Before the California primary I was at a house party put on by supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton. (I have also attended Obama events – no hate mail, please). Clinton advisor Ann Lewis phoned in to talk about some of the issues. (Ambassador Joe Wilson also called.) At one point one of the guests asked Lewis whether progressive challenges in primaries is the best way get more progressives elected to the Congress.
Lewis gave a response that I feel should be repeated. It shows that the Clinton team has an understanding of the need to build a progressive movement outside of the electoral process if we want the country to make the changes that we progressives feel are necessary. (I am not saying that the Obama team does not have a similar understanding – no hate mail, please.)
Here is Ann Lewis’ statement about how Sen. Clinton thinks we can increase our chances of electing progressives into office in Congress.
“Hillary believes that the most effective way to elect progressive Democrats to office – and thus enact progressive policies – is by building and maintaining a progressive infrastructure, including institutions, organizations and blogs.”
At the YearlyKos Presidential Candidate Forum, Sen. Clinton gave an answer to a question that also showed an understanding of the need for non-party infrastructure, and that answer stuck with me. She said something to the effect of the reason things will be different under a Hillary Clinton presidency is that “This time, we’ll have YOU,” meaning that the Netroots will be there to watch her back, and to keep Democrats honest. (Obama also was at this forum, no hate mail please.)
If we really want long-term, structural changes in the way the public votes, the way to do this is to reach them outside of the electoral process. We need to help them understand what progressive values are – why democracy is important ad community benefits them, and conservative “you’re on your own” policies do not. This effort leverages the electoral effort by “preparing the ground” and helping the public understand what progressive candidates are trying to achieve. This way ALL progressive candidates benefit from the SAME contribution. Each $1000 given to a progressive infrastructure organization accompishes more than $1000 given to EACH candidate at every level during the election.
If we can fund organizations like the Commonweal Institute and Speak Out California, which will then work to reach the public and help restore public understanding and appreciation of progressive values and ideas, then we will start to create demand for progressive candidates and policies.