(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
based on a diary at ProgressiveBlue.com
I have to admit to being more than a little disconnected since January; life, a new and hectic job, and so many people putting words and expectations into and onto the new Administration without looking at what was actually said or not during the campaign. The life and job are all good; for an old political dog like myself, the politics have been a little too deja vu. After 4 months of increased disinterest, I’m starting to think maybe it’s time to come out of this funk.
So, when Darcy Burner took the Executive Director position at the newly renamed ProgressiveCongress.org, I thought “it’s only a matter of time before she starts connecting people to the folks on the Hill.” And sure enough, that’s exactly what she has planned. Follow me below to find out how and when, and why I think this could be the start of something really good.
A CENTRIST IS ONLY A PROGRESSIVE BY COMPARISON, or Stop Buying Junk Bonds
Back in 2006, Virginia Democrats rallied around the candidacy of Jim Webb as he ran for the Senate against then incumbent George “The Idiot” Allen. Allen became better known for the macaca label he flung at a young Indian-American Webb staffer than the cowboy boots he strutted around in, in Virginia for crying out loud! Compared to Allen, I suppose anyone could seem “progressive” but Jim Webb wasn’t and isn’t a progressive. Any more than Jim Tester from Montana was or is. Look at what they actually said on the stump, they never hid the fact that they are middle of the roaders; Webb maybe even a bit more right of center within the Democratic big tent. During the campaigns that year, though, the so-called progressive blogosphere sold both of these politicians as one of our own. Any effort at realism was met with cries some of us have become very familiar with over the past year and a half — “he’s bringing independents into the Democratic party, it’s a good thing” or “he has to say that to get elected, once he’s in office you’ll see.”
Guess what. Bringing independents and Republicans into the Democratic party is good IF they subscribe to the values and principles of the party but NOT IF they serve to drag the party further and further to the right. And “once he’s in office” we have seen both Tester and Webb and others sold as progressives to get our votes, vote not as progressives but as pretty standard centrists with a dash of “Reagan Democrat” thrown in, in the case of Webb. (By the way, I’m still trying to figure out what the hell a Reagan Democrat is. After all these years, as far as I’m concerned, that’s just another way of saying Republican.) I get why career politicians want a bigger slice of the electorate pie: more donors, more votes, a more secure seat, it’s called job security. But why do we keep buying the idea that a campaigner will become more progressive once elected? When was the last time you saw someone in Washington turn left against traffic while driving in the right hand lane?
STAR-STRUCK SUPPORTER or CITIZEN-LOBBYIST
Well, looking forward and as tends to happen with old dogs and political junkies, with Spring comes the fresh scent of new adventures or at least the chance to keep chasing the old ideal. So, I’m really looking forward to helping promote the ideal of growing a new mass of citizen lobbyists. That’s what I call regular folks who stop treating politicians like stars or semi-royalty, and begin to get involved in self-governance.
I won’t bore you right now with my full-on citizen-lobbyist rant. It goes something like this: stop treating them like they’re something special! make them answer the g-d question! build a relationship with your members of Congress, even if you don’t agree with them! get to know the staff, by name, by subject, year round! Okay, that’s the abbreviated version; stay tuned for the full course later. Let’s jump right on over to one element of what’s wrong with our system of governance: it isn’t really representative.
During an election, a candidate goes out and spends a whole lot of time (and money) telling you what they think you want to hear. They base a lot of this notion of what you think on polls, which I’m sure you know are just samplings of opinions and are largely dependent on what questions are asked, exactly how those questions are framed, how they determine the sample size and make-up, how they contact the respondents, and sometimes even whether the questioner is a male or female. To say it’s an inexact science is stretching the definition of science.
The other wonderful source candidates often have is the consultant class. In 2004, a MoveOn email read: “For years, the [Democratic] Party has been led by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base. But we can’t afford four more years of leadership by a consulting class of professional election losers.” Campaign managers are necessary, but the nattering chattering nabobs of negativity still loose in our political system are at best necessary evils and at worst the wall between a decent public servant and the people he or she serve. You have only to look at the unholy alliance of James Carville and Mary Matalin to understand that their first and only loyalty is to their own income.
