Recipe for Coalition: 1. Add Recognition, At Least Half a Cup.

David Atkins at Washington Monthly has a point about what progressives, Democrats and anyone else who is dismayed by the current political situation in the United States has to do.

It’s entirely possible that at a grassroots level in many parts of the country, the advice is unnecessary because it’s long since been taken. It’s hard for me and maybe many to tell whether online sniping between pundits, Twitter feeds, Tumblr blogs and so on has anything at all to do with how most people live and inhabit their political choices.

Assuming for a moment that there’s either some resemblance between the tensions expressed in the public sphere and those felt on the ground, or that the public sphere has the potential to eventually impose its discourse on others, then there is a basic understanding of coalition politics that is being entirely sidestepped by many people. I’ve complained before about a version of this point, that the discourse about “allies” in identity politics doesn’t really recognize what an alliance is. You don’t expect allies to be identical to your own party or movement–and you only are interested in allies when you have to be, because there’s no other way to realize your own political aspirations.

In the context of the current debate, if we can call it that, between mainstream Democrats and left progressives, well, the problem is that both sides (or maybe there’s more than two) tend to think that “alliance” or “coalition” means, “I’m going to tell the other guys all the ways in which they suck, I’m going to accuse them of being racists/sexists/corporate shills/almost Republicans/cowards/delusional and then I’m going to demand that they join the coalition, which means shutting up and obeying everything we tell them to do.”

If anyone wants to make the point about working together in a helpful way that actually leads to a coalition, here’s how to start: through a generous acknowledgement of the legitimate grievances and helpful contributions of the faction or group that you do not identify with. You outline the sustaining terms and common ground for a coalition. You bracket off the issues that your side is prepared to push off to the margins and identify some of the issues that you believe the other factions will have to push off to the margins. You figure out strategically which seats or offices the other side(s) has the best chance to win, and which seats and offices your side has the best chance to win, and you offer to support all of those races equally. You acknowledge the cases where the other faction has a far better candidate in basic terms (say, in the last Pennsylvania Senate race, John Fetterman was simply a more charismatic, engaging, interesting candidate by far than Katie McGinty, period–she had no chance to beat a very beatable opponent) and you agree that you’ll try to acknowledge that kind of difference when you see it and go with the winning chance regardless.

You parsimoniously identify the two or three essential issues where candidates and spokespeople from any faction just have to satisfy you; you hope the other guys do the same.

And so on. It’s time to stop saying, “We have to work together, you whiny BernieBro crazy purist impractical nonsense faux-socialist millennial brats!” and “