Taking The Hill
Matt Stoller is moving to Capitol Hill for an as-yet-unspecified job in the House of Representatives, and as excited as I am about that, his post about the "rootsgap," the gap between a party's leadership and its base, and the need for progressives to work an inside strategy as well as an outside one, is even more exciting.
The rootsgap has been the single most salient feature of modern American politics, at least since I've been paying attention. It cuts across economic issues, media policy, foreign policy, national security, civil liberties, you name it. Conservative (and often bipartisan) political elites ignore, usually the left but often the public itself, with almost no political consequences. Joe Lieberman built an entire career, and even elevated himself to be the Vice Presidential candidate, on this feature.
What we have now is a powerful political apparatus that can elect, raise money, engage in policy debates, work through our own media channels, push back on mainstream media channels, and a set of grasstops who organize on behalf of a progressive identity. It's ten years old, and there are now thousands of trained organizers and millions of activists (like you). What we're missing, among other things, is links to direct political leaders. One of the reasons Reagan succeeded is because he had a political machine borne of the conservative activist class, one well-versed in the standard centrist trickery that led to such an infuriating rootsgap on the right. His direct mail people and his evangelical liaisons knew what they wanted, and they knew they wanted more than what the mainstream GOP was offering. While there are great people around our leaders, what is striking is how politicians are considered to be 'over there' making decisions, and activist movement people are considered to be outsiders and reactive to these decisions. This doesn't make sense; cooperation can benefit everyone involved.
Now, I don't think the analogies of our party to the Republicans of the 1970s or 1980s are perfect; the Democratic Party has different problems than the Republican Party did back then, and different opportunities. And it can't be emphasized enough that we believe in very different models of the ideal American polity. But the rootsgap is a commonality, and the rootsgap is the space in which both New Right organizing and this new progressive organizing took place. Ultimately, I don't think this problem of liberal organization can be addressed without more of us from the outside going into areas where we must take some direct (as opposed to indirect) responsibility for the decisions that happen. I believe that the next few years are going to be very hard for this world, and we desperately need a vibrant progressive world, with strong leadership and good strong liberal policies. Liberals have been correct about the war in Iraq, the financial meltdown, the Bankruptcy Bill, the deficit, the Patriot Act, and, well, pretty much everything. What they haven't been is powerful enough to prevent the mistakes the country has made. And this is a leadership problem that we can and will fix.
Too true, and I credit anyone willing to take on this challenge. Politics can be enervating and exhausting, especially at the grassroots level, because those with power continually steamroll the interests of the public and then try to claim the opposite. It's not so much a difference in ideology as a difference in mindset. Those in power feel constraints and pressures that those in the grassroots never do. And there isn't enough of a dialogue, or a sense of mutual coordination and respect, to defuse those constraints and pressures.
Anyway, I'm not making much sense, but I'm happy for Matt. And I hope a lot more progressive movement types move inside as well. The country will be better served in the exchange.