which this is crossposted. I’m too lazy to rewrite it.
I like the phrase “More and Better Democrats” so much — the way it pithily conveys the jaded view that neither “more” nor “better” alone is enough, but also the hope that that both of them together might be — that I decided to do some serious research into its online history and origins. (I found no reference to any offline history beyond what you find here.) My methods were four DailyKos searches — one comment search, from 5-2 years ago, which (conducted earlier this week) shows nothing; one, from 2 years to 6 months ago, which shows 17 results; the same comment search since then; a full story and diary search — and a series of Google searches, both a general one and advanced searches focusing on the major progressive blogs.
What I found is that the history of the phrase over the last year is one born of pain. It leads directly to one of the most persistent and fraught debates that we have in the progressive blogosphere. En route, tracing its journey, I found some nice diversions, some familiar disputes, and at the very end — so you should read all the way through — a surprise twist. Most of this research was done some months ago; I’ve been saving this diary for today’s anniversary.
(2) The first stop on this journey brings a special delight. The second-ever use I found of the phrase in a sentence came from Meteor Blades, posted on this site in his own diary on September 28, 2005, two years ago today. (He quoted it himself in a post on April 10, 2006, and did so again on January 25, 2007.) It’s a long post, so I’ve truncated it, but it’s of evergreen importance — on the question of the usefulness of political marches, rallies, and the like (DKos was a different place two years ago) — so I urge you to take a detour and go read the whole thing:
Fer cryin’ out loud, can we stop this … (4.00 / 7)
…my approach is the only approach and anybody who disagrees is a be-beaded, patchouli-drenched retread stuck in the ’60s bullshit?
Protest marches have their purposes. And they didn’t start in the 1960s. Ever hear of the suffragists?
Even so, they weren’t the end-all, be-all of the antiwar movement of the 1960s. Contrary to what so many here seem to believe (apparently because they have accepted the media-distorted images of the movement) – 99% of what we antiwarriors did in the Vietnam era was NOT organize marches and rallies.
As I have argued since the 1960s, and continuously since I began participating at Daily Kos three years ago, and as I did in my Sunday Diary and TocqueDeville’s about the October 24 march, local organizing and locally based opposition is key to our success, whether that’s electing more (and better) Democrats or stopping various policies, including the PNAC-inspired foreign policy of this grotesque Administration.
(3) The third-ever usage, and the first time I find the phrase used to articulate a goal, was on March 25, 2006. In “The Blogfather,” a blog for /Cape Cod Today/, a commenter pseudonamed “hi hank” had this to say:
We need more and better Democrats on Cape Cod. Enough with the self-serving Republicians that hide between the printed word (and their friends in the press). Start a blog. Spread democracy.
Well said, hi hank, whoever you are.
(4) The fourth-ever usage was on this site, in a March 31, 2006 comment by Mooncat, posted in a diary by some troublemaker named Kagro X entitled “We don’t have the numbers.” (read it by following the comment) that argued that we Democrats didn’t have the votes to do anything we wanted anyway, so we might as well shoot for the moon and impeach. Mooncat’s response:
You are right, of course. (0 / 0)
My goal is to get more (and better) Democrats in office. It is entirely possible that the folks who have been involved for years are pretty content to meet every couple of months, throw a big party once a year, and do some phone banking for a few weeks every other year. Not much hope in that case until they die, retire, or get voted out.
Another possibility (and this is the one I’m rooting for) is that the old timers also want to get more Democrats elected, but they are just too tired to entertain any ideas that sound like more work. In this case, involving more people would improve the situation and this 50 state canvas seems like a good way to find at least a few more people who would be activists.
(5) The fifth-ever usage — and the one that I think eventually led to the phrase catching on — was by Atrios. Because it comes in a one-line response to excerpts from a candidate’s speech that form the brunt of the post, I feel justified in quoting the whole thing, from one year ago today, 2:08 p.m. EDT.
Patrick Murphy Speaks
We need to be absolutely clear, to the world and to our professional soldiers, that the United States of America does not condone torture, and does not conduct torture. Period. Not only is it not right morally, but strategically, as a military professional, it’s wrong. When you look back at our nation’s history, when you look back at Desert Storm back in the early 90’s, when we had tens of thousands of Iraqis, thousands of them in the first few days of the campaign rose with the white flag of surrender. Why did they do that, ladies and gentlemen? They surrendered because they knew when captured by the Americans we would treat them humanely. We would treat them appropriately, and we would follow the Hague and Geneva Conventions.
