Reading over the post-election analysis of both the old media and the blogs, I see a basic superficiality of analysis. To me, the shallowness comes in a lack of understanding of the dynamics of power and where power actually resides.
We need to learn from the example of George W. Bush. He came into office with little in the way of a mandate. He lost the popular vote. He promised to restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office, to end the divisiveness of the Lewinsky era (a uniter, not a divider), and to have a more humble foreign policy (no more Kosovo interventions). But the moment he was sworn in he made regime change in Iraq his top priority, and moved to pass his legislative priorities through brute force, rather than bipartisanship.
And he wasn’t punished for it. The reason he got away with it isn’t all explained by 9/11. It’s explained by the fact that the Republicans held all the levers of power and did not need to work with Democrats. In fact, by completely marginalizing the Democrats they took away their ability to take credit for anything positive and made them look weak. The Bushies understood power, even if they used it for nefarious purposes.
But things have changed. The Democrats now hold all the chairmanships in Congress. If they want to they can totally destroy the administration by exposing corruption, graft, lies, and crimes on a daily basis. That might not be what they were elected to do, they might not have any mandate to do it, but it doesn’t matter. If it makes the Republicans weak, the Democrats are unlikely to be punished for it. That’s how real power works.
But this post isn’t about investigations or possible impeachment, its about the midterm elections and what they mean for the future of the Democratic Party. Who were the real winners on election day?
Figuring that out depends on looking at who has power in the new Congress and that is why, well before the election, I began taking a hard look at the committees in Congress. The real power is now in the hands of people like John Conyers, Charlie Rangel, Barney Frank, John Dingell, George Miller, Nancy Pelosi, and John Murtha. It’s also in the hands of people like Patrick Leahy, Teddy Kennedy, Carl Levin, Joe Biden, Harry Reid and Dick Durbin.
Keeping a focus on the House (where the Dems have a bigger majority and where bipartisanship is less necessary), I see something quite interesting. People like Dingell, Conyers, and Rangel are not from our generation. They’ve been in Congress since the fifties and sixties. They are old-line liberals, not DLC new-Democrats. And they have a strange confluence of interests with the netroots. They are more inclined to be sympathetic to media deconsolidation, election reform, negotiated trade. They went through Watergate in Congress and they voted for FISA. They’ve seen abuse of power before and they thought they had erected laws to deal with it. They were in Congress when the Savings & Loans collapsed. They know about the dangers of too little business oversight.
We keep hearing about how the midterms were a great victory for Rahm Emanuel and, by inference, the Democratic Leadership Council. But, they were anything but that. Real power in Congress is held by liberals and progressives, and they will be driving the lawmaking and oversight of this administration.
The DLC’s power is solidly located in the race for the Presidency, where the progressives have no candidate. That progressives would rally around Al Gore only goes to show how thoroughly the DLC has gamed the upcoming elections in their favor. Even the longshots, like Bayh and Vilsack, are DLC members. The netroots has no interest in promoting the candidacies of any of these people. In fact, our interest is in working with people like Conyers, Waxman, Miller, Dingell, Kennedy, and Leahy to pass legislation and enact reforms that actually buck the crap agenda of the DLC, the New Republic, and Joe Lieberman.
It isn’t time to play nice. It’s time for progressives to flex their muscles. We haven’t had this much muscle since…well…ever. Now would be the perfect time for us to show what we can do by rallying behind a Presidential contender that really represents the values of the netroots, which are completely hostile to triangulation, deregulation, and anti-people legislation. Unfortunately, we don’t, and apparently will not, have a candidate to support. At best, we will have a candidate wise enough to pander to our interests.
Whether that candidate is John Edwards, Wesley Clark, Al Gore, or someone else remains to be seen. None of them are authentic progressives, but maybe they can play one online. We shall see.
The future of the party is in populism, a fact that even the Gray Lady recognizes. It’s not in pro-corporate, anti-minority, centrism.
That’s why the netroots has more in common with our new committee chairpeople than we do with Rahm Emanuel, and that is why Rahm really is more of a loser than a winner as a result of the midterms.
His star has already set, even though it appears on the rise. The only question is, will anyone emerge on the ’08 scene that really gets this?