Politics 201: Once is Not Enough

I’ve devoted a number of posts here to “Politics 101.”  Those are the basics of politics, the rules, which aren’t rocket science.  Regardless, some people on the Left don’t understand them, which is why I devoted a couple of posts explaining them, along with a remedial class.  The motto of one of the blog sites used to be “more and better Democrats.”   They’ve recently gone to the “purity” side, with just “better.”   Of course, the problem is that it ignores a few key things, like there aren’t 218 districts in this country, let alone enough states, that will elect a “better”  – as they define the term – Democrat in the first place.    Even when it does happen,  it doesn’t mean that they’ll keep it.

Which is what people espousing a definition of purity forget.  What you’re looking for in a representative in your area, is not necessarily what another area will look for.

For example, when people talk about the “solid Blue” state of New York, they’re not talking about the state, they’re talking about the city. As I pointed out in my earlier article here, the county I live in is completely different from New York City. Let’s compare my county to New York County (Manhattan). Manhattan is densely populated, urban, fairly wealthy, ethnically diverse, and strongly Democratic. My county is rural, sparsely populated, lower middle class, ethnically homogeneous (97.6% white), and strongly Republican. The county I live in now has far more in common with the county where I lived in Colorado, than it does with Manhattan.

It’s easy to push a candidate to be “more liberal” in Manhattan.  It’s not in my area.  In another article, I pointed out:

The areas that Republicans are strong in, the areas where they defeated Democrats in this election, are almost all rural or suburban areas. Democratic “strongholds” tend to be urban areas, and with that, the place where most progressives seem to be. Which is fine, except that it has unwittingly led to a set of blinders when it comes politics.

What does that all mean?  It means that that it’s all well and good to be “extremely liberal” when you live in a Democratic stronghold, and where that “fits” the district. District, because we don’t elect members of Congress by national voting.   Each district’s priorities may fall in a different order, or even be wildly different from each other.  Failure to consider that point is often a recipe for failure.

What I’ve noted about many purists is a really bad habit politically:  They tell people, they don’t ask or listen.  The end result is something like this:

One of the frequent complaints I’ve heard from progressives is wondering why various areas “vote against their own interests.” There are two reasons why this happens. First, they may be voting for their own interests, and second, they may be voting against you

What may seem to be “common interests” from one area’s perspective may not from another’s perspective.  If you haven’t taken that into account, you’re wasting effort trying to persuade people of something that doesn’t resonate with them.     If  you come in and start telling people what’s “good for them,” along with saying things which grate on their sensibilities, you haven’t converted them, you’ve antagonized them.

There is no better example of that than Alan Grayson.  Remember him?  The self-styled “Congressman with guts?”  He caused major swoons  at various progressive sites with his rhetoric.  At times it was almost like watching teen girls at a Justin Bieber concert.   Not only were they holding him up as a “model” for what Democrats should act like, they also handed him a ton of money for his re-election campaign.   The little problem?  His district didn’t agree with them, which is why he’s now former Congressman Alan Grayson.  The very rhetoric and actions that were making him a “hero” to the Left everywhere else were hurting him with the people who actually  vote in his district.

Which is not surprising when you look at his district.  It was never a “progressive” district, it did not have a strong tradition of voting Democratic, and it didn’t have an overwhelming percentage of Democratic voters.   His election in the first place was more of a “one off,” than a sudden shift to the Left.  Which is why I said there were “blinders” when it came to politics.   He could have won again, had he recognized the actual character of his district, listened to his constituents, and made his case in light of what they wanted.   In other words, he didn’t persuade his constituents about the benefits of electing progressives, and show them how it benefited them.

The take-away from this is that just because you won one election, it does not mean you’ve changed the actual political complexion of an area.   That takes time, and even more work.   How much?  218 districts worth of work.  That’s the number of Representatives you need to have a majority in the House.  Right now, the “true progressives” – if one uses membership in the Progressive Caucus as an measure – amount to a little over a third that number.  A little over 40% of the current Democrats are in that category.   What does that mean?  That means that there are a lot of districts out there who aren’t voting for “pure progressives.”  Here’s another figure for you:  26.  That’s the number you’re short of 218.  That’s 26 seats that are currently held by Republicans.  Think you’re going to get “purer” from those districts?  Better think again.

