Articles by this Author
Then You Win
by Jerome Armstrong
August 9, 2006
I was up in New Hampshire yesterday with college age Sierra Club activists, doing a back and forth debate/discussion with the Sierra Club President, Lisa Renstrom, over the issue of their embracing partisan politics, and advancing the progressive movement ahead of their own single-issue advocacy. I laid out the argument that single-issue advocacy was something that seemed to work in a previous time, but not in today's partisan atmosphere, and that if a substantive, transformative change in environmental policy was to happen, it would occur because the millions of environmentalists decided to join the netroots/grassroots activists now taking over the Democratic Party. I quoted Krugman's channel of CTG tough love. Lisa countered that social movements do not make up political parties, but impact them, and she effectively made the case that environmentalists can drive the public debate at the state level in a non-partisan manner. I totally agreed, but believe that that impact can be overtly partisan, and that a distinction must be made between the state, more local level, and the federal races.
Having become just another lobbying group instead of a movement, the Sierra Club and the many single-issue groups like them, NARAL, League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood, AFL-CIO, SEIU, CWA, NALC, NAGE, Food and Commercial Workers, Teamster's, Firefighters, Carpenters, Postal Workers, IBEW, Human Rights Campaign, etc., found themselves aligned in the minority alongside Joe Lieberman on Tuesday night. Lieberman's problem wasn't policy, it's that he's not been a part of the solution--the movement of change that forms its base with people of progressive values, not issues.
We are becoming strong enough in primary numbers to defeat the politics of old in the Democratic Party. But we cannot defeat the conservative ideological movement if they are united, and we are not; if they are modern and we are stuck in the methods of the past. In a nutshell, I argued that to win elections and transform the landscape enough to enact a broader environmental policy initiative that addresses issues such as global warming, every progressive individual, group, and organization must work together in the same vehicle. Sure the Democratic Party has been busted and broken in the past, but lets rebuild it and ride it to get there.
Then I drove down to Meriden, CT to watch Ned Lamont's victory speech (I arrived 10 seconds before Ned began speaking) and celebrate afterwards with everyone gathered (the highlight being the 5 gallon champagne bottle brought out by Bill Hillsman and watching Tom Mattzie try to pop the cork).
During Ned's speech, Matt Stoller started the "Bring Joe Home" chant that was an interlude between the chants of "Common Good" and "Swan-ee", and before "We Do To" wrapped it up. It was a chuckle-bringer to see Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson doing bookends behind either side of Ned Lamont up on the stage (Jesse threw confetti on Al, and whenever Ned would deliver a good one-liner, Al would give Jesse a `not bad' heads-up nod). Even though I don't imagine that their savvy getting-in-the-lens is what the Lamont team had in mind for showing the CT evening news crowd, Al & Jesse were three moves ahead of the Lamont stage advance, lol.
Seeing Jackson up on the stage backing Lamont, it's easy to imagine how this might be viewed this as a victory of some sort of a "New Left" contra the DLC (Jackson's old nemesis from the 1980's-90's). And sure, the DLC doesn't have a winning template for Democratic electoral victories at the national level--but neither does labor, the single-issue groups, our national Democratic organizations, or Jesse Jackson, for that matter. It makes just as little sense to single out one single-issue group as it does the DLC in describing the new intra-party machinations at work.
Some think it's all about the war. And certainly there is the issue of Iraq, and the stance there, of enabling Bush instead of promoting a substantive distinction. And notice how Leiberman almost won this election off of the strength of finally starting to distinguish himself from Bush in the last weekend--too late too little, perhaps. Still, the media swing that Lieberman pulled off at the end of the campaign made this race 10 points closer than it was a week ago. Their bringing those `low information' voters to the polls was impressive. Despite that, and because ~45% of those elibible voted in the primary, Lamont won because he was getting informed voters to the polls-- those among the 22% of Democrats that tune into the blogs (of whom 99% vote).
Other's think it's all about partisanship, and there's no denying that Bush-Rove has set the table on which politics happens today. Partisanship is enough to form the backbone of opposition, but being "counter-Bush" alone is not why Ned Lamont won.
