At the same time, he argued, progressive movements must continue "the fight to construct a set of visionary, value-based progressive populist politics that can win back a governing majority in this country." That's an agenda that "puts Main Street before Wall Street, that is serious about fighting for racial, gender and environmental justice, that is deeply committed to restoring [our] democracy" If we don't deliver a positive message that resonates with working people in this country, then we will continue to lose."
Shelton contrasted Wall Street Democrats with "poor people, working people, people of color, young people, women, LGBT people, immigrants" who must be the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. He called on Democrats to lead on raising the wages of American workers, on stopping the offshoring of jobs, and on protecting unions and worker rights at the workplace.
Shelton admits that too many of his members voted for Trump, in order to "shake things up." Trump is trying to lock in that working class support with his trade, tariff and tax postures, as well as the vicious race-bait appeals. Shelton argues that the only answer is a bold agenda for economic justice that appeals to working people of all races, genders and sexual preferences. That agenda expands the appeal of Democratic candidates rather than limiting it.A Progressive Agenda
The Progressive Caucus is driving that agenda inside the Congress, as its PAC is raising new resources to support progressive candidates in the field. The CPC's infrastructure bill will largely define the Democratic response to Trump's sham proposals. Its trade principles offer Democrats an alternative to the failed strategy of the past. Its annual People's Budget has been gaining traction among mainstream Democrats. At the summit, Keith Ellison announced he would spearhead the push for Medicare for All.
Speakers at the CPCC Summit also highlighted the movements that are mobilizing across the country: The victorious West Virginia teachers strike will inspire teachers and other workers across the country. The Women's March will mobilize in 10 states and Planned Parenthood announced a $20 million electoral program. Progressive groups like Our Revolution, Move on, Democrats for America, Working Families Party, the Progressive Congress Change Committee, People's Action, Indivisible, Justice Democrats and others are building capacity to recruit and support insurgent candidates.
Democratic leaders got the message of the 2016 election: voters are looking for big change. Senate leader Chuck Schumer brought Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders into his leadership group. House leader Nancy Pelosi came to the CPC Summit to champion the need for a bold economic agenda.From Old to New
Yet, the DCCC and the party pros who run it remain wedded to the old ways of doing business. They recruit candidates with deep pockets or the ability to raise big money and tend to seek out military veterans and social conservatives for contested districts. Establishment Democrats also try to limit the financial drain of contested primaries by undermining candidates like Laura Moser in Texas who might win a primary, but by DCCC calculation, are less likely to prevail in the general election. They decry "litmus tests" like Medicare for All which Republicans could attack.
Even in short-term electoral terms, there's little reason to accede to the party establishment's advice. The DCCC's track record for picking "winners" over the last election cycles hasn't earned respect. As the attack on Moser showed, efforts to undermine insurgents are likely to backfire. Primary challenges both reflect and can help build a more energized base. Resources aren't finite -- they can expand geometrically with excitement and passion, as the Sanders campaign surely demonstrated.
Fears about divisive party primaries crippling candidates are overblown. The threat of Trump and Republicans unites Democrats. The litmus tests define the candidates that progressive groups will use limited resources to support. That doesn't mean progressives won't rally in the general. The threat of Trump and Republicans unites Democrats.
If anything, the problem is that the progressive efforts are too weak, not too strong. Our Revolution is focused more on state and local races than on the congressional battle. The other groups have a limited slate of insurgents that they are supporting. Unions and the CPC PAC are more comfortable operating in the general election rather than in primary fights. The DCCC and the Democratic Party pros still play the largest role by far in determining who gets a leg up in primary races and who gets pushed down.
Midterm elections are about passion and energy. Democrats need a sea change, and the resistance to Trump is lifting the tide. Lamb's victory shows is that Democrats don't need purity to come out in large numbers to take back the Congress and confront Trump. It also shows that Democratic candidates who champion a bold kitchen table agenda can win even in the reddest of districts.
A version of this article was first published in theNation.com, where Borosage writes weekly.
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