That’s the harsh reality for all those calling for “better” – meaning “purity progressives” -Democrats.  All you have to do is look at a map of districts, and you see that their “strength” is mostly in urban enclaves, consisting of a small percentage of the nation.  They aren’t “representative” of the country as a whole, or even districts that have been traditionally Democratic.  But that’s the problem with “purity.”  It’s a narrow definition.   If you want to run a country, “progressive” is a broad term, and you have to recognize that one area’s priorities may be different than yours.   Otherwise, you might win once, but that’s it.  That doesn’t get you very far.  If you want progress, once is not enough

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30 Comments

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30 responses to “Politics 201: Once is Not Enough

  1. “At times it was almost like watching teen girls at a Justin Bieber concert.”

    LOL. You totally nailed it. And he hasn’t learned either. He keeps sending me emails asking for donations (even though I don’t live anywhere near his district). He has plenty to say what he thinks about Congress, but he doesn’t say anything about how he plans to convince his constituents to vote for him again. Not a penny from me.

    Speaking of which, it PISSES me off that the PL delights in bashing Texans and writing off the entire state as forever hopelessly red while soliciting us for donations toward out-of-state candidates. If, however, I dare to criticize the campaign strategies of said candidates, I’m being asked to shut up and “go attend an execution.”

    If we ask them to help us turn Texas blue — not even a single word of encouragement, much less real help. They keep exaggerating about the Texas Board of Education, but when a sane person runs for it, she is basically ignored. I guess it’s more convenient to have a scapegoat.

    • What told me Grayson was going to lose were the polls. If you looked at the breakdowns, it wasn’t just that he was unpopular with Republicans. He wasn’t popular with a majority of independents, and a significant percentage of Democrats.

      What they should be considering is the lesson of Kirsten Gillibrand. She’s considered to be a fairly liberal New York State Senator. As a member of the House, she was affiliated with the Blue Dog coalition. Why? Well, her district was designed to be “safe Republican,” and she was reflecting her district. It’s notable that she crushed her opponent as an incumbent Representative.

  2. Chris Andersen

    I like to explain it this way: when you are voting for your Congressional Representative you are voting for the person who will cast a vote for the Congressional Leadership. It is the Congressional Leadership that sets the agenda of Congress and, if you want a Progressive agenda, you have to put a Progressive Leadership in charge.

    And you don’t need “Progressive” Democrats to do that. You just need Democrats who would be willing to vote for that leadership.

    In other words, when you vote for a Democrat, you are voting to put Nancy Pelosi back in the Speakers chair. And let me tell you, I would vote for nearly anyone if they promised to vote for a Democrat to be Speaker of the House.

  3. Another great lesson, Norbrook! When I once visited the ‘dark side’ I tried to explain to people there that getting Dems elected in traditionally red districts and states was a delicate matter and involved having candidates who understood the needs and concerns of their constituents.

    A great example of this here in AZ is Gabby Giffords, considered a blue dog. Her district tends to be conservative, representing urban business types, old line ranchers and farmers plus liberals and some Latinos and Native peoples. Usually leaning Republican.

    Her heritage here, her experience in business, her connections to Mexico through her family and her total understanding of the people she represents got her elected twice in her district. She understands her people and did her best to support their concerns while still acting as a Democrat, as liberal as she could be considering her constituents.

    A Grayson would never been elected in her district.

    Just imho, we need 100 more like her and it grieves me so much what happened to her in January. She was one of the really ‘good guys.’

    You are so RIGHT that this is about electing Democrats, not about extreme leftist ideology.

    • One of the biggest mistakes I saw the “netroots” make was their assumption that the results of 2006 and 2008 were permanent. All the trash talk about “Overton windows” and so on ignored a very basic fact that there is always an inherent inertia to the political lean of an area. One or two elections doesn’t mean a drastic shift. 🙄

  4. ArrogantDemon

    Add Ben Nelson to the mix as well.

