(Please welcome author and Air America radio host Laura Flanders who is here to discuss her new book, Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics From the Politicans — JH)
Laura Flanders gets it. And by that I don't mean in a "yeah, I think Bush sucks but don't we all" kind of way — rather, in her new book she displays a deep and penetrating understanding of the challenges that face progressives these days, and the systemic problems within the Democratic party that keep it from being responsive to those challenges.
Harkening back to the absurd headlines about 2006 victories when Rahm Emmanuel was credited with "remaking the Democratic party in his own image," she notes that this "training of public attention upwards" when it comes to election analysis ignores the 3.5 million people on MoveOn's mailing list, thousands of small contributors, hundreds of DNC staffers, grassroots activists, unions and volunteer vote protectors who all worked to help the Democrats take back congress.
It's time for a definition of terms. This book advises party Democrats to develop, not ditch, their base, by which I mean those demographic groups that vote disproportionately blue (the Democrats' color on those TV maps on eleciotn night). That includes members of trade unions, African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, young voters (in 2006, a startling 70% of Hispanic voters voted Democratic), unmarried women (66 percent voted blue in 2006), religious minorities and city dwellers.
Couldn't agree more. As Tom Shaller's analysis makes clear, there is no "center" any more, and the Republicans know it — witness one white man after another competing to be more torture lovin', more war mongering and more ruthlessly authoritarian than the next at the GOP debates, despite the fact that fewer and fewer people want to identify as Republicans and George Bush is outrageously unpopular. It's the Democrats who are slow to catch up, who want to turn the party's identity into a lukewarm bowl of oatmeal by handing it over to the Blue Dogs and don't realize their strength lies in those who are wiling to put boots on the ground and want their party to stand for something. As Laura says:
The problems with see-no-people politics aren't only political, they're also pragmatic. Under the leadership of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party (those aligned with the neoliberal Democratic Leadership Council and Bill Clinton), the party bottled up money and power and elecision-making in Washington, and chased big donations and centrist voters, leaving the majority of state party organizations to stumble along or rot. What they built is a Penthouse Party: all top-floor suites, no load-bearing walls, no foundations, no functioning stairway to the street.
Blue Grit is an extraordinary chronicle of people who are utterly disinterested in the Blue Dog vision of a corporatized, value free, "meet the new boss" Democratic party. Her section on choice, and the Democratic "big tenters" willing to barter it away, made me want to stand up and cheer:
The Democrats believe it's only pragmatic to talk about abortion as tragic and rare; in South Dakota, they call it "respecting" South Dakotans' views. But paying all that respect to those who would criminalize abortion is the opposite of standing up for women, their doctors and their advocates. As McGovern's research shows, attitudes toward abortion spill over onto those who conduct the procedure, endangering doctors, isolating those who depend them, and demonizing the women they serve. Reaching out to the "profile" movement, Democrats are weakening their own.
As I've said before, I'm sure that Republicans are much more anxious to embrace a future that depends on pandering to white men than the Democrats are to envision one that doesn't. As Schaller says, the 2006 Democratic victories "were fueled by votes from their base: union families and households, women, nonwhite voters and younger voters." Laura's book is an amazing, insightful testament to those people and their stories. I highly recommend it, it's extremely well-written and perceptive.
Please welcome her to the Book Salon.