When I sat and taught the rules of engagement, and I was the law enforcement officer in my combat brigade, my soldiers knew, our paratroopers knew, that they were professional soldiers, that we have army values. Those Army values cannot be breached. Those same Army values that I taught to the 600 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members, the new Iraqi Army, to make sure that they too understood that we are a part of a profession. That we are to act appropriately. That we are to follow the law of war. Because it is a profession, and it’s a profession that we take very seriously. And for those members to talk tough, from the White House or wherever, to try and blur the lines, it’s hurting our own soldiers. It’s hurting our military profession.
All we can do is try to elect more and better Democrats.
You may now start to recall what happened a year ago today.
To lighten the mood for a moment, this was not Atrios’s first use of the “more and better X” formulation. For example, in this discussion of intellectual property law from March 28, 2005:
Now, I’m all for innovators and artists being able to profit from their works, but the ability to do so is a means to an end, not the end itself. The end itself is supposed to be a benefit to consumers in the form of more new gadgets and more and better chick lit. If the IP system stifles innovation and creativity, rather than fostering it, then it’s time for a change.
(6) The sixth-ever usage I found through Google was first time I found it employed as the bare slogan it has become. It was used on September 28, 2006 — one year ago today, coincidentally one year to the day after Meteor Blades’s first use of it. I had evidently read Atrios’s post, the phrase struck a chord, and I flat-out stole it, using it three times in one diary and twice in commenting on a story. (It also appeared once in response to me.)
I’m going to copy the diary in which the comment appeared, by stephdray, in full as a way to mark this first anniversary of the Senate’s passing the Military Commissions Act, washing away the legal consequences of the Bush Administration’s embrace of torture by a vote of 65-34. (House approval followed the next day, but everyone knew that the pivotal battle was in the Senate.)
Just Spoke with Harry Reid’s Office on Torture–No Filibuster
Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 01:17:35 PM PDT
I just got off the phone with a staffer in Harry Reid’s office who sounded like he was about ten minutes away from a date with a bottle and a bunch of sleeping pills.
A funny thing happens to me when I’m furious beyond all comprehension. I actually get deadly calm and quiet. I was that way on the phone.
I asked what the status of the military commissions bill was, and what Senator Reid was going to do about it. Here’s what the man said.
He told me that they were still trying to add amendments to this bill, to fix the problems with regard to Habeas Corpus, Torture, and the Geneva Conventions. He told me that Senator Reid was vehemently opposed to the bill as written. That he was poised to vote against it.
I asked if there was a chance of a filibuster.
The staffer let out a long sigh. “We can’t,” he said, explaining some complicated stuff about unanimous consent and amendments. Essentially, it boiled down to the fact that the Democrats thought they would have the numbers to pass amendments to fix this bill, so due to Senate rules, the filibuster is now not possible.
The gist of the conversation was that they believed they had the votes for the Amendments but it sounds as if someone got punked.
I asked “Why didn’t you filibuster this bill instead?”
He told me flat out, that Harry Reid could not find the votes for a filibuster of this bill. Then he told me that the habeas corpus and torture issues were poison, but there were large parts of the bill that “needed” to be passed and that’s why there weren’t the votes for a filibuster.
I asked him, “It needed to be passed at this cost?”
He sighed again. And it was not a condescending sigh. It was a sigh of utter defeat. As I went on to lecture him about how this was the big issue, this was everything, this was the constitution, the moral question of our age, he did not argue.
When I told him that history was going to look back on this day unkindly, and that Harry Reid especially would not look good, he didn’t argue with that either. And it wasn’t a matter of disloyalty, I think. It seemed to me that Mr. Reid’s office may be well aware that this is a very dark day.
He essentially said, “We tried.”
He told me that if we could take back the Senate, he could guarantee this wouldn’t be happening. That they just needed the numbers. I decided not to pour salt into the wound by explaining that if the Democratic caucus held together, they would have the numbers.
I haven’t processed what all this means yet.
Septic Tank, stephdray, and I then had this discussion (tag lines and recommenders omitted):
Oh, well (17+ / 0-)
Hey, they only let us down on torture. That and Roberts. And Scalito. And the MBNA Protection Act. Win some, lose some. Heh. That’s politics, right?
But hey, let’s have some happy fundraising talk! And how ’bout those generic ballots? Woo!
I’m looking at a picture of my son, and for the first time, wondering what the hell I was thinking bringing such a sweet creature into such a bleak fucking world. Thanks, Harry.