    As much of a douche he was cock-blocking, he was still a Democrat, in a sense from a very conservative state.

    The emoprogs must have peed themselves happy learning he wont run again, but who are you gonna put in there to try and win?

    Thom Hartman was trying to compare Ms Warren’s rise in Mass to Ben Nelsons fall, and stating a real progressive can take that state….a damn red state mind you

    I’m screaming at the radio that she’s in a damn blue state, Nelson in red, you would not be able to run someone like her there

    Am i wrong to see it that way?

    • Eric

      No, you are not wrong, AD!

    • Just imo, Elizabeth Warren will win in MA. Try to run her in AZ or other red states and she would probably bomb. I figging love her and I wish I could vote for her myself but my reality is I live in a KKK land where people sometimes advocate just shooting any brown person they see on general principles.

      I will be happy to vote for and support any Democrats that we can actually get elected here.

      • Eric

        See, that’s the thing, AG! There are plenty of Dems in Red States that would love to have ANY DEMOCRAT in congress or the Senate, but some of us in deep blue urban areas can be sooo condescending towards the folks in those areas, thinking they are all a bunch of hicks, causing alot of moderates and swing voters to actively vote against liberals cuz a few idiots talk down to ’em and lecture rather than listen! I read Maike’ s post at the top and I get so disgusted with some on our side of the ledger, and wonder why we lose effin’ elections.

        • Exactly. I saw that over on DK when my district had a special election. Not only was my district historically Republican, it was drawn to be a “safe” district. Those of us who live here knew that, and we also knew that the time we ran a “real progressive,” he got 23% of the vote. Yeah, it was that bad. There was one year where Democrats couldn’t even scrape up a candidate. So having them scream about Democrats here not picking a “progressive” candidate only pissed me off. They aren’t here, they’ve never been here, and they sure as hell haven’t been around since. So just what the hell makes them think we’re going to listen to them?

    • I think someone like Warren could win in Nebraska, in the sense that she’s doing a terrific job of explaining where she stands, and what it means to the voters in Massachusetts. She does have an advantage in that she’s in a traditionally Democratic state. That said, a candidate in Nebraska saying all the “right things” to get the progressives jumping up and down? Not a chance in hell.

      Honestly, I happen to like Warren, and think she’ll be a hell of a senator. The thing I see is that despite the canonization by the “far Left,” she’s much more on the pragmatic side than the “purity” side, and once she’s in office, she’s going to be a terrible disappointment to them. 🙄

      • ArrogantDemon

        Oh, how entertaining it wold be to see that the person they want as a candidate for 2016 will turn out to be like Obama in a sense in governing and either they will make up every excuse to say she’s not governing like Barack Obama, or just cut her off at the knees with the long sharpened knives they have prepared for those who disappoint

      • You nailed that Norbrook! I’ve read her books and while she is a sterling champion for the poor and middle class, she holds conservative fiscal values and is a total pragmatist, not a radical.

        Once in Senate, she will do her best for her constituents. She will not blow a bull horn for the emoprogs nor stand unmoving on some liberal principle while the people she represents suffer. She will work steadily, quietly, one step at a time to achieve practical goals.

        I bet my two pesos that the ‘dark side’ will hate her guts six months or less after she is elected.

  5. Nathan Katungi

    Norbrook, Thank you for yet another of your brilliant posts that demonstrate your deep understanding of real politics in this country. By the way, some of the most conservative Congressmen in the country are from BLUE CALIFORNIA. Three of those are from here in San Diego County: Brian Billbray, Darrell Issa, and, the abominable, Duncan Hunter, Jr. Only two of the five San Diego County members of Congress are Democrats. Essentially, therefore, I reside in Red region here in the so called BLUE CALIFORNIA.

