Progressive Strategy: Promote Ideas Rather than Politicians

(c) Josh Sager

In order to be successful in the long term, the progressive movement must promote ideas and ideological position rather than simply politicians. If the progressive movement focuses on policies rather than politicians, then there is a greater chance that progressive policies will be enacted. Progressive policies can be pushed by any progressive politician and are not dependent upon the success of a single political race.

This focus on policies over politicians has three key components:
The progressive movement’s focus should be on getting progressive policies passed over keeping individual politicians in office; if an individual politician must take a short term loss in order to achieve a substantial progressive policy win, then the policy should take priority over keeping the politician in office.

Once elected, all progressive politicians must be held to their support of progressive policies. Allowing elected politicians to ignore their promises creates a situation where many supposedly progressive politicians are elected, yet few progressive policies are advanced.

The partisan affiliation of a politician should never overshadow the policies which they support; if we say that something is immoral and wrong when the opposition does it, then we must not tolerate it when our own allies act similarly.

The purpose of getting a politician elected is not simply to win an election, but to have some say in the national/state policy. In any situation where an individual politician must risk their position in order to pass a significant progressive policy, the progressive movement should prioritize the policy over the individual. For example: during the 2009 healthcare fight, the Democratic Party should have put much more pressure on the Blue Dog/southern Democrats in order to force them to support single payer healthcare. While these politicians may have lost their next election due to this support, the passage of such a significant piece of progressive legislation would be well worth the sacrifice and would endure far longer than the short term loss of the politicians. Every progressive politician to be elected should be made to understand that their position is not an end unto itself, but rather a way of facilitating the passage of progressive policies.

Promoting individual politicians is ultimately irrelevant when these politicians abandon progressive policies once in office. If progressives are more attached to individual politicians than policy positions, then these politicians are able to get away with not supporting progressive policies. An individual politician is often not totally reliable and is far less stable than a policy position. Politicians can often be compelled to compromise their ideology’s policies in order to serve political games; individual politicians can also be ignored, suffer scandals, have their character impugned, or lose office. A policy isn’t tied to a human, can be supported by many politicians, and will often outlast an individual’s political career.

Once elected into office, progressive politicians should be held to their support of progressive policies. If a supposedly progressive politician does not act like a progressive once in office, they should lose the support of the progressive movement and be challenged during the next possible primary. When a politician claims to be a progressive, yet doesn’t support progressive policies, there is no reason why the progressive movement should consider them an ally, or support them (ex. Blue Dog Democrats).

The current Democratic Party’s acceptance of President Obama’s drone campaign has illustrated exactly why a focus on policy rather than politicians is necessary. When President Bush was utilizing drones, and sometimes killing civilians, the Democratic Party was visibly outraged. One would think that, given this outrage, the Democratic president Obama would immediately begin fixing the flaws in this program which his party was outraged over when Bush ran it. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as the Obama administration’s drone program is far more egregious than Bush’s, and has expanded upon the worst aspects of the Bush drone program—more civilians have been killed, more drones have been sent into Yemen and Pakistan, and the USA has begun using “signature strikes” to kill unknown people based upon patterns of behavior. If the drone program of Bush’s administration is immoral and needs to be protested by progressives, then Obama’s program is just that much worse. The fact that many Democrats have been silent about the Obama drone program demonstrates just how party affiliation can eclipse policy.

In a world where Democrats and progressives focused upon policy, rather than supporting individual politicians, Obama would never have dared continue the abuses of the Bush administration. Upon attempting to continue many of the Bush era policies (ex. drone strikes, tax cuts, austerity, etc.), he would have lost the support of his base and would likely have faced a significant primary effort during the 2012 election. In this world, the progressive movement would be able to ensure that every politician who claims to be a progressive acted like one, even when no election was imminent.

The conservative movement has been utilizing this tactic for decades and has been very successful—the promotion of tax cuts and “trickle-down” economics are two examples of conservative policy goals which have received particular focus. Conservative politicians are held to the conservative movement’s ideological goals, or are immediately jettisoned (ex. pro-choice Republicans are largely extinct). While an extreme party line is ultimately destructive, as it stifles all compromise, the progressive movement should adopt a less extreme version of it in order to facilitate policy wins. Progressive politicians should be allowed some autonomy of beliefs, but should be expected to conform to a majority of the progressive platform.

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