In the course of the battles over the the health care reform bill, I’ve seen an implicit assumption being made by some Internet advocates, and those who follow them. The assumption? That they are the base of the Democratic Party. You see it phrased in various ways, sometimes as an outright statement, or by saying they’re “the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.” It’s at the core of their arguments, a solid “truth” for them. They are driven by frustration with the national Party, the President, and Congress. They aren’t doing what “we want,” they’re “not paying attention to us.” “We’re being ignored.” They look at the evangelical conservatives and teabaggers with a certain amount of envy. Their party listens to them! With much wailing and gnashing of teeth, they wonder” why our party won’t listen to us?” After all, “we’re the base!”
The obvious answer to this is something they don’t want to believe: That they’re not the base, or even a base. It’s an unpleasant thought for them, and they’d rather avoid that. While individuals among them may indeed be part of a base, as a group, they’re not. It helps to understand what a base does:
A base votes. It doesn’t just show up every 4 years to vote in a Presidential election, or a state-wide election. They don’t just show up for the general elections. A base votes in every election. They show up and vote in every primary. They show up and vote in the local elections and their primaries. They can be counted on to show up at the polls, no matter what.
A base works locally. A base works at the local party. They’re the ones who make up the committees, recruit people for, or run for local offices. They donate for local campaigns, and raise funds for the local party. They sign petitions, and get petition signatures. They work on the local campaigns, the door-to-door canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts.
A base works to select candidates. Potential primary candidates do rounds. They meet with local party members to introduce themselves, to make their case as to why they should be the candidate. A base attends those meetings, asks the hard questions, and makes their opinions known. If none of the candidates are suitable, they find ones who are.
A base is persistent. They didn’t get their way? They work harder. They recruit more people to support them. They work to push the party candidate to move towards their position. They support the party candidate this time, but look for another candidate. They keep on working at the local party level.
That’s what the far right did to the Republican Party. That’s why they’re the base. It didn’t happen overnight, it took time. While everyone else was focusing on the big names, the “spokespersons,” the national elections, the real action was happening down in the villages and counties. Why was that the real action? Because of how political parties work. Local parties control the state parties. State parties control the national parties. If you control or influence enough local parties, you control or influence the state party – and then the national party. That makes you “a base.”
The “Progressive Netroots” needs to stop and think about that, and start asking themselves some hard questions. Do they – as a group – do what a base does? Do you know who your local party chair is? Who’s on the party committee? Have you shown up for every election? Are you involved in your local party? Did you ever go to a “meet the candidate” session? Do you work to get more people who agree with you to join? Are you persistent? Do you keep at it even when you lose?
If the netroots can’t answer many of those questions affirmatively, and from the look of things, many of them won’t, then there’s the problem. They can yell and scream all they want about how the party is not listening to them. They can threaten to storm off in a huff because “they don’t represent us anymore.” But they shouldn’t claim that by doing so the Democratic Party is losing the base. Because a base is there, and they weren’t there to begin with. They need to start doing all those things that a base does, and it’s what will get them listened to. The base are the ones who help set party policy, and insure that candidates are selected who will implement it. Being a member of the base is a long-term commitment. It means doing all the unglamorous hard work at the local level, when no one is paying much attention to you.
The people who show up whenever there’s a Presidential election? The ones who chip in every now and then to a national candidate or national party? The ones who volunteered for a presidential or senatorial campaign? They’re nice to have, but they’re not the base. That’s what the netroots are right now. The Party is listening to its base. The netroots could be, but right now they’re not. Until they are, they should stop claiming they are.