God, my eye tic is back. My blood pressure’s going through the roof. Why do I take this stuff so seriously? I mean, it’s only torture.
by Septic Tank on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 01:24:22 PM PDT
More and better Democrats (1+ / 0-)
and maybe a diuretic.
by Major Danby on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 02:00:46 PM PDT
I’m not more and better democrats angry (2+ / 0-)
I’m not a dime’s worth of difference goodbye cruel world angry.
by Septic Tank on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 02:10:35 PM PDT
It’s more than a dime. (2+ / 0-)
It’s just not as different as we hoped or believed.
It’s the reality, and we have to work with it. It’s a very bitter pill to swallow, but that little bit of difference, if it makes a difference to people who are suffering… you gotta go with every difference you can find.
I’m no less bitter than you. I have just moved on to the triage phase.
by stephdray on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 02:38:04 PM PDT
Then do say goodbye (5+ / 0-)
I appreciate why you’re angry — I’m as angry as you are — but if you’re not going to be part of the solution than you don’t belong on this site.
80% of House Democrats voted against torture. What, 5% of Republicans did? If you don’t see a dime’s worth of difference, you’re not worth my conversation time.
by Major Danby on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 02:38:21 PM PDT
Things continued in the same vein from there (click comment times to go to posts and get context):
Fewer than 41 Democratic Senators agreed with you (3+ / 0-)
More and better Democratic Senators is what we need. This was lost in the Democratic caucus, and the swing votes there may well have been reading the public in their states right.
by Major Danby on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 02:02:01 PM PDT
More and better Democrats (4+ / 0-)
Let’s say that 75% of Democrats would filibuster this.
In that case, we needed to have 55 of them.
You and I don’t disagree there.
Although bear in mind that if we had 51, Reid would have made sure that this bill had never come out of committee.
Reality-based, folks, reality-based.
by Major Danby on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 02:05:03 PM PDT
The next two threads were from this story, “History will not absolve us,” by mcjoan:
so fuck ’em all (5+ / 0-)
I’m serious. fuck the Democrats. why should I keep going broke for every election, keep humping my back to spread their message? They won’t even fight the fights when they have the 100% right of it.
Republicans didn;t steal America – Democrats handed it away. So fuck ’em. I’m gonna go watch some reality tv.
by fromer on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 01:42:32 PM PDT
Stop giving Karl Rove an erection (0 / 0)
Yes, Democrats are only an 80% good party and that wasn’t enough this time. We need
more and better Democrats
. You’re adding whipped cream on the Republican’s pie when you say you’ll stop fighting. Instead, keep a long memory and fight harder.
51 Democrats and this bill would never have come out of commitee. Remember that.
by Major Danby on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 02:18:57 PM PDT
I feel your pain (0 / 0)
But when you stop trying to elect more and better Democrats, you’re no longer part of this community. I hope that in time the outrages of Republican control of Congress will bring you back.
by Major Danby on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 03:02:12 PM PDT
It was not, I think, my finest moment here, and certainly not my most friendly. I can tell you exactly what I was thinking then. I was royally pissed off that Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats had been outmanuevered, and more pissed than that at the eleven Democrats who voted for the bill. I was also, given my position on a Senate campaign, looking at non-public polls that showed how well we were likely to do in 2006 so long as nothing came along to knock us off track — and here was something knocking us off track not five weeks before the election. This would be a double victory for Republicans: enact a repugnant policy /and/ drive away the Democratic base; it increased the likelihood that they would hold the Senate.
(You’ll see echoes of this debate in our recent discussions, I know.)
If this diary has a thesis, it’s hidden right here in the balance of this section:
I see support for the morivating principle of “More and Better Democrats” as being a lot like the commitment to freedom of speech: it is most important when it is hardest to justify.
It’s /easy/ to support free speech when things are going your way, when nothing offensive is being said, etc. Most people can do it, across the political spectrum. It’s easy to profess because it’s meaningless, it’s ineffectual, it’s cheap words. What matters is how much you support free speech when it’s hard, when it means being confronted with something offensive. That’s when you find out whether or not you’re really a supporter. (We’ve seen a lot of people fail that test this week with Ahmedinejad.)
The difficulty of supporting the principle of “More and Better Democrats” when the Democrats we have can’t muster a filibuster on the Military Commissions Act, or when they get rooked on FISA, or when they cave in on funding Iraq, is a lot like the difficulty of supporting free speech when Ahmedinejad comes to Columbia, or when the Nazis march on Skokie. That is when free speech is most in danger; that is when you just have to take a breath, buckle down, and /do/ it.
