Politics and the big tent

I'm not a member of any organized party—I'm a Democrat.
                                                                    —Will Rogers

The wonderful thing about being a modern-day Democrat—as opposed to a modern-day Republican—is that it’s a coalition which accommodates both Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin. Unfortunately, among many of us, that’s also a problem.

I’m not talking about those who are of the Purity Left, for whom clones of Ralph Nader are the only acceptable representatives of the progressive movement. I’m not talking about firebaggers, who see any sort of compromise as a death knell to the party. (Just don’t tell them that their revered leader did business with Redstate and Drudge.) I’m talking of rank and file Democrats, of Democrats who are pragmatic, who are cut to the core when Blue Dog Democrats go against what they consider to be a defining Democratic position such as stricter gun control, or action on climate change.

I will admit that I am often frustrated by the likes of Manchin and Kay Hagan. The recalcitrance they exhibit on supporting what most of us consider core Democratic positions can be more than confounding. I sometimes lapse into the position of wanting them shunned from the Party, as they’re poor representatives of it.

Of course, that was the dominant mood of 2010. And what was the result? Pat Toomey as senator from Pennsylvania. Marco Rubio in Florida. Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Democrats in purple seats voted according to their districts, many times being given leave to do so by Nancy Pelosi in an  effort to maintain the Democratic majority in the House—a Democratic majority which brought us health care reform, the saving of the auto industry, and the stimulus which prevented a second Great Depression. But Democratic voters stayed home because it’s what they do in midterms, and independent voters who had put the Blue Dogs into their seats turned in fear that “Ohmygodthingsaremovingtoofast”.

Now, a few big money donors are threatening to withhold donations from any Democrat who doesn’t fully support the gun control measures put forth by the President.

The incendiary side of me thinks: “Good”. The inner ideologue wants these Democrats taught a lesson, that you can’t go against basic Democratic positions and expect to receive support from Democrats.

But here’s the thing: Joe Manchin isn’t Senator from California. Whether we like to admit it or not, West Virginia is not Massachusetts. A Democrat from one is not like a Democrat from the other in many respects.

But he will be a Democrat in one important way: his vote will ensure a Democratic majority. The majority controls the agenda; yes, even despite of all the obstruction thrown up by Mitch McConnell and his band of merry miscreants. And, more times than not, a red state Democrat will vote with the Democrats. How many times has blue state Republican Mark Kirk voted with Harry Reid?

There is no question that the conservative Democrats in both House and Senate have to be reminded and cajoled as to what Democratic priorities are. Those of us who live in those areas have both a right and a duty to make our voices heard, and to remind them that we elected a Democrat for a reason.

But, I am not one to cavalierly throw out anyone from the tent, at least not without just cause.

The Democratic Party is the only functioning party in the country at the moment. It is the only party which brings together a broad enough coalition to be able to effectively govern. A broad coalition means that leaders will have to make deals within the party, because eventually those Democrats in red districts will have to answer to their voters, not to Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. The Democratic Party isn’t an authoritarian institution like the GOP. Give me a Blue Dog who will vote with me 80 percent of the time than a Tea Partier who has visions of strangling the government of money for anything save tax breaks to the rich and perpetual war. Keeping Harry Reid as Majority Leader and handing back the gavel to Nancy Pelosi means that, yes, Blue Dogs will be necessary. If we want them to be less influential, then we need to get Democrats elected to all the districts won by President Obama. We need to not let Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk represent states won by Obama. We have to defend our territory, and then poach the GOP areas where they’re vulnerable.

Politics aren’t for the pure. Neither is progress. But progress, once started, has a momentum which is difficult to stop. We see this in GOP governors jettisoning their “principles” and taking federal money to fund the Medicaid expansion of the PPACA. We see this in one Democratic senator after another—even some from those red states—coming out for marriage equality. We are the ones winning, and we have to start acting like it.

If Aung San Suu Kyi can work with the military which imprisoned her for two decades for the betterment of her country, then we can work with Joe Manchin.


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