I know it may seem to people that I have a personal problem with many on the professional left, but I assure you that is not the case. I know many of them, and actually count a number of them among my friends. Most are generally decent people, who just don't seem to understand how politics works. You can have all the highest ideals in the world, but if your actions don't help implement them, what you're doing is actually somewhat worthless. Worse, depending on how you frame an ideal, you could end up doing more harm than good.
There are only two keys to progressive success.
- Tell the truth.
- Get the best possible candidates into office.
That's it. That's all we have to do. Of course, these two keys are a bit more complicated than they sound. Always telling the truth means always sticking to proven facts and context, and not simply stating what you believe to be true. That should be easy, because facts tend to have a liberal bias.
And getting the best possible candidates into office is also more than voting for progressives. There are simply some states and districts that can't elect a progressive candidate right now. That doesn't mean they never can, but after 32 years of neocon influence, it'll take a lot of work. In the meantime, we have to deal with what is, and there are simply not 218 progressive districts in this country.
Like I said, you can have all the high ideals you want, but you have to deal with reality.
For about 40 years, the progressive side of the debate has largely been dormant. We've been extremely ineffective, politically, and that has allowed a small minority of right wing idiots dominate electoral politics for the last 32 years.
And the main reason for this dormancy is because too many of the progressive movement's most vocal “advocates” apparently believe that what Limbaugh, Hannity and Fox News do actually works to make the right more popular, so they try to mimic that, to make the left more popular. They're not entirely wrong. The right's negativity does work, but only with the right. What the right wing echo chamber does makes right wingers love them, but it turns off everyone else. Given that this is a democracy, certainly you can see the problem, right? If 20% of the population likes you, but everyone else hates you, you're not winning anything.
Well... that's only true if they vote for someone else. If they stay home, it actually plays to the Republican strategy.
Progressives must always keep in mind that the number one Republican strategy in every election is to depress turnout at the polls. Because they’re a small minority of the population, making people want to stay home is the only way they can win. There are actually TWO purposes for their disgusting rhetoric; the obvious one is to excite their extremist base with red meat. But the other is just as important; they want to make the people in the political middle, including swing voters who actually decide elections, not want to vote.
It shouldn't be surprising that, when the professional left tries to mimic the Fox News crowd, the rhetoric, it has the same effect. Right wingers like nothing more than making liberals mad, so they're fired up when we spit venom. Plus, when we're just as negative as the right, it turns off the same people. And when the professional left smashes Democrats in the face, and gives voters the impression that both parties suck, that really gives most voters no reason to come out.
This is why we lose. The GOP can't win when turnout is low, and when we help them reduce turnout, we are actually undermining our own cause.
This isn’t just conjecture; the numbers bear this out. When you look at voter turnout figures (Go here, here and here), you can see, clear as a bell, when progressives were effective politically, and when we started losing, and it's tied to turnout. Look at the presidential election years; when turnout was around 60%+ every election, we got people like FDR, Truman, Ike and Kennedy. Since 1980, the ONLY two times we even came close to 60%, in 2008 and 2012, we got the first Democrat to win a clear majority for president since LBJ in 1964, and he did so twice. (Clinton never got more than 50% of the vote.) In the 1950s and 1960s, the off-year elections featured 45-50% turnout, and we had a moderate/progressive majority. In fact, during the 1960s, when we got civil rights and Medicare, Democrats had a supermajority. And the right wingers who occupied the Dixiecrat and Taft wings of the two major parties had minimal influence in Congress.
That’s not coincidence.
When we’re positive and truthful, we win. When we’re negative and less than truthful, we lose. It’s really that simple. In 2008, we rallied the troops behind Barack Obama, and he won in a walk. Immediately after his election, the professional left retreated into lies and distortions, and we lost in historical fashion in 2010. Again, NOT coincidence.
If we truly want a progressive country, we have to convince a majority of voters that progressive values are a winner. We can’t do that through negativity and falsehood. You have to understand that a large portion of the voting populace doesn't make a decision regarding who to vote for, but rather, whether or not to vote. If you're an average voter and you're trying to decide whether or not to show up on a cold November day and cast a ballot, and both sides are telling you Democrats suck, even if you already know Republicans suck, why would you show up and vote?
Yet, that's what happened in 2010, and there are signs of it happening again in 2014. And a lot of the problem is the garbage coming out of liberal blogs and websites that is either untrue or seriously exaggerated, as they do with so many stories, like the NDAA, drones or Obamacare.
Republicans and right wingers lie because they have to. We don't have to. So it's unacceptable when our side does it.