Progressives often wonder why so many Republican lawmakers stick to their avowed principles while so many Democratic lawmakers abandon theirs. We can grasp some answers by assessing the current nationwide drive called "Primary My Congressman" -- a case study of how right-wing forces gain ground in electoral terrain where progressives fear to tread.
Sponsored by Club for Growth Action, the "Primary My Congressman" effort aims to replace "moderate Republicans" with "economic conservatives" -- in other words, GOP hardliners even more devoted to boosting corporate power and dismantling the public sector. "In districts that are heavily Republican," the group says, "there are literally dozens of missed opportunities to elect real fiscal conservatives to Congress -- not more "moderates' who will compromise with Democrats. . ."
Such threats of serious primary challenges often cause the targeted incumbents to quickly veer rightward, or they may never get through the next Republican primary.
Progressive activists and organizations could launch similar primary challenges, but -- to the delight of the Democratic Party establishment -- they rarely do. Why not?
Here are some key reasons:
* Undue deference to elected Democrats.
Members of Congress and other elected officials deserve only the respect they earn. All too often, for example, plenty of Congressional Progressive Caucus members represent the interests of the establishment to progressives rather than the other way around.
* Treating election campaigns more like impulse items than work that requires long-term planning and grassroots follow-through.
The same progressives who've spent years planning, launching and sustaining a wide range of community projects are apt to jump into election campaigns with scant lead time. Progressives need to build electoral capacity for the long haul, implementing well-planned strategic campaigns with candidates who come out of social movements and have a plausible chance to win on behalf of those movements.
* Assuming that millions of dollars are necessary to win.
Yes, successful campaigns require effective fundraising -- but money is often a less significant obstacle than a shortage of comm itment and willingness to do painstaking grassroots organizing.
* Self-marginalization by ignoring elections.
S ome on the left prefer to stay out of electoral contests while focusing on the next protest demonstration -- thus leaving the electoral field to battles between corporate Democrats and Republicans. One sure result: a progressive won't win.
* Self-marginalization with third-party efforts in partisan races.
In congressional races, Green Party and other progressive third-party candidates have a zero record of success in our lifetimes. In other races with party affiliations also on the ballot (such as governor and state legislature), victories have been almost nonexistent. In such races, the corporate-military complex is not in the slightest threatened by third-party candidates, who rarely get higher than a low single-digit percentage of the vote. In nonpartisan races, by contrast, there are examples of successful and uplifting campaigns by third-party candidates, as with Green Party member Gayle McLaughlin, the mayor of Richmond, California.
By changing just a few words in the Club for Growth's "Primary My Congressman" manifesto, progressives have a road map for electoral progress: In districts that are heavily Democratic, there are literally dozens of missed opportunities to elect real progressives to Congress -- not more of those who go along with the Obama White House as it keeps compromising with Republicans.
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