Politics 102: 9 To 7. 9 To 2. 218. Just Some Numbers for the Purists to Think About.

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?

absolutely nothing.

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.



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22 responses to “Politics 102: 9 To 7. 9 To 2. 218. Just Some Numbers for the Purists to Think About.

  1. Excellent blog, Norbrook. You couldn’t have laid it out any more clearly. Here is where the battleground lies: are we willing to fight for most of what we want, or throw up our hands and settle for getting nothing?

    Getting nothing might make it easier to complain for the next few years. And if complaining is what makes you happy, then go for it. If you really want to start seeing change, quit complaining and get to work.

    Frankly, if you don’t vote, and if you don’t work toward what you want, you’re irrelevant.

    I’m getting to work.

    • All the Professional Left and the purity brigade are showing the Democratic Party is that “pure progressive” is a losing proposition. Seriously, if you look at what the various “pure” candidates have done in the past three elections, they generally have lost. In fact, if you look at it, the quickest way to see if a candidate is going to lose is if Adam Green’s PCCC supports them.

    • Nathan Katungi

      I totally cosign your comment, Aquagranny! Norbrook is a master teacher when it comes to dealing political reality.

  2. fleetadmiralj

    Shouldn’t this be politics 103? lol.

    And I suppose their counter argument to my point that you quoted above was “they lost in 2008 by running purists – but won in 2010,” but if that’s going to be their counter, it’s missing a lot of context, as in the fact that the economy hadn’t rebounded, they wanted to punish people, and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that no one had truly seen what it would be like to have Tea Partiers in control yet.

    Now that we’ve had a year to see what Tea Partiers would do, Republicans aren’t necessarily doing so hot anymore.

    And here is the other problem: If Republicans are purist, and Democrats are purist, where to the moderates go? If the GOP ever become sane again, and moderates flock back to the GOP, the new purist Democratic Party is going to be in a big world of hurt. And even if the GOP doesn’t become sane, it seems likely that moderates will end up forming some sort of centrist party, and which purist party do you think will be most likely pushed to the side? Probably not the GOP. And then instead of a center-left party going against a right-wing party, you only have a centrist party, with little or no “left” component. And Progressives will find themselves with absolutely no voice.

    • I think the problem for the purists on the left is that they think they have the same power as the purists on the Right. What they ignore was that the 2010 election was a “last gasp” in many ways, and that unlike the purists of the Left, the ones on the Right had spent a lot of time building their power and actually … working … for the Republican Party.

      • Nathan Katungi

        I also think that purist on the right have not just been on sidelines throwing tantrums. For over forty years they been actively involved in recruiting candidates and building grass root support, taking the party machinery on all levels, and doing what you called “the hard work of politics.”

        • Exactly. It’s why the Tea Party groups were able to field candidates seemingly “out of nowhere.” There was nothing “magical” about it, they already knew who was out there, and if you look at the slates they put up, most of them had previously been elected to local offices or were very well-known in their areas.
          I guarantee you that 95%+ of the “purists” on the Democratic side couldn’t come up with slates like that, because quite frankly, they consider local politics to be beneath them.

      • ArrogantDemon

        They dont have Koch brother funded agencies and think tanks, they dont have thousands of loyal followers to spread the word and the will to do so.

        Its more latte sipping complainers sitting in the coffee shop in front of their laptops bitching on blogs

        Wasnt this tried in Arkansas in 2010, you cant get that type of progressive there elected, neither in Kansas where you have the bain of the progressives, Ben Nelson going more to the right to keep his seat.

        Work to build up blue states like Connecticut and Massachusetts, we hardly have a progressive radio station here except for the one in Northampton, how about building to create a progressive one in a progressive state, you know, little shit to start

        The conservatives have been building this machine for decades from deregulation of the media via Reagan to packing the courts with conservatives, and you think you are or can be equal to that in s short time via bitching on blogs……really?

        • Nelson is from Nebraska, not Kansas, 😉 but yes, in either state a “pure progressive” is going to go down in flames in an election.

          Halter in Arkansas was a great example of their ability to delude themselves. He wasn’t all that “progressive,” based on a look at his record. His qualifications were that he wasn’t Blanche Lincoln. After the blogs got through hyping, you’d have thought he was the second coming of Ted Kennedy. 🙄

          You’re right that they don’t want to do the actual work it takes. Politics is very much something you start at the ground and work up, while they think they should be able to start at the top floor.

          • ArrogantDemon

            My bad about Nelson

            Vermont is an example, they elected enough democrats, a good Governor, and had Bernie there supporting it to craft their own healthcare system into a single payer deal, and made it work, or in the process.

            How about doing that state by state?

            How about doing the hard work that the good people of Wisconsin and Ohio are doing after they fucked themselves in letting the GOP take over

            But hey, the bitch fest is easier to do, i guess

  3. Great stuff, Norbrook. I like the stark statement that 190 pure progressives gets you squat. 218 or go home. I’ve had my fill of pure progressives who say all the right things but royally bungle up the actual chore of governing. We just got rid of a pure progressive Mayor who said all the right stuff to keep his ‘base’ happy, but nearly destroyed the city along the way.

    • Competence is always nice. 😀 I know that no matter which politician they get behind, that politician is going to be a “disappointment” to them. Heck, they were gushing over Cuomo after he got marriage equality passed in this state, and now they want to get rid of him because he refused to raise taxes on the wealthy and tried to order OWS out of Albany.

  4. Great post, Norbrook! I recall a commentor on another blog insisted that the Dems should just find 220 ‘true blue progressive districts’ and concentrate their money in getting the aformentioned ‘progressives elected. This person wasn’t deterred from folks telling him good luck with that strategy. Alot of these progressives that reside in safe ultra-liberal districts are not aware that their views are only a plurality of views in the Dem Party, most folks are moderate to conservative.

    It is one of the reasons why we lose elections.

    • Here’s another little figure for that idiot to think about. 40.1% That’s the current percentage Democrats in the House who are voting members of the Progressive Caucus. So when they talk about “true Blue” 🙄 they need to take a closer look. The other thing I notice is that none of them seem to say we need to do that, it’s always the party needs to do it.

  5. sjterrid

    Thanks Norbrook another excellent commentary.

  6. But … but… all Obama has to do is use the bully pulpit and twist arms and threaten to take away their committee chairmanships (even though that’s not something he can actually do, what with that whole “separation of powers” thing and the House and Senate controlling their own rules), and Congress will vote the True Progressive way!

    I mean, it’s gotta be that simple, because what you’re talking about doing here instead sounds like a lot of work. However do you expect people to maintain a state of high dudgeon about affronts to their purity AND put skin in the game and boots on the ground in the reality-based community to win elections?

    • What’s even worse is that it takes time! It should have taken Obama and Congress only a couple of days or so to whip out all their legislative agenda! 🙄

      I know, it’s awful of me to expect them to leave their computers and go someplace where they don’t have wi-fi access, and talk to people who (gasp!)aren’t progressive(horror!) 😯 and see if they can be persuaded! After all it should be blindingly obvious! 😛

    • ArrogantDemon

      This keeps playing in my mind

      Michelle Goldberg once commented on Up with Chris Hayes is that liberals are mad at Obama for not turning the US into a Scandinavian style welfare state in less than three years

      I keep thinking, it might have not been in jest

    • ArrogantDemon

      They want a left wing version of Bush, and you got a thoughtful, well meaning, even tempered man trying to help all those he can, that must suck balls, dont it?