Strong stances over Iraq and partisanship are both values that work politically today. To get to why Lamont won is going to take some digging. Maybe looking to the results from the Courage Campaign polling provides a template for understanding the results; where we see a lack of identity with single-issues for voting, and instead see a stronger identification of underlying values is at play. Being able to identify with something larger, which leads in a different direction, and involves a meta-identity for people to belong to with their vote, is probably near what is happening.
The message that voting for Ned Lamont meant a different direction got through, and he successfully (unlike what the Democratic Committees have done) framed that change within a broader set of values instead of a laundry list of issues.
I'm now heading over to the Makor lecture at 8 pm this evening in NYC (35 W 67th St) to be on a panel with Ari Wallach, Karen Finley, Matt Bai and Matt Taibbi, speaking about where the Democratic Party is heading.
I think we got a clear indication last night of where it's going in terms of the intra-party debate. Now if we are going to move further, beyond the base turn-out politics of the `06 mid-terms, and into an `08 governing majority, with an agenda of transformative policy changes, it means the progressive organizations and groups will have to join the people whom are already in the movement.
AFSCME's bottom-up revolution
by Markos Moulitsas
August 4, 2005
In Crashing the Gate, Jerome and I argue for the devolution of centralized power to the states, allowing local leaders who know their own lay of the land best to make important decisions.
Labor unions have traditionally been very much top-bottom organizations, yet some, like SEIU, have thrived on decentralization (locals in California and New York have almost as much power as national HQ). Now AFSCME, one of the most successful unions in recent times, is about to radically transform the way it does business.
* AFSCME has long believed that local union presidents know their city councils and state legislatures best. So we're going to help state councils and local unions develop the tools they need to win, including establishing a leadership institute to provide on-the-ground training for local leaders and activists.
* We will commit unprecedented resources to new organizing campaigns and mobilizing existing members. In fact, we've set a goal to grow our 1.4 million membership by 5% each year.
* We will retool our political program to run year-round, rather than just in the months leading up to an election. Rather than defending our values against right wing attacks, we're going on a fulltime offensive to expose how their morally bankrupt agenda is destroying America as we know it.
* We will rekindle the fight for universal health care and other agenda items that underscore our progressive values of security, opportunity and fairness for all. After all, electing progressives to office won't matter much if we don't build an environment in which they unabashedly can fight for our values - and win real policies that improve people's lives.
This list is straight out of Crashing the Gate -- decentralize, empower people at the local level, focus on growing the ranks of the labor movement, take a holistic approach to progressive politics, and fight 24/7/365. Compare to the rest of the progressive movement, which still doesn't get it. Today, in Times Select, Paul Krugman's column channeled CTG:
Now compare this with the behavior of advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, the environmental organization, and Naral, the abortion-rights group, both of which have endorsed Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, for re-election. The Sierra Club's executive director defended the Chafee endorsement by saying, "We choose people, not parties." And it's true that Mr. Chafee has usually voted with environmental groups.
But while this principle might once have made sense, it's just naïve today. Given both the radicalism of the majority party's leadership and the ruthlessness with which it exercises its control of the Senate, Mr. Chafee's personal environmentalism is nearly irrelevant when it comes to actual policy outcomes; the only thing that really matters for the issues the Sierra Club cares about is the "R" after his name.
Put it this way: If the Democrats gain only five rather than six Senate seats this November, Senator James Inhofe, who says that global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," will remain in his current position as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. And if that happens, the Sierra Club may well bear some of the responsibility.
The Sierra Club's endorsement of Chafee is an endorsement of Inhoffe. NARAL's endorsement of Chafee is an endorsement of whichever wingnut takes over the helms of the Senate Republicans (Trent Lott?).
So while the old guard issue groups may be oblivious to our political reality (and they are), it's great to see at least parts of Labor changing its ways to adapt. In CTG we praised the Change to Win unions for recognizing that the best path toward a healthy and revitalized labor movement was organizing. Labor is our version of the megachurches -- a captive audience that can be educated on the issues that matter most to them. The more union members we have, the stronger the Democratic Party will become. It's not coincidence that the decline of the Democratic Party tracks the decline of the labor movement.
So I'm thrilled at AFSCME's change agenda. It bodes well for not just Labor, but for everyone who cares about the Democratic Party and progressive causes and issues.
An official from a different union, when queried about the initiative, said:
McEntee's AFSCME has been one of the great success stories of organized labor in the past two decades, in terms of organizing, bargaining, and political activity. (In AFSCME's case, success in the first two areas can be largely attributed to success in the third.) I have little doubt that this initiative will position them to continue building on an impressive record.