    My Congresswoman, Susan Davis, is in a district that may, after redistricting, increasingly trend conservative Republican. Although she has been a very good Congresswoman, fighting for many progressive issues, the reality is that if she hopes to be re-elected she can’t come out as a Michael Moore or, DKos, purist democrat. If she does that, her district is likely to end up with a Republican congressperson. There are many Democratic issues, positions and ideas that are still embraced by many in her district. The question is whether the purity left wingers will stick with her even if her agenda may not be 100% in favor of very thing advocated by the progressive purists, including Ron Paul leftists supporters whose most important issues are: legalizing drugs and de-funding support for Israel.

    • What I consider truly stupid about the liberal Paul supporters is that they’re “single issue.” Anytime you cherry-pick just one thing, you’d find that you can probably support any candidate. Heck, Ron Paul has said things that I agree with on occasion. It’s just that when you look at everything else around that one issue, you find out that there’s not a lot of agreement.

      That’s why so many of these people get “disappointed” all the time. They’re only paying attention to their pet issue, and when they get hammered by everything else, they don’t understand how “their” candidate could “fail them.” 🙄

      • ArrogantDemon

        How can they reconcile the fact although he wants us out of these wars, he will not put in a penny to build up the country in any way. He will literally burn the safety nets, but hey, you can smoke weed and crack all you want, but if you need medical help after, you on your own.

        Its very comical, sad and dangerous to look at

        • Maybe if they get stoned enough, it makes sense. 🙄

          They’ve got a bad habit of seeing the tree instead of the forest. Back when they were annointing Andrew Cuomo as the next progressive hero for passing gay marriage, and touting him as a primary opponent for the President, I said that they should take a look at what he’s doing as governor. Reality check? He’s not a “true progressive”, and never was.

          • ArrogantDemon

            Cuomo supports fracking, but they give Obama shit for no saying no right away on Keystone

            It will never be enough for them

          • Cuomo also got into a battle with the unions, refused to raise taxes on the wealthiest, and ordered the Occupy Albany encampment shut down when it started. So some of his “luster” for progressives has faded. 🙄

      • One issue voters piss me off so much! I can’t tell you just how aggravated I get when I canvass people like that. Here it’s not just legal weed which we actually passed in 2010 (again) as a ballot issue but it is often GUNS.

        Some of these people would vote for the worst goatfigger if he/she promised to let them arm themselves to the teeth and have shoot outs in the street, old West style. Candidates can practically kiss their chances goodbye if they even hint they want to limit where people can carry a firearm here.

        • I think they’d probably change their mind if there was a “fair shooting” law. 😉 That is, “hey, you’re carrying, so if anyone shoots you to death, nothing happens to them.” 😛

          • That is not so humorous as you might think. Shooting an unarmed person here will get you in the caca but if the other guy is packing too you have a good chance of walking away. It’s happened.

            Some people here are just not sane when it comes to the issue of guns. Any fool can buy a gun at Walmart and they aren’t even required to take a gun safety or shooting class. Example: One of our state reps pulled her little pink gun from her purse and pointed it at a reporter who was interviewing her. She said that was ok since she didn’t have her finger on the trigger, ignorant dizzy biscuit!

            Lest you think I am totally anti-gun, I will say that I grew up rural, understand firearms and how and where to safely use them. Unless our legislators plan to shoot each other during debates, the capitol building is not an appropriate place to pack a gun.

          • Very little surprises me about gun nuts. I’ve already made my opinion on that stuff known. While they think they’re being in the “spirit of the West” 🙄 the reality is that most of the old-time westerners would be aghast at their assertions. After all, one of the first things the old-time sheriffs used to do to quiet a town was to institute gun control. 😆

  6. I told Democracy for America to drop me from their mailing list after their gloating email about Nelson retiring — in which they said “oh well, a GOPer will take that seat, but give us more money to help elect Warren and Sanders!”

    Screw that. If they want to tell me how they plan to get more progressive Dems elected in places like Nebraska, fine. But I can (and have) sent money to Warren on my own and don’t need their help. I also pointed out that, while I have no love for Nelson and yes, he was against the — wait for it — PUBLIC OPTION!!! (lefties say that like mynah birds on speed), he did in fact vote for the final PPACA which had good things with more than two words in it, such as “medical loss ratio” regulations. And his vote was CRUCIAL, and the reform wouldn’t have happened if a GOPer had been there.

