Why Don’t Democrats Have “Courage?”

Why does it seem that so many Democrats are “spineless” and rarely have the courage to “do the right thing?” Why does it seem they always “cave” to the right?
When I hear people talking about “the Democrats” and “the Republicans” I think what they really are seeing is the political effect of a supporting movement-oriented infrastructure that the right has and we do not. The right has a well-funded infrastructure and ecosystem that sets up a supportive public environment, rewarding their politicians for staying in line with the right’s agenda, and punishing the ones who do not. Progressives just don’t have that.
Face it, it is very easy for Republicans to be wingnuts. It doesn’t take brains or courage or commitment – they just ride a wave that their movement apparatus sets up. Their candidates ride that wave into office and their policies ride that wave into law.

But it is incredibly hard and courageous for Democrats to “do the right thing.” And it can cost them dearly. Just look at the difference between what happens to Republican and Democratic officeholders when they take strong positions that line up with the core values of their “base.”
Republicans who toe the right wing corporate line know they have the whole “conservative movement” infrastructure and political system watching their backs, sticking up for them and going after their opponents. Even if they get tossed out of office they can expect serious rewards. They get appointed to a nice agency position, or a think tank job, or a lobbying job – something will be there for them and they know it. The right takes care of their own. (And we all know this system extends through their whole infrastructure, right down to speaking fees and book advances for lowly RW bloggers.)
But it is not easy for Democrats to do the right thing. Not at all. It takes incredible courage and commitment, because they are on their own when going against the system and the right’s apparatus. For politicians who might support progressive values and policies there just is not much of a system beyond the blogosphere to encourage and support them to do the right thing. So they can expect no support – only punishment and pain. Dem politicians largely still do not support and stick up for each other and there is very little organized support from . There isn’t a reward/job/payment system at all – candidates and their staff in fact have to worry that they are harming their future political and business careers by sticking up for progressive values.
To add to this our few think tanks are very, very, very poorly funded so they won’t be hiring elected officials or staff if they lose an election, and progressives across the board pretty much do not receive anything but minimal book advances or speaking fees. (The one or two examples you can think of like former President Clinton actually just show how it could be; it is the norm on the right.)
Why should we expect our politicians to do what’s right when all that happens when they do is they get beat up (first by other Dems), lied about, smeared, humiliated, destroyed, go broke, etc…
WE here in the blogosphere are incredibly dedicated and we “do the right thing.” But look at us – many of us work for free, many more don’t have health insurance. Many of us have given up good jobs to try to help the country through this emergency. I could go on and on about how hard it is. And we certainly can’t expect to be rewarded with good jobs for our efforts. My point is that we should not think that because we put up with this lack of support, therefore everyone who shares our values will. I mean, on our side it really is often a choice between helping the movement and having a car or a family or health insurance or even health.
WHY don’t we have a movement infrastructure? First, we don’t have an understanding of the need. People seem to think it is someone else’s job to take care of things. It’s still “the Democrats aren’t…” instead of WE aren’t making the Democrats do it. So we don’t have widespread understanding that it takes a political movement to change a party.
And then there is the funding problem. We don’t have the huge funding the right has because we don’t have a movement-orientation among most of our individual and corporate/institutional/foundation donors, and most important we do not have the willingness of individual progressives to dig deep enough and donate to progressive infrastructure organizations. We should be getting millions from the grassroots and we are only getting hundreds.
Then there is a second side of politicians doing the right thing. They are politicians, and the job of a politician is to represent the public, not shape the public. They respond to demand. Good politicians have very good noses for demand. So let’s look at the demand-creation capabilities of progressives vs those of the right. The right has developed communication channels like Rush, Fox, the Washington Times and continues massive, well-funded efforts to reach the public through every possible information channel to every possible group. They have infiltrated churches, sports (NASCAR), interest groups (NRA), organizations like the American Legion, and I could just go on and on.
We have the blogosphere and … well, we do have the blogosphere.
In a YearlyKos blogger meeting with Senator Dodd he said something that has shaped my thoughts on impeachment. It distilled down to the public not understanding how impeaching Bush will make a difference in their lives – especially when the right will be pounding the message that the Dems are doing nothing that helps them in their lives.
Let’s not get caught up in whether the Dems are working for regular people or are not – we know they are – or whether impeaching does or does not – we know it does. The significance is what the PUBLIC thinks.
And here is a huge difference between the right and us — they are reaching the public-at-large with their message and we are not.
So, in summary:
1) The right has an infrastructure that rewards and punishes their politicians and progressives do not.
2) The right’s infrastructure has developed communication channels that reach out to the general public with demand-creation efforts and progressives have not.
3) The right has a movement-oriented funding system that stretches from top to bottom and progressives do not.

