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                                       politics + culture

Sunday, January 29, 2006

churning or building?

I look at the citizen activism of the last few days with real, albeit critical, respect. So far, I don't have that same respect for the Democratic Senators.

Some of it is that I don't really see great leadership in the Kerry / Kennedy Thursday call out. It was late. It was not done on TV, in the United States, for the world to see. It was not done with a unified, succinct, principled message that went out to every American and not just our base. And the timing: announcing a "call to support a filibuster" after so many in the Democratic Senate caucus had said they opposed, leads me to question what the hell is going on here. Is this a serious filibuster or is this about some other agenda? That is a valid question.

I distrust churning. Whether from the netroots or from our Senators.

I would point out, even to my activist allies here on the web, that spamming phone numbers in comment threads may be exciting and thrilling: but it is not the same thing as concerted, organized off line political effort. While I respect the sincerity of the "call to fight" from the netroots, I think that for as admirable as that sentiment is, if it is not backed up by sustained grass roots activism where it counts...in the off line world...the effects are minimal and can be worse. When the rhetoric becomes counter-productive, my respect goes down.

I am in favor of building.

I respect people who put the effort in every day. I respect people who do the steady effort. Who back their principles up with consistent action. Who understand what it takes to build a political movement off line.

I respect building from our elected leaders. I respect it even more on the grassroots.

There are times to take a principled stand. The Alito nomination is one of them. But I would ask all those who are "churning" in the netroots right now to stop for a second and realize that the foundation of a principled stand has to be sustained, off line grass roots effort in the real world. It has to be organized effort to coordinate dollars and volunteers in the day to day. Organization wins. Unconnected flurries of action don't.

Green Sooner asked a relevant question: What consequences does any Senator who opposes us face? A barrage of threatening emails and faxes that peter out after a few days? That's churning. An organized, thoughtful grassroots effort to elect leaders who have backbone? That's building.

Right now, that question is irrelevant. It's too late for any of that. This filibuster is either a serious one, or it isn't. The grass roots may have the energy, but the Senators have the votes. My respect for Senators Kerry and Kennedy does depend, in some ways, on what they do with this moment. They've ratcheted up the stakes, they have a real responsiblity to follow through in a meaningful way. I've said my piece elsewhere on what I think the focus should be. If our Senators are serious about opposing Alito, we've got their back.

Regardless, this whole thing has already had one small consequence for this blogger. I am more distrustful of churning than I was one week ago. I'll take a pass on the thrill of the "drama and accusations and threats." To those who left-bait and leap to conclusions, I say, spare me.

I'm much more interested in building for the long and the short term. I hope you are too.


  • Good point and Right On! We need less babble and more building. Thanks for the reminder.

    By Anonymous Ripley, at 12:01 PM  

  • This one's actually easy. Democratic policy should be that court nominees will get no support and dems will filibuster each unless advice and consent is obtained before the nomination gets to the senate floor.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:14 PM  

  • It seems to me that republicans only have two arrows in their quiver. If the Democrats mount an unsuccessful or a successful filibuster, they can complain about "obstructionism". If the Democrats mount a successful filibuster, they can -- will --"go nuclear".

    At first I lamented a 50-50 democrat split on the filibuster: I likened this to other splits on Iraq War, Medicare, Tax Cuts (all of these three bills, remember, split Senate dems almost *exactly* down the middle).

    Now I'm not so sure. If the media coverage over the next two days concentrates on Democratic disagreement over the filibuster it will reinforce something else: complete Democratic unity on *voting no* to Alito. In other words, a publicized debate about a potential filibuster (or some form of a mini-filibuster) will reinforce the key way that Dems want to frame this: Bush has put a divisive, extreme candidate on the bench. *Both sides* arguing about the filibuster will put forward this case. Media coverage will be between those who say "Alito is really bad but not enough to call a filibuster that can't win" and others who say "Alito is so terrible that we should mount a filibuster." Both sides will reinforce the message of Alito as bad or terrible; and, even more generally, Bush as a Supreme Court polarizer.

    This is not a recipe for stopping Alito. Or for undoing mistakes in how Alito was framed. But given where we are now -- if Alito hasn't been effectively framed and will definitely end up on the court -- it seems to me that this debate can only help the Democrats framing of the nomination, and not hurt it.

    By Blogger awol, at 1:33 PM  

  • green sooner's point is key, and building a democratic caucus with backbone will rest as much on our being able to punish as it is to reward. whether that is by protest, primary challenges, sitting on hands in reelection campaigns if need be, or the disciplined denial of funds, i think one of the reasons why the caucus is churning is that we mistake constructive action with solely supportive action. if we had a way of backing up our threats, they'd hear better, i think.

    all of this, however, rests upon something even more basic, something which the proudly unideological netroots has missed over and over, to its great detriment, and that is 1) deciding what we are willing to stand firm on, and what we will accept compromise on, and 2) communicating these demands clearly and unambiguously to the democratic politicians, well ahead of any vote. threats and pleas delivered in a flurry right before a vote are ineffective, and to a degree are not even fair to the politicians. we need to make our demands clear, and then be willing to back them up with carrots and sticks.

    once we can do this, then complementing it with the sort of nurturing fresh horses like DFA has been doing will have greater effect.

    By Anonymous wu ming, at 1:37 PM  

  • You folks would be advised to step back and take a good look at what yer sayin'. Guilliard gets it...see his post "We kept our powder dry".

    Murkans are not interested in someone who will not fight for what they believe. Sad...but true. Disagree? Fine, that is your prerogative, but John Kerry would be President today if he had come out swinging against the Swift Boaters.

    And really, how do you trust someone if they won't fight for what they believe?

    All this tactics crap is just that: Waste matter.

    Polls, go to MyDD, show that Americans are not quite sure what they should think about Alito. If the Dems just throw in the towel they will say to themselves: "Hey, I guess that Alito dude ain't so bad."

    All I know is I am ashamed of everyone who calls themselves a "progressive" but who won't fight.

    Google Upton Sinclair if and get back to me about how "We can't win..."

    By Blogger A. Citizen, at 7:27 PM  

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