Brad Parker is a California Democratic Party (CDP) Progressive who has published a book about his intra-party struggles called "Left Turn Only," and I recommend it for a number of reasons. For one thing, Parker is a fabulous writer. His critiques of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are wonderful. His vision of a progressive political platform is strong and pointed. His use of details and historical references enriches his writing. Much of the book reads like rally speeches and some of it is. It's a collection of blog posts, speeches, articles, and resolutions dating from 2005 through 2009.
I know a lot of the people Parker mentions and others he doesn't who have been involved in building the Progressive Caucus in the CDP, and they are all well-intentioned and inspiring. And so is Parker's book if one focuses on his vision and hopefulness. His recounting of party platform and resolution fights, on the other hand, doesn't do a lot for me. "California is the conscience of the nation," Parker said in April 2005 in successfully urging the CDP to pass a resolution against the Iraq War, and other state parties did follow. But California Democratic congress members went right on funding war.
Parker's next chapter heading reads "Progressives Embraced by the CDP," but were they embraced or mugged or groped? Their positions were adopted and their candidates brutally rejected. Parties are very disciplined institutions, but they enforce the will of the leaders of the party who control the purse strings, not the will of the positions articulated in party platforms or resolutions. Following an unsuccessful effort in 2006 to move the CDP to endorse Marcy Winograd's electoral challenge to Congresswoman Jane Harman, Parker swore he would have nothing to do with endorsements again, a strange and clearly untenable conclusion. But by the next chapter Parker is arguing with all his might for an endorsement of Howard Dean's candidacy for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, fully aware of Dean's flaws.
Then it's back to more resolutions, including one to censure Senator Dianne Feinstein, who of course continues to perform her duties as atrociously as ever. And eventually it's on to the struggle to insert some semi-progressive platitudes into the 2008 national Democratic Party Platform, none of which are guiding decisions in Washington now.
I suspect Parker might agree with me at the moment, given the candidacy of Marcy Winograd again this year working to knock Jane Harman out of her seat in Congress. That the progressives in the CDP have come this close to replacing someone like Harman with one of their own is the example they can hold up to the rest of us. And if passing resolutions within the state party against everything the party works for nationally has helped to inspire and engage the people now knocking on doors for Marcy, then it has been well worth all the effort.