15 thoughts on “Why Don’t Democrats Have “Courage?”

  1. The media is also much more colonized than I have ever fully realized, even now. I watched Olberman the other night, and it was just good, ordinary, commonsense stuff, including some Britney Spears fluff, etc., but it seemed radical and wonderful.
    People, including Democrats, have become accustomed to a totally toxic media — Olberman is almost the only guy of his kind.

  2. So let me get this straight – the left has a suckie environment for getting its product (message) out because it is structured according to the principals of the “ownership” society every one for himself. While the right is incredibly effective in getting its product out because it is organized around a supportive principal where everyone takes care of one another.
    I am so confused.

  3. pobox –
    You are not the first to notice this. The right has welfare, and uses tghe old communist party as their organizational model. They follow a take care of each other approach. They have a large grassroots donor base. And then across the board they push policies that are the opposite of thieir own organizational model.
    Progressives dont take care of each other, and follow an everyone out for themselves approach.
    I am so confused.

  4. It’s a predatory group in relation to the rest of the world, but internally it takes care of its own. Some of the spokesmen, people like Limbaugh, become genuinely wealthy, though probably none become big-time industrial or financial powers.
    A lot of the grass-roots supporters, like a lot of small-time fascists, are deluded about the nature of the movement they’ve been working for. But by the time they figure things out, it will be too late for them. Dissident Nazis (or Communists) were treated pretty harshly by the ruling parties they belonged to.

  5. This is just bull shit. It’s not courage the Democrats lack, it’s goodness.
    The Democrats did not get rolled on FISA. They did not get rolled on Bankruptcy. They WANTED THOSE BILLS. They are bought and paid for by the same corrupt plutocrats that own the Republican party. Somehow, the only thing bloggers ever want to do is reward bad behavior. The only response they will ever accept is to more fervently support the bastards that scheduled the FISA vote in the first place. I’m sorry, but I’m fucking done with the party and their ‘useful idiot’ blogger base. If the party wants support, let them earn it. Until then I’m just going to pick a third party and vote for them. If the Democratic party keeps being this corrupt and evil then I doubt I’ll be alone for too much longer.

  6. “The Democrats”
    Your logic is that because SOME Democrats voted for something therefore ALL Democrats are bad.
    You are letting others have control and blaming others instead of taking responsibility. There is the option of working to get those Democrats you don’t like out, and getting ones you do like in.

  7. “The Democrats”
    Your logic is that because SOME Democrats voted for something therefore ALL Democrats are bad.
    You are letting others have control and blaming others instead of taking responsibility. There is the option of working to get those Democrats you don’t like out, and getting ones you do like in.

  8. Dave,
    The Dems can not hide behind the “some” Democrats dodge on the FISA vote. The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate enabled that legislation and then voted against it to provide themselves cover. I see it worked with you.
    You’re also trying to make a tough sell by arguing that since the right wing has made Republicanism a big time industry with lots of great career opportunities for its hirelings in elective office that the Democrats have to follow suit. Your point seems to be that unless we make it lucrative for them, we can not expect our elected Democrats to do the right thing. If that’s true then Republicans are right – “it’s always, all about the money.”
    The fact is we have plenty of multi-millionaire Democrats in office and they don’t seem to be any more inclined to do the right things than the impoverished congress people who are struggling along on $150,000/year. Your thesis would suggest that if we want good government we ought publicly finance of a million dollar bonus for any elected official who gets voted out of office to incentivize them to do the right thing even when it’s unpopular.

