Two years ago, I revised my Politics 101 for the far left with an updated version. Point #6 was You don’t win by losing. The title of this post is an old truism in politics, and there’s a reason it’s a truism. Over much of my adult life, I’ve heard all sorts of wonderful ideas for various programs, social safety nets, environmental action, infrastructure, education, and the list goes on. Some I agree with, some I’m rather lukewarm about, and a small amount I’m against. But if you look around, they’re often long-standing liberal ideas they want to see happening. It’s been brought to the fore once again by this year’s Democratic primary, as both of the candidates have presented their ideas relating to those ideals, as well as at least an outline as to how they’d pay for them and implement them. But here’s the thing: None of that happens unless they win.
Back at the beginning of 2009, there was a lot of hope relating to progressive programs, particularly after 8 years of President Bush, along with a Republican Congress. At last, Democrats had a President and control of both houses of Congress. Over the next two years, a number of progressive agenda items got accomplished. Yes, there were side-tracks, no, it wasn’t always perfect, far from it in fact. Which in an objective sense, would have been “a good start,” something to build on. The problems were that the Right was mounting a well-funded counteroffensive, and that the far Left was upset with what they saw as the lack of speed of action, some of their agenda items being dropped or delayed, and the ones that were passed were not “perfect.” As a result, there was a media crescendo of “Obama is a failure!”, “Democrats failed,” and on the Left, calls for people to stay home instead of voting to “send a message.” The result? Extremely low turnout in 2010, Republicans regained the House, and took over a number of state governments, just in time for redistricting.
Back in 2011, I talked about why being happy about losing the “Blue Dogs” for a “purer” Democratic Party was a bad idea:
Virtually every program and protection which progressives have fought for in past decades is now under attack by the Republicans in Congress. Why are they even getting this chance? Because the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives. Which, not so coincidentally leads to what the frustrati miss: That those Blue Dogs also enabled the Democratic Party to have the majority in the House, and for progressive legislation and programs to advance or be protected.
They also had another benefit over Republicans: They wanted government to work. While some of the Left were crowing about how this would be “good for the Democratic Party,” the actual result was the complete failure to get any progressive legislation passed, in fact, virtually any legislation at all. Achievements made during the first two years have been under constant assault, having to be constantly defended instead of built on or improved. By winning control of state houses, Republicans now have a structural advantage in the House thanks to redistricting, to the point that it is going to be extremely difficult to change control of that side of Congress. The “stay home and pout” routine was repeated in 2014, and saw Democrats lose control of the Senate, as well as a number of states. Even “solid blue” states like Massachusetts now have Republican governors.
This phenomenon is nothing new, it’s been going on since the 60’s. It’s not constructive, it’s destructive. There is a very real difference between electing people who are either for you or not against you, and letting people who are actively against everything you say you stand for take control. There seems to be a common belief that “if things get bad enough, the people will rise up.” Meaning of course, a socialist utopia will result. Any study of history will show that when “the people rise up,” a socialist utopia doesn’t happen.
The end result of this destructive attitude of “If we don’t get our way, we’re going home!” is that the ideals they profess fade ever farther away from reality. When candidates who do meet their purity standards run, they often lose, unless they’re in a reliably Democratic area. What have they shown in reality? That their professed ideals aren’t winning, and they have only themselves to blame for it. That’s what needs to change more than anything. That means recognizing that you have to elect politicians – and yes, that means Democrats – who if they’re not for you, aren’t against you. Marching on Washington is meaningless, marching into the voting booth on Election Day is not. A “moral victory” is just another way of saying “you lost.”
I’m tired of listening to people tell me all about the wonderful “progressive ideals” they have, and want to see enacted in this country. I’m no longer interested in hearing which of many polls say that the majority of the country agrees with it. You know what? I agree that they’re wonderful ideas, and it’s nice to think I’m not alone in that. But here’s the reality check I keep having: First, you have to win. If that doesn’t happen, you don’t get to even start on getting your ideals into action. That means you have to do what it takes to win. If you’re just going to stay home or walk away at the first sign of difficulty, then you weren’t interested in winning to begin with, and you shouldn’t be surprised that politicians and political parties aren’t paying attention to you.