Between inexact polling, Beltway insiders and star-struck supporters, quelle surprise that candidates become out-of-touch politicians so quickly. Former Congress Critter Al Wynn from Maryland is a very good case in point. Once in Congress, there is the front-desk person, and the chief of staff, and the legislative aide and the constituent services representative and the press aide and the sheer volume of mail and faxes and email and corporate lobbyists and senior Congress Critters stroking egos for votes. Layer upon layer begin to surround the new member of Congress; senior members of Congress have been treated as semi-royalty for so long and now believe they are almost invincible as incumbents, that the trouble it takes to stay truly connected with the People becomes onerous and almost unseemly. Face it, look at the way that Joe Biden is ridiculed in the media for enjoying his forays into blue-collar coffee shops. Who needs that grief!
The American Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation (APCPF) is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to bring together the collective wisdom of progressives inside and outside of Congress to promote
- peace and global security,
- energy independence,
- environmental sustainability,
- human rights,
- civil liberties and
- the health and economic well-being of us all.
We will serve as a communications, fact finding, research and education center for progressive leaders and other public policy-makers, issue advocates, the media, and the general public inside and outside of Congress.
So that’s the official “Who We Are” language (note that it doesn’t mention that it is affiliated with the Congressional Progressive Caucus–and I admit I don’t have the details so “affiliated” may or may not be the right word and for me, being connected with the CPC is a good thing–but does list CPC leaders Raul Grijalva, Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee as Volunteers on the Board of Directors). And to make you feel even better about ProgressiveCongress.org and the APCPF, here are the people in charge:
- Darcy Burner, Executive Director, former (ProgressiveBlue.com endorsed) candidate for Congress in Washington State’s 8th District, a Group Program Manager at Microsoft Corporation, and a software developer at Lotus Development Corp, with a Harvard degree and a true-Blue progressive, principal author and organizer of “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq,” endorsed by more than sixty candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate; and
- Lorelei Kelly, Policy Director for National Security, previously Director of the Real Security Initiative at the White House Project, a teacher at Stanford University’s Center on Conflict and Negotiation and Senior Associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a really smart lady and author of a guidebook for citizens entitled “Policy Matters: Educating Congress on Peace and Security.”
Both Darcy and Lorelei understand the importance of raising the participation of regular Americans in our system of governance, of connecting the People with the public servants.
AN EXPERIMENT IN DIALOGUE
My regular home base in the blogosphere is ProgressiveBlue.com, where we decided at founding that dialogue is better than ignoring or shouting or denigrating. Listening to each other and actually answering sometimes difficult questions with civility is pretty kewl beans at ProgressiveBlue and here at Docudharma. So I’m delighted that Darcy as Executive Director of ProgressiveCongress.org is promoting the idea of the People talking with members of Congress more directly, and having members of Congress respond on the record and on the floor of the House to questions put to them by the People.
Right now, if you go to ProgressiveCongress.org, you can send in questions about healthcare reform. Then, on Thursday evening (May 21st), the Congressional Progressive Caucus will have an hour on the floor of the House in front of C-SPAN cameras where the top dozen or so questions will be answered on camera. (YouTube vids to follow.)
As Darcy says, “There are no strings attached, no email addresses required, no spam, no contribution requests. Straight up disintermediated communication with members of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
This is our chance to show that there are people interested in having a rich and fruitful dialogue with our representatives in Washington, not star-struck “please fix everything for me, oh you’re so wonderful” fan mail and not antagonistic “get the hell off my lawn” rants but real honest communications. This is the start of that, not the final product; Thursday won’t be a full-on dialogue since there won’t be the opportunity for back and forth. It is a very good start though, and I hope you agree, deserving of participation and support.
Please. Take a few minutes to go over to ProgressiveCongress.org and pose a question. I’d love it if we watched Thursday night and found the top questions to come from Docudharmist and PBers! This is a chance to prove Darcy right, to prove that dialogue is better than slogans, that progressives can and should participate in our country’s governance. Then, let’s get back together on Thursday and see how this experiment in civil open discourse works in the rarified air of Washington.