Also included on the AFSCME agenda, and not discussed in their blog post, is a "modest" dues increase. AFSCME reportedly has some of the lowest dues in the labor movement, so the increased revenue should give it the financial firepower to accomplish its goals.
Use the Tools
June 15, 2006
The media landscape is changing dramatically, seemingly on a daily basis, and what we once considered serious dangers to our democracy--things like media consolidation and the absence of balance and fairness--will become increasingly less important. We are at the beginning of the age of citizen media, where corporations can own vast, billion-dollar media outlets yet fail to control the flow and content of information. It's quite hard to be a media gatekeeper when everyone becomes media, and that's what we're seeing happen in the age of blogs, wikis, social networking sites, podcasting, vlogging, message boards, e-mail groups and whatever wonderful communication technologies emerge tomorrow.
Consolidation isn't saving newspaper circulation numbers. And television is likewise confronted by two looming trends. First, great video can be produced on gear costing less than $1,000, and technology (such as Apple's iMovie) has dramatically simplified once-technologically-complex tasks so that the most casual hobbyist can create great content. Second, the convergence of the Internet and television is imminent.
his means that by the end of the decade there will be little distinction between traditional television content and that distributed via the Internet. Televisions will be web-enabled, able to pull content from the Internet. Much as blogging has allowed writers to bypass traditional publications, video producers will be able to ignore the corporate broadcasters and deliver their content directly to the masses. The wildly popular upstart YouTube is already doing this on the web. The jump from computer screen to television screen is closer than most of us realize. The fight over media consolidation is becoming increasingly anachronistic. We need to focus on making sure progressives learn to use the tools of this new media landscape. That's where the new-century media wars will be fought and won. Not in a corporate boardroom.
YearlyKos Keynote Address
July 9, 2006
Markos Moulitsas gave the keynote address on June 9 and the first annual YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas.
Hi, my name is Markos Moulitsas. I run a site called Daily Kos.
It's one thing to talk about people-powered politics. It's another to see it in action.
And these have been heady days for the people-powered movement.
We're only four years old, from the early days when bloggers like Atrios and Jerome Armstrong at MyDD inspired bloggers like me and countless others to stop railing at Fox News and our so-called-"liberal" pundits, and start publishing those rants on the web.
Read the rest of this speech
Hillary Clinton: Too Much of a Clinton Democrat?
The Washington Post
By Markos Moulitsas
May 7, 2006
Hillary Clinton has a few problems if she wants to secure the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. She is a leader who fails to lead. She does not appear "electable." But most of all, Hillary has a Bill Clinton problem. (And no, it's not about that. )
Moving into 2008, Republicans will be fighting to shake off the legacy of the Bush years: the jobless recovery, the foreign misadventures, the nightmarish fiscal mismanagement, the Katrina mess, unimaginable corruption and an imperial presidency with little regard for the Constitution or the rule of law. Every Democratic contender will be offering change, but activists will be demanding the sort of change that can come only from outside the Beltway.
Hillary Clinton leads her Democratic rivals in the polls and in fundraising. Unfortunately, however, the New York senator is part of a failed Democratic Party establishment -- led by her husband -- that enabled the George W. Bush presidency and the Republican majorities, and all the havoc they have wreaked at home and abroad.
Of course, it's still early. At this point in the last presidential cycle, the first hints of Howard Dean's tr ansformational campaign were barely emerging. In 2002, the Democrats had no clear front-runner, but the conventional wisdom was betting on a handful of insider candidates with money and connections: Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman and John F. Kerry, and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt. These three were supposed to contend. The early polls gave them (especially Lieberman) the inside track to the nomination, and the media gave the rest of the field no more than its usual dismissive coverage.
But the netroots -- the far-flung collection of grassroots political activists organizing online -- proved to be a different world, one unencumbered by Washington's conventional wisdom. Even as the establishment mocked Dean and his supporters ("like a scene out of the 'Star Wars' cantina," laughed a rival campaign aide), his army of hyper-motivated supporters organized across all 50 states. This movement exploded onto the national scene when Dean began reporting dramatically higher fundraising numbers than his opponents. Had Kerry not lent himself millions to reach the Iowa caucuses, and had Dean not been so green a candidate, Dean probably would have been the nominee.