  9. We should make a distinction between elected officials (e.g., members of Congress) and bloggers/activists.
    MOCs generally don’t have trouble making money, if they do what those who give them money–big money–want. They also can do well financially, regardless of their political party, after they leave office, through their contacts, public speaking, books, etc. However, most MOCs want to stay in office, so they are constantly seeking votes (and the money that will help them get votes).
    This is where the Right’s idea-marketing and communications infrastructure is important: It both influences public opinion and also creates the illusion of public consensus even when consensus does not exist. Democrats as well as Republicans–electeds as well as ordinary citizens–are influenced by what they see/hear in the media. Electeds are also influenced by the communications they receive in their congressional offices and see/hear at events in their districts, whether those are genuine, spontaneous expressions of sentiment or fake events put on by right-wing PR operatives. The conservative movement makes sure its positions always appear to be noisily and visibly evidenced as “public opinion”.
    Progressives, who are woefully lacking both the funding and the coordination needed for this kind of show of sentiment, come across as scattered, conflicted, inconsistent, and weak. As a result, Democratic office holders don’t see/hear evidence of public support for taking “risky” positions–those that run contrary to the Right’s propaganda. Often, what makes these positions seem “risky” is simply that no one is making a loud, positive noise about them.
    The matter of inadequate support for progressive bloggers and activists is a related but somewhat separate matter. The Right generously supports its spokespeople, the Left does not. Given how many courageous and determined progressives are willing to blog for nothing, can you imagine how much louder a voice we could have if they could actually make a living at it? But this would not replace the rest of the apparatus that the conservative movement has, because public opinion is developed and expressed through multiple channels, not just blogs. Funding is needed for a wide variety of progressive marketing and communications infrastructure organizations/individuals if the movement is to be successful.

  10. Kate writes:
    We should make a distinction between elected officials (e.g., members of Congress) and bloggers/activists.

    That’s a great point.
    Here’s another consideration. Both the academic community and the entertainment industry should be carrying some water for liberal/lefty/progressive politics and they’re not. Lefty academics, who are at the top of their social science fields, seem forever intent on marginalizing themselves in public debate by refusing to be politic in their presentations. They leave popular discourse to the second raters who are sponsored by right wing think tanks.
    For all the blame the left gets for the libertine culture coming out of the entertainment industry, the industry seems devoted to promoting the most pernicious right wing ideas. It has popularized the idea military intervention aboard by sensationally providing a steady stream fictional tales of special forces heroics. The entertainment industry constantly celebrates rogue policemen while representing constitutional safeguards as dangerous to the public safety. You would think lefty movie and television people would be interested in telling some different stories and that they would find a way to do that.

  11. CMike and Soulite: The message delivery problem Dave is talking about is far worse for the third parties. If you ditch the Democrats, you’ll be facing exactly the same problem. Republicans have a powerful media machine (and message development machine), Democrats have a very weak one, but the various third parties are so weak that they hardly get their message out to anyone but their own members.
    If you ditch the Democrats, then what? I spent decades supporting various single-issue movements and voting for third parties, and we accomplished very little. (I think that Dave Johnson did too.) You can be as harsh as you want about the Democrats, but you still have to show me that third-party politics is actually better.
    Dave is telling us what the big problem is in the American politics of our time, and the problem would still be there even if the Democrats disappeared and the Greens became a major party.

  12. John Emerson,
    We have a two party system. I recognize that and I am a dyed-in-the-wool Democratic voter. In order to take control of the government liberal/lefty/progressive voters need to take control of the Democratic Party. We’re not going to do that by providing Senate Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi cover when they sell us out.

    Hey, hey, ho, ho
    Nancy Pelosi’s got to go

  13. John Emerson,
    We have a two party system. I recognize that and I am a dyed-in-the-wool Democratic voter. In order for liberal/lefty/progressive voters to take control of the government we need first to take control of the Democratic Party. We’re not going to do that if we provide Senate Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi cover whenever they sell us out.

    Hey, hey, ho, ho;
    Nancy Pelosi’s got to go

    [Dave, you have about the hardest to use comment section in the blogosphere. I’m sure it hurts your traffic.]

  14. CMike, I guess I misunderstood you.
    I support individual Democrats, but not the Party or its leadership. I wouldn’t be willing to have Rahm Emanuel decide how to spend my money.
    It’s all moot, I don’t have any money.

  15. Best of 2007

    As I wrote earlier, Jon Swift put together a roundup of best blog posts of 2007 from a number of bloggers. So I looked through all of my 2007 posts and picked out a few. It turns out that I…

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