The self-styled "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party"–the liberals who try to rally the Democratic base for every election–are always the good soldiers.
In a party increasingly consumed with offering a Republican-Lite agenda, they hold out hope that a Democratic Congress might investigate the Bush administration, enact national heath care or cut off funds for the occupation in Iraq. Even though party leaders disdain them, they toil on for the good of the party.
A case in point is the most recent attempt at an "inside-outside" strategy of changing the Democrats: the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). Founded in 2004 and now claiming more than 85,000 members in 135 chapters, they take responsibility for winning resolutions in support of Bush’s impeachment and for withdrawal from Iraq in state-level Democratic Parties.
In an October 17 message on the eve of congressional elections, PDA leader Tim Carpenter notes: "The strategic activism of Progressive Democrats of America gives me new hope that the Democratic Party and our country can be turned around."
Yet the fact is that the majority of liberal candidates the PDA backed in Democratic primaries lost to more conservative Democrats–many of them backed by the party establishment. Many of the winners–especially those, like Illinois candidate Tammy Duckworth, who were recruited and promoted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its pro-war leader Rep. Rahm Emanuel–are pro-war themselves.
This has put the PDA in the same position as previous formations like it: working for the election of Democrats who not only don’t share their views on the war or health care, but are actually opposed to them. Yet in the interests of party unity and a broader outlook, the PDA has urged its members to work for these candidates.
One justification is that if the Democrats take the House, then safe-seat liberals will take over key congressional committees. "Imagine the investigative work that could be done on the Downing Street Memos and the Ohio voting irregularities and the steps that could and would be taken toward the censure of President Bush with these members managing the committees," Carpenter wrote.
"For this reason, PDA is urging its members and all progressives to donate, organize and vote Democratic in November. It may involve some holding of noses in some districts, but the stakes are high and the road ahead is long. Progressives must support all the Democratic nominees–including [Jane] Harman, [Al] Wynn and Duckworth as well as centrist Democrats who faced no progressive primary challenge–so we can demand and expect the support of centrist Democrats when our candidates win future primaries."
Fat chance of that. Just look at Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is favored to win re-election as an independent after he refused to accept his defeat in the Democratic primary to the moderate Iraq war critic Ned Lamont.
The problem doesn’t just come from selfish "centrists." It’s in the setup of politics itself, where liberal support for Democrats is always a one-way street.
A good recent example might be the case of PDA-endorsed Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is looking increasingly likely to become a senator from Ohio, defeating incumbent Republican Mike DeWine.
On September 17, Carpenter presented Brown with a "Backbone Campaign" award as part of PDA-supported effort to reward Democrats who stand up against special interests, the Republicans and the White House. In Brown’s case, the PDA was commending him for leading opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
A few days later, Brown’s backbone crumbled. He was one of only 34 House Democrats to vote for Bush’s torture bill.
Of course, Brown was in a difficult position. What’s opposing torture and supporting the right of habeus corpus against the possibility of facing a Republican attack-ad melding his face with Osama bin Laden’s?
The PDA continues to back Brown, which goes to show once again that liberal groups working within the Democratic Party end up as the "gofers." They work the hardest at inspiring people to vote for an uninspiring party, and receive little in return. Yet they redouble their efforts to elect the Democrats.
As the socialist Hal Draper wrote in 1967 about the "lib-labs" (liberal-labor) of his day: "The Democrats have learned well that they have the lib-lab vote in their back pocket, and that therefore the forces to be appeased are those forces on the right."
Don’t the liberals ever get tired of being treated as doormats? How about calling another press conference and publicly rescinding the award to Brown? Now that would be a show of backbone.
LANCE SELFA writes for the Socialist Worker.