    Seriously, if DFA wants to start the hard painful work of getting a ground game going in Nebraska and other redder areas, good for them. But the fact that they’re focusing on their pre-teen crushes in relatively safe states like MA and Vermont (after Brown, I don’t think of MA as “safe,” though Coakley ran a lousy campaign IMO) tells me that they’re just pissing in the wind at this point.

    The left never wins in this country because the left can never grow the hell up and deal with things as they are and do the long hard sloggy work.

    • My problem with most of these people is that they’re perfectly willing to jump on board a bandwagon, but don’t want to get the bandwagon built and rolling. There are 33 seats in the Senate up for re-election this year, and Democrats have to defend 23 of them. Yeah, great, we might get a trade with Nebraska for Massachusetts. It’d be better if we could keep Nebraska.

  7. I’d add that, whenever I’ve pointed out to EmoProgs that they’re not actually helping a progressive agenda by whining and talking about how the president has no balls, Dems always cave, why can’t they get what they want right now, etc. — I’m usually met with a torrent of smug and self-satisfied rhetoric along the lines of “Well, WE don’t march in lockstep like the GOP and WE push our president to do better and WE don’t just clap louder like those mindless GOP Teabaggers!” (“We are all individuals — together!”)

    But yet — though they expect to be congratulated for advocating (however half-assedly) for their pet items as “true progressives,” they have no clue that “not marching in lockstep with orthodoxy” works both ways. It means that the Dems do, in fact, have a number of more conservative-leaning Reps and Senators and state legislators and governors in the mix who seem to like getting re-elected and aren’t willing to go down with the ship fighting a quixotic quest for something where the groundwork hasn’t been laid by “true progressives” who sneer at Flyover Country.

    I think it is possible for Dems to get better progressives elected even in very ruby-red districts (Gillibrand is a great example) — but not by acting like whiny smug jerks or people who just drop in to a district or state and start telling the people who actually KNOW the area what they need to do to lift themselves up. Look at it this way — most progressives were rightfully ticked that outside money and influence were brought in (hello, Kochsuckers!) in the midterms, and that Prop 8 passed with the help of a large influx of cash from out-of-state Mormons and fundies.

    So why shouldn’t people who are more moderate-to-conservative who have long roots in an area resent it when progs who haven’t been in an area for years and have no real skin in the game swoop in and tell them they’ve been supporting the “wrong” kind of Dems?

    And honestly, I don’t believe anyone who tells me that they would rather “go down fighting for a principle” than win. Your principles don’t mean jack shit if you don’t have access to the mechanisms that help them grow incrementally into reality. All this puerile adolescent nonsense about “taking a stand” and “talking tough” doesn’t win elections. As you say — talk to Grayson. Or Feingold.

    • So why shouldn’t people who are more moderate-to-conservative who have long roots in an area resent it when progs who haven’t been in an area for years and have no real skin in the game swoop in and tell them they’ve been supporting the “wrong” kind of Dems?

      They don’t seem to get that. One of the major grudges I hold against Markos Moulitsas is just that, from back when the NY-23 special election was going on. I’d tried to get them to notice back in 2008 that Democrats had a fairly progressive candidate (Mike Oot) running against McHugh, but it was like talking to a wall. They were all over Darcy Burner, or Charlie Brown, or god help us, Eric Massa. 🙄 We have a special election, and lo, suddenly everyone wants a say in how the candidate is going to be selected, and how “awful” it was that Democrats picked a moderate. So yeah, I’m one of those people who was seriously pissed off. It works against the conservatives too. In that same election, one of the things that truly pissed off a lot of local Republicans was influx of Tea Party “activists” from outside the area – and even outside the state. They trampled all over everything, and even ran out the “ACORN Fraud” routine. Cripes, no one had ever heard of ACORN before the election, so everyone knew damn well they weren’t in the area. We get enough of that sort of crap from New York City, thank you. 😦 That’s why I said, sometimes they’re voting against you. 😉

  8. Kerry, you so nailed this! Thank you for your thoughts and your post here. I really appreciate it.