I can understand the considerable passion to hand Republicans a defeat this year. I am as anti-Republican as anyone. George W. Bush will surely go down in history as the nation's worst, most corrupt, most incompetent, most dishonest, most elitist, most war-mongering, and most anti-democracy president a true disgrace to American ideals.
Still, I am deeply troubled by what I see: What all the current fervor among "progressives" to produce a Democratic victory this year reveals is that the marked growth of "progressive" activities and events in recent years may have been a charade. To some degree, it has been a semantic trick and deception to escape the effective attacks by Republicans and conservatives against liberals and Democrats. A tactic to more effectively combat conservatives, because progressive sounds good.
What is now apparent is that we have a whole lot of "neo-progressives," people who have no hesitancy in supporting mainstream Democrats in the name of defeating Republicans. Neo-progressives cannot resist the temptation to support the lesser-evil as a pragmatic strategy, justified in the name of saving the country from yet more years of Republican dominance.
I applaud what Frank J. Ranelli has said: "As suggested in the past, endorsement of candidates should be done one at a time and based on merit. Candidates should not receive blanket endorsements by-proxy for the itinerary of the DCCC or the DSCC merely by claims of being Democratic. The candidate must demonstrate not only their grasp of the issues we face and the words to express them, but must reveal the actions they will undertake to accomplish the goals of a true progressive messenger of the people." This is sound thinking. True progressives must carefully evaluate individual Democrats for their authenticity as progressives. Very few Democratic candidates, I propose, will meet this test.
History tells us (at least me and I hope many other progressives) that when in office Democrats will disappoint true progressives. Compared to Republicans, they may be less corrupted by big-money interests, they may be less dishonest, they may be less eager to undermine democracy, but such differences are quantitative, not qualitative. As Ralph Nader and, more recently, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. have emphasized, Democrats are also huge disappointments when it comes to serving the interests of working- and middle-class Americans.
Sure, neo-progressives will dwell on what a Democratic-controlled House might do in a positive vein, such as increasing the minimum wage and reducing funding for the Iraq war. And even more they are already jumping with joy about House investigations into the many misdeeds of the Bush administration, and maybe even a serious attempt to impeach Bush. Fine. These are good common dreams. But a few years later what reality will we see?
Will a 2006 Democratic win increase or decrease the chances for a Republican presidential candidate victory? The current neo-progressive excitement is all about near-term benefits, not longer term effects. A Democratic win will surely mobilize all the constituencies that have accounted for Republican successes; they will be more determined than ever to retain the White House and take back any congressional power they lose this year. But I guess neo-progressives will be happy to see Hillary Clinton become the Democratic candidate in 2008. Personally, I never saw the net positive impact of the Clinton presidency, and I am equally pessimistic about a second Clinton presidency. Moreover, I foresee a McCain candidacy that will be brilliantly marketed and sufficient to keep the White House in Republican hands.
It comes to this: Progressives should be anti-Republican. They should want Republicans to lose this year. But I also suggest that they should want ALL congressional incumbents to lose, because (with very few exceptions) ALL incumbents of both parties share the shame of the current congress. The deeper, more complex question is whether progressives should be so automatically supportive of Democrats, so thrilled about a Democratic victory, so public allies of Democrats. Without the help of the progressive community, the mood of the nation is clearly on the side of defeating ALL incumbents and, statistically, that means the odds of a Democratic victory are very high, though clearly the Bush machine is once again working to make American so afraid that they will resist voting against incumbents. This is the year of the lesser-evil conundrum.
I can understand why progressives will vote for Democrats. What troubles me is the outright excitement and vocal support for Democrats, as if they will be the salvation for the nation. This is what separates progressives from neo-progressives. Neo-progressives genuinely believe that Democrats will finally deliver the political outcomes that have been dreamed about for a long term. This seems like delusion-driven hope. Conversely, true progressives know in their hearts and minds that lesser-evil Democrats are not what we really need and they will remain committed to finding other political routes to restoring American democracy and bringing justice to our economy.
Forgive me, for speaking some truth... I like to think that progressives still respect and admire countercurrent thinking.