In a previous edition of this, I discussed two of the points I’d made in an earlier post: If you don’t vote, you don’t count; and you don’t win by losing. In this one, I’m going to look at some brutally harsh numbers for people to think about in this next year. I’ve heard a lot of chatter about “better” Democrats, and “pushing the party to the Left.” Which is why I had my point “#5 – You have to do it yourself. You want a “real progressive” candidate? Go find one. You want the party to listen to your concerns? Then get involved with your local party. Don’t expect someone else to do it for you. ” Because those numbers are why the purists should either get busy, or get out of the way.
What are those numbers? The first set, 9 to 7, are the states where a single party holds all the House seats . Republicans have 9 of them. Democrats have 7. Some of the states that people on the Left like to call “solid Blue states” aren’t in that 7. That’s right, states like New York and California. They’re not even close. What’s the second group? Those are the states where there is a single representative of one party, with the other holding all the rest. The first number is for Republicans – 9. Yes, there are two states where there’s a single Republican representative – although that could drop to one.
Think about that! There are 18 states where Republicans either hold all the seats or an overwhelming majority of them. The question for the purity brigade is exactly how are you going to get them to vote for a “true progressive?” Who are you going to get to run? Do you even have any “boots on the ground” in those states? Even in the states that are “Solid Blue” from the perspective of the House aren’t always when you look at them from the perspective of the Senate. For example, Maine has both its House seats belonging to Democrats. Both Senators are Republicans. You want a “progressive Congress?” There’s 18 states where you have a lot of work ahead.
Even with that, the reality is that the “pure progressives” generally aren’t going to do well. Hence the reason that the “50 State Strategy” actually recruited many of the much-maligned “ConservaDems” or “Blue Dogs” starting in 2005. You can complain all you want about them, but that was what was necessary to win the House in the first place. Which is why the third figure is in the title: 218. That’s the number of Democrats you need to control the House. That’s the number you have to have to get a Democratic Speaker, Democratic committee chairs, and the ability to move progressive legislation through. Fleetadmiralj put it quite bluntly:
What does electing 190 fantastic Democrats to the House get you?
If you don’t have 218 seats, you can have every Representative be a “purist Democrat,” , and it doesn’t matter. The cold reality is that “pure progressives” won’t win in many – or even most – areas. I’ll use my district as an example. It was about as close to a “reliably Republican” district as you’ll find in this country. There were big parts that hadn’t had a Democrat representing them in over 150 years. We have been for the past 2 years represented by a Democrat. Progressives had conniption fits when he was nominated, because he was “not progressive!” How could the Party chairs in the district ignore “progressives”? Leaving aside the fact that “progressives” were in scant evidence in the district, the Party chairs also knew that “real progressive” candidates in the past had lost. Badly. As in: not even close; 2 or 3 to 1 margins; embarrassing results kinds of losing. So they picked a moderate, and guess what? He won. In fact he won re-election when every Democratic House member – including a progressive – around him lost in 2010.
You want to win in areas like this? It’s not enough to talk about how the party should recruit “real progressives.” It’s not enough to just write blogs about how wonderful “X” progressive candidate is, and throw some money at them. It’s doing the hard work of politics. Find and recruit the people you want to run. Get out into the area and listen to the people. It’s one thing to talk about the popularity of various ideas in polls, another to make it relevant to the people in the area you’d like to get on your side. If you can’t frame your ideas in ways that make sense to them, they won’t vote for you. If you can’t do that, you don’t get a “progressive” Congress. You see, here’s the thing – politicians and political parties like to win. If you show them that “progressive” means “winning,” by actually … winning … they’re going to go that way. Otherwise, they’re going to try something else.
Even if you do all that, you’re still not going to be “happy.” I say that because of my previous post’s point #1 – The only time you’re going to agree 100% with a politician is if you are that politician. Let’s look at the current members of the Progressive Caucus, particularly the ones that most purists point to. Bernie Sanders? He voted against closing Gitmo. Dennis Kucinich? He was anti-choice for many years, and went and changed his mind on the Affordable Care Act. Barney Frank? Well, he compromised on Wall Street re-regulation. John Conyers? He’s one of the lead sponsors in the Protect IP legislation, and several other similar laws in the past, which basically hands over a lot of control of the Internet to media companies. That’s the short list, but I can look through the membership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and not find a single Representative who hasn’t at some point attracted the ire of “pure progressives.” Does that mean they’re not progressive? No, it simply means that on at least one issue – or usually several – their personal beliefs or actions did not line up with what is currently considered the “ideal.” So unless you run and get elected, you’re not find someone you agree with 100% of the time.
That’s what the pragmatists realize. You see, we understand that we need 218. We understand that we’re not going to agree with any politician on everything. But, faced with a challenge from a Party that we don’t agree with on most things, we realize that it’s better to have that “less than pure” Congress where we get a good percentage of what we’re after, as opposed to a “pure” Congress where we don’t. That’s because we like to win, and we’re willing to do the work to do it.