It’s important to believe it then — to believe that when we get tackled we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work — because it is at that exact moment when support for the principle is in greatest danger. It’s when people are screwing us over, acting like the “Republicrat Party,” that we have to tell them that there is nothing they can do to keep us from making sure that, ultimately, we will not only have enough Democrats to keep the other side out of power, but enough good Democrats to enact our own agenda.
In Mozambique’s drive for political independence from South Africa, the slogan was was “A Luta Continua” (“the struggle continues.”) In the Spanish Civil War, it was “¡No pasarán! (they shall not pass)” Of course, often they /do/ pass, and the struggle often continues for decades or more. But the battle cry — for us, “More and Better Democrats,” meaning “we will keep on doing what we are doing until we defeat you” — sustains the movement. Yes, it involves a willful suspension of disbelief, it involves the prospect of complicity with those who fail us. But those, I submit, are better than ironic detachment or self-immolation, because in our world /there is nowhere else to go/. We need more and more people on our side. Better and better ones.
Back to the history.
(7) After September 28, 2006, the phrase wasn’t used on this site (or anywhere else I could find) for almost five months, until this exchange between me and Buzzer (whose tag line, “Le ciel est bleu, l’enfer est rouge.” is one of my favorites), which began by my responding to a post by a poster who thought that the Congress that had prepared to impeach Nixon had been Republican-controlled.
No. Not even close. (0 / 0)
It was a Democratic-controlled Congress, almost as entrenched as they get.
The problem is that — as is the case now — there is a conservative majority in Congress once you add the Blue Dogs to most Republicans. That is what limits the ability of Pelosi and Murtha (who is otherwise himself a conservative) to maneuver.
The answer: work towards a more liberal population, election laws that downplay the importance of money, and elect more and better Democrats. Until we’re there, try to get there.
by Major Danby on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 04:08:13 PM PDT
Are you saying that conservatives… (1+ / 0-)
…don’t care if the troops have their proper training and equipment? I’m not talking about conservative leaders, who of course don’t give a crap; I’m talking about conservative voters.
The Murtha plan should be ridiculoulsly easy to sell to CONSERVATIVES. It’s about fighting this war the RIGHT way, after all.
The fact that the blue dogs aren’t even trying to promote Murtha’s plan doesn’t speak well for their worth as lawmakers. Or as humans.
by Buzzer on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 04:23:27 PM PDT
They tend to be sheep (0 / 0)
and they tend to latch on to any defensive psychological justification just so they can avoid dealing with contradictions of the sort you raise.
Yes, the plan should be easy to sell to conservative votes — at least honest ones. But they will soak up lies and distortions to keep them from reaching logical conclusions like a thirsty desert soaks up rain.
Nevertheless, I strongly favor the Murtha plan.
by Major Danby on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 05:17:26 PM PDT
I would think… (0 / 0)
…that a “conservative” Congressional district that would elect a Democrat — ANY Democrat — would be more rational and less wingnutty than the kind of “conservative” district that would vote knee-jerk Republican.
So I’d think the voters in those districts are fairly likely to listen to reason. They’ve already made one big mental leap by voting for the Democrat to begin with.
I just think it’s ridiculous that the blue-dogs are throwing up their hands and not even TRYING to sell Murtha’s plan. Especially given how unpopular the war is. That’s just insulting to our troops.
The Democrats have a serious messaging problem. The Democrats had a serious messaging problem ten years ago. The Democrats haven’t done diddly to fix that.
I’m beginning to think it’s willful. In their hearts, this war is an enormous source of pleasure to them, and they don’t want it to end.
by Buzzer on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 05:28:45 PM PDT
I don’t buy that last part at all (0 / 0)
The problem is that a majority of the Representatives are still conservative, which makes it hard to pass bills that aren’t. The Democratic leadership wants to stop this war despite any political gain they might get from its continuation. They would like the next President not to inherit a broken military and foreign policy.
by Major Danby on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 05:49:07 PM PDT
Well, like you mentioned… (0 / 0)
…Murtha’s pretty conservative himself.
And like I said, Murtha’s bill is inherently “conservative” in nature.
And yet the “conservative” blue dogs would rather keep our troops in danger.