Dean lost, but the point was made. No longer would D.C. insiders impose their candidates on us without our input; those of us in the netroots could demand a say in our political fortunes. Today, however, Hillary Clinton seems unable to recognize this new reality. She seems ill-equipped to tap into the Net-energized wing of her party (or perhaps is simply uninterested in doing so) and incapable of appealing to this newly mobilized swath of voters. She may be the establishment's choice, but real power in the party has shifted.
Our crashing of Washington's gates wasn't about ideology, it was about pragmatism. Democrats haven't won more than 50 percent of the vote in a presidential election since 1976. Heck, we haven't won more than 50.1 percent since 1964. And complicit in that failure was the only Democrat to occupy the White House since 1980: Bill Clinton.
Despite all his successes -- and eight years of peace and prosperity is nothing to sneeze at -- he never broke the 50-percent mark in his two elections. Regardless of the president's personal popularity, Democrats held fewer congressional seats at the end of his presidency than before it. The Democratic Party atrophied during his two terms, partly because of his fealty to his "third way" of politics, which neglected key parts of the progressive movement and reserved its outreach efforts for corporate and moneyed interests.
While Republicans spent the past four decades building a vast network of small-dollar donors to fund their operations, Democrats tossed aside their base and fed off million-dollar-plus donations. The disconnect was stark, and ultimately destructive. Clinton's third way failed miserably. It killed off the Jesse Jackson wing of the Democratic Party and, despite its undivided control of the party apparatus, delivered nothing. Nothing, that is, except the loss of Congress, the perpetuation of the muddled Democratic "message," a demoralized and moribund party base, and electoral defeats in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
Those failures led the netroots to support Dean in the last presidential race. We didn't back him because he was the most "liberal" candidate. In fact, we supported him despite his moderate, pro-gun, pro-balanced-budget record, because he offered the two things we craved most: outsider credentials and leadership.
And therein lie Hillary Clinton's biggest problems. She epitomizes the "insider" label of the early crowd of 2008 Democratic contenders. She's part of the Clinton machine that decimated the national Democratic Party. And she remains surrounded by many of the old consultants who counsel meekness and caution. James Carville, the famed longtime adviser to the Clintons, told Newsweek last week, "The American people are going to be ready for an era of realism. They've seen the consequences of having too many 'big ideas.' "
Meanwhile, pollster Mark Penn, a brilliant numbers guy, has counseled the Hillary team to ignore the party's netroots activists as "irrelevant." (After all, didn't Dean lose?) Little surprise that in late March, the Daily Kos's bimonthly presidential straw poll delivered bleak results for Clinton, with just 2 percent of respondents making her their top choice for 2008.
At a time when rank-and-file Democrats are using technology to become increasingly engaged and active in their party, when they are demanding that their leaders stand for something and develop big ideas, Clinton's closest advisers are headed in the opposite direction. But big ideas aren't Bush's problem -- bad ideas are.
Yet staying away from big ideas seems to come naturally to Hillary Clinton. Perhaps first lady Clinton was so scarred by her failed health-care reform in the early 1990s that now Sen. Clinton shows no proclivity for real leadership as a lawmaker.
Afraid to offend, she has limited her policy proposals to minor, symbolic issues -- such as co-sponsoring legislation to ban flag burning. She doesn't have a single memorable policy or legislative accomplishment to her name. Meanwhile, she remains behind the curve or downright incoherent on pressing issues such as the war in Iraq.
On the war, Clinton's recent "I disagree with those who believe we should pull out, and I disagree with those who believe we should stay without end" seems little different from Kerry's famous "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" line. The last thing we need is yet another Democrat afraid to stand on principle.
In person, Clinton is one of the warmest politicians I've ever met, but her advisers have stripped what personality she has, hiding it from the public. Some of that may be a product of her team's legendary paranoia, somewhat understandable given the knives out for her. But what remains is a heartless, passionless machine, surrounded by the very people who ground down the activist base in the 1990s and have continued to hold the party's grassroots in utter contempt. The operation is rudderless, without any sign of significant leadership. And to top it off, a sizable number of Democrats don't think she could win a general election, anyway.
