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December 18, 2006

Who Will Be Our 'Bar Fight' Candidate?

-- by Dave Johnson

Matt Stoller has a great post at MyDD, The Bar Fight Primary. He writes about looking for a candidate with the core progressive instincts you want backing you up in a bar fight.

When Ronald Reagan announced his Presidential run in 1980, he did it in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the town where three Civil Rights workers were killed. ... Reagan, a genial and sunny Californian, could have it both ways because he had proved to the base that he was 'with them'. Opening his campaign on a site that fully repudiated equal rights for blacks, that in a very real sense murdered liberals, was a way of saying to the emergent right-wing Confederate base that 'I am with you, I hate who you hate'. ... It was a statement that Reagan would play the role of President, but in a bar fight, in a close vote, where it really mattered, in all those small appointments, his sympathies would instinctively lean towards his base.
He says now we need a leader like that, one we know is with US,
We need a leader committed to responsible governance, anti-cronyism, social justice, an expansion of the Bill of Rights to include infrastructure changes, and a humble and morally powerful foreign policy. But governing this way is not a matter of expressing the desire for unity and hope to all Americans, but expressing solidarity with the people who will help create such an America. Those people are liberals. We are the ones who want a different America, and who will help build it and push the right out of the way.

[. . .] Just as Reagan said he'd unify the country by pushing the liberals out of the way, we need someone who will unify the country by pushing irresponsible right-wing power centers out of the way. They crushed our unions, we need to crush their talk radio, you know, that kind of thinking.

Who does he see on his side in a bar fight? So far there's Clark and maybe Edwards:
In a bar fight, Obama and Hillary are not on our side.

[. . .] There are two candidates who can pass the bar fight primary. One of them, Wes Clark, passes the test clearly. He is a genuine liberal, and has fought the right clearly and consistently for the last four years, most recently in Connecticut when he was the only real surrogate against Lieberman. ... And then there's John Edwards. I think Edwards is split. He's spent much of his time working with unions, on the road, in low-key meetings. Elizabeth Edwards has done outreach to bloggers, so there's at least acknowledgment of the dirty hippy crew. He's announcing in New Orleans, which is dog whistle politics on our issues. He knows he was wrong on the war, and feels our betrayal. Unlike Clark, though, I still haven't seen him stand up for us in a real way. I haven't seen him attack McCain, for instance, or go after the politicians who supported the Bankruptcy Bill. I haven't seen him challenge any right-wing interests in a serious way, and so while I acknowledge he's in the ball park, he's not there yet.

BUT he says this about Bill Clinton, and I want to come to Clinton's defense:

Without a real commitment to weaken irresponsible elite actors, 'unity' simply means a replay of Clinton, only without the credit and power that we had in the 1990s, and with a much more advanced case of global climate catastrophe, peak oil, and nuclear terrorism capacity on its way.
And later,
Clinton was a very smart President who thought that he and his small crew had all the answers. We know now that he (and all of us) misunderstood the nature of the role. It isn't the job of the next President to have all the answers, that's up to the American people. It's up to the next President to show that he's going to clear the way for us to take back our country.
I'd like to come to President Clinton's defense a bit. Sure, with hindsight we can see some things Clinton should have done. But remember - he didn't even have US. He didn't have anyone watching his back and he knew it. Few Dems back then were ready to take a hit for progressive policies, and there was no organized progressive base to fight for those things. He should have started building that - yes. But that was the 90s and the fact is most of the leadership of the big organizations and the Dems still today don't get it about the right and about how there isn't a majority progressive base anymore and that we need to market to the public to rebuild one. That's why the netroots is what it is.

President Clinton had a Republican Congress and that 1990s Democratic Party. When he got in he did have the Dems, but he wanted to start with camaign finance reform and they wouldn't. He wanted a BTU tax and they wouldn't. Etc. So politically, Clinton recognized some realities - the country HAD been moved to the right, the Dem party and old progressive structure was almost useless, so he was a politician and played to where reality was. Hence his "triangulation" strategy - to manage public perceptions while fighting for a degree of progressive advancement in policies.

Matt is correct that Bill Clinton failed to BUILD a movement for us -- to work to CHANGE where reality was. That is somewhat hindsight. No one else did either. As I said, that is what the netroots is about. It wasn't until the middle of his second term that we all started to get an inkling of what the "conservative movement" was about, the funding and organization of it, etc. Remember it was Hillary who coined the term "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy," and that was based on some of the early research into what was going on. And NONE of us were getting it yet and responding yet. We are now. It is slowly starting to make a difference. So that's why I say hindsight and give Clinton some credit.

Posted by Dave Johnson at December 18, 2006 12:10 PM

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