Thursday, January 31, 2008

Campaign tidbits:
MoveOn primary

So now, in addition to the California primary on Tuesday, I get to cast my vote in the MoveOn primary in the next 24 hours. If one of the two candidates left standing gets two thirds in the MoveOn vote, the organization will try to use its mobilization apparatus to help the winner, beginning Saturday.

Oddly enough, I find it harder to decide what to do in the latter vote than in the former. In the primary, now that Edwards is out, I'll be voting for Obama because he seems a hair's breadth more likely to get the U.S. out of Iraq sooner. But it is much harder for me to vote for him in the MoveOn primary -- I've still got a few hours to decide whether I can stomach it.

Here are the problems:

Barack Obama should, by rights, not get a chance to vie for MoveOn's support. The guy stuck it to MoveOn when he didn't have to. Last fall, when Republicans demanded that Congress scold MoveOn for its ad referring to Bush's Iraq commander-stooge as "General Betray-us," Clinton voted no. Obama skipped the vote. This from the guy who asks us to believe in our ability to bring real change to Washington, who claims to be "powered by hope and people like you." Guess that works unless we, the people, raise the temperature of conflict a little too high for his taste.

But more importantly, I'm not sure I like the idea of MoveOn, as an organization, throwing its weight into the primaries. MoveOn is a huge and useful part of an emerging infrastructure of technologically sophisticated grassroots pressure groups that have responded to the decay of democratic (small "d") organs of civic participation. That is, a lot of us are pissed about being shut out of our own country's decision making by a combination of straight up Republican authoritarian rule combined with Democratic cowardice. We've built some alternative megaphones on the internet and increasingly among community groups on the ground.

It is not good for these groups to become simply constituent groups entirely inside the Democratic Party. Labor has done that in some periods with early endorsements and hasn't been able to pass any progressive labor law for decades. They get taken for granted.

We don't want to be taken for granted. After November, even if a Democrat wins the White House and Democrats pick up a good number of seats in Congress, a lot of us are still going to have to be lobbing pies at officeholders from the outside if we want meaningful change.

It would be smart if MoveOn could help its members remember that oppositional role, as well as the inside role we all hope to play electing whatever Democrat emerges from the primaries. It's tough during the primaries remembering that real change is going to require both roles. The MoveOn primary only obscures that awareness.

I'll give the experienced progressive warrior who writes as Meteor Blades the last word on the conundrum that confronts progressives every four years. I think he says it succinctly.

The Abolitionists, the feminists and suffragists, the trade union organizers, the Grangers, the Jim Crow foes, the environment champions, the opponents of unjustified wars, the fighters for gay rights, the human rights advocates -– every reform movement -– began and continued its struggle outside party politics. Only after years, often decades, did the fruit of those struggles become confirmed by legislation passed by elected officials. Struggles into which people gave up their money, their energy and time, their liberty and, sometimes, their lives before politicians did more than give lip service to the causes they espoused. Without the movements, reforms never would find a place on the national agenda; without sympathetic politicians, they would never be implemented. It’s a difficult, but essential pairing.

I'm not at all sure throwing MoveOn's energies into the primaries serves the cause of keeping both parts of the pairing on track.

UPDATE, Friday am: So 70 percent of MoveOn members voted to endorse Obama. Though this wasn't what I hoped for, I do hope this increases MoveOn's influence which is ultimately a good thing.


Jane said...

I've been wondering a lot lately why the two parties own US politics. We had an open primary here (WA) until the two parties sued because giving people free choice diminished party power. Why does democracy equal "rule by two private organizations"?

Fr. John said...

SEIU and UNITE-Here have endorsed Obama in CA, in addition to the Move-On endorsement. Is this too late to make a difference, or can these unions help pick up votes for Obama in the Latino community?

janinsanfran said...

I would guess that Obama will do very well in a targetted way in California -- that is, get a very respectable number of delegates even if he doesn't win the popular vote.

He'll do fine with many Latinos, younger folks, those who live in a more socially integrated youth cohort. He won't do as well with low income Latinos who live in more traditional settings -- including the members of HERE and SEIU which makes the endorsements interesting. They'll put their staffs into this and that is an electoral force.

sfmike said...

It's partly irrational, but I can't stand MoveOn. They've never really been a force to get us out of Iraq, and all the money they spend on political marketing crap strikes me as wrongheaded. They should be giving the money to you and people like you instead, because in essence they've simply become an echo chamber like the "development" departments of lots of nonprofits.

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