Can Hillary Clinton overcome those impediments? Money and star power go a long way, but the netroots is now many times larger than it was only three years ago, and we have attractive alternatives to back (and fund), such as former governor Mark W. Warner and Sen. Russell Feingold.
Just as we crazy political junkies glimpsed the viability of the candidacy of an obscure governor from a small New England state three years ago, today we regard Hillary Clinton's candidacy as anything but inevitable. Her obstacles are big, and from this vantage point, possibly insurmountable.
Markos Moulitsas is founder of the political blog Daily Kos and coauthor of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics (Chelsea Green Publishing).
The Soldier in Me
The American Prospect
By Markos Moulitsas Zuniga
May 4, 2006
It was January 1989, during my senior year in high school. My family was sitting at the dinner table when my mother turned to me: “I was talking to some mothers today, and their kids are all applying for colleges. When are you going to get to it?”
I stared back, “I already told you. I’m joining the Army.”
Until that moment, my parents apparently thought my plans for military service were a form of youthful rebellion. Or stupidity. But that night my plans suddenly became real -- the start of a months-long battle to convince them that I knew what I was doing and would not be deterred.
Normally, I wouldn’t care what my parents thought. I was a teenager. But at 17, I needed parental approval to enlist, a battle I eventually won. Six weeks shy of my 18th birthday, I reported to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to train as an MLRS/LANCE Operations/Fire Direction Specialist, managing operations and logistics for a missile platoon.
I was a mess of a human being. I was 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighed just 111 pounds, and didn’t have a shred of self-confidence. In high school, I had been the short, skinny, Salvadoran war refugee with the funny accent who looked half his age (still do) and read books in the (then) lily-white Chicago suburb of Schaumburg. A deadly combination.
I was also a Republican. As a 17-year-old precinct captain in 1988, not even old enough to vote, I helped deliver one of the district’s best precinct performances for Henry Hyde. I had a framed picture of me with George H. W. Bush.
Of course, that was a different time, a different Republican Party. And I was a different kind of Republican -- always socially liberal, committed to fiscal sanity, and willing to pay more than lip service to the concept of national service. Talk was cheap. I was going to wear combat boots.
* * *
Military service is a sacrifice from the beginning. The cheap combat boots assigned to new recruits blister the toughest of feet -- after one particularly grueling 20-plus-mile road march with a 100-pound rucksack, I literally squeezed out blood from my socks. But basic training was the best thing to ever happen to me. They say they break you down in basic training so they can rebuild you into a real man. I was already broken when I arrived at Fort Sill. For me, it was all building.
Eight weeks later, I emerged a brand new person, this one weighing 140 pounds. And after my three-year stint, while I was stationed in Germany and missed deploying to the Gulf War by a hair, I emerged as a Democrat.
There’s a reason most vets running for office this year are running as Democrats. The military is perhaps the ideal society -- we worked hard but the Army took care of us in return. All our basic needs were met -- housing, food, and medical care. It was as close to a color-blind society as I have ever seen. We looked out for one another. The Army invested in us. I took heavily subsidized college courses and learned to speak German on the Army’s dime. I served with people from every corner of the country. I got to party at the Berlin Wall after it fell and explored Prague in those heady post-communism days. I wasn’t just a tourist; I was a witness to history.
The Army taught me the very values that make us progressives -- community, opportunity, and investment in people and the future. Returning to Bush Senior’s America, I was increasingly disillusioned by the selfishness, lack of community, and sense of entitlement inherent in the Republican philosophy. The Christian Coalition scared the heck out of me. And I was offended by the lip service paid to national service when most Republicans couldn’t be bothered to wear combat boots. I voted for Bush in 1992, but that was the last time I voted Republican.
Lest this sound like an ad for the Army, those were different times, when our men and women weren’t treated as expendable pawns in a neoconservative’s game of Risk. One of the many tragedies of the Iraq War is that the military is no longer a viable option for those needing a boost up the socio-economic ladder, making college a possibility, granting people the confidence and experience that has paid such huge dividends for countless veterans.
Daily Kos and Crashing the Gate, my co-authored book, would not exist without the confidence and experience I gained in the military. Yet I wouldn’t enlist in today’s world. I look forward to the day that military service is once again a viable alternative for people like the person I used to be.
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga is the proprietor of DailyKos.com and co-author, with Jerome Armstrong, of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics (Chelsea Green).