I’m having an increasingly hard time defending the Democratic Party against charges that they “don’t support the troops”. And their rejection of the resolutely pro-troop Murtha plan is one of the reasons why.
by Buzzer on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 05:54:31 PM PDT
/Who’s/ rejection? (0 / 0)
I think you’re painting with too broad of a brush.
by Major Danby on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 06:30:02 PM PDT
Around this time, the phrase slowly started to catch on. On DKos alone, redrelic17 used it the next day; jenniferpoole four times over the following two weeks (read this!), me again on March 14 and April 23, and then it was used six times in May, seven in June, twelve in July, almost sixty in August, a hundred times so far in September. I wish I could take credit for its popularization, but prior to Darcy’s adoption of the slogan that credit clearly belongs to Atrios, who used it on February 18, March 4, April 8, and May 20. Back here, the next use in a diary after Meteor Blades’s initial coinage was in a diary of mine on May 27, 2007; the first front page use (of 9 so far) was in a Meteor Blades story on June 20, 2007. It has been used here 52 times here in the past two weeks. Howie Klein shows 47 hits on “Down With Tyranny” and firedoglake 51, mostly since August. Google shows almost 8000 hits. (That’s versus five, if you’re curious, for “More and better Republicans,” one of which actually speaks of the Irish fighters circa 1916.) But relatively few of them evoke the spite and sorrow that attended the birth of this slogan a year ago today.
I don’t know what the phrase now means to others. To some critics, it apparently sounds like an empty goal, “success for the sake of success,” or some such. To me, it’s a statement of grim determination: /we will keep working until we have the political representation that we need/. The Democratic Party is a tool of change — not always a good one, but for as long as I’ve been alive and as far as the eye can see, the best one. And the challenge for activists is /always/ whether — in times of greatest frustration such as the Senate approval of the Military Commissions Act one year ago today — we snap that tool in half and discard it, or wheether we try to increase its power and our control over it.
I promised you a twist at the end. As you’ll see below, we’re not the only ones who ask this sort of question.
(1) I’ve left for the end the first use I could find of the phrase “more and better Democrats,” which is what led me to specify that Meteor Blades’s phrase was the first use in the /progressive/ blogosphere. The phrase comes from an obscure (four posts in September, no comments) conservative warblogger named Richard Bennett, who used it in an August 2002 post excoriating a Republican pundit, Bill Quick, for his dire response to the flailing and failing California Gubernatorial campaign of Bill Simon against Gray Davis.
Here was what Bill Quick had said, based on his frustration with the Republican Party, back before the “product launch” of the Iraq War:
absent a drastic turnaround in the focus and actions of the Bush administration, I will register my displeasure this fall by voting a straight Democratic ticket at the national level, and I urge others to register their protest in any similar way that will result in a clear message being sent to our leaders: If you fail in your sworn duty to defend the US constitution and, implicitly, the American people from obvious threats like Saddam Hussein and the Islamofascist Saudi regime, you will be thrown out of power and out of office.
Richard Bennett responded:
Cute, isn’t it? He’s upset with Bush, and to show his displeasure he wants to sell the country down the river in an election where Bush’s name isn’t even on the ballot. The only real discussion of alternatives in the Middle East comes from the Republican Party, and Quick proposes silencing them. The plan’s idiotic, and it follows a series of other “Quick fixes” that have the net result of electing Democrats. Given that his main issue is abortion, the fervor to elect more and better Democrats doesn’t make any sense.
Let me ask you — which quote above from our political opponents did you enjoy reading more?
We stand on the other side of the looking glass from Richard Bennett in August 2002. We stand at the other end — or at least we wish it were the end — of a disastrous war. We stand at the other end of the ideological spectrum, joined in our frustration at the failures of our own leaders to do what we know they must, one year to the day after one of the greatest betrayals of our beliefs and our Constitution.
We can be the mirror-image of Bill Quick, if we choose. But when I read his commentary outlining his plans, it made me happy. I don’t want our own mirror-images to be happy with what we write.
Or, we can be the mirror-image of Richard Bennett, and say:
“The fervor to do anything less than electing more and better Democrats doesn’t make any sense.
So, a happy sad anniversary to us all. We return to work with the tools and tasks at hand in our historical moment.
For the anti-Fascists fighting Franco, the tool was military: “¡No pasarán!”
For the Portuguese-speaking nations of southern Africa, the tool was enduring resistance: “A Luta Continua.”
And for those of us living in the most powerful country in the world, the tool without which all ohter tools mean nothing is electoral: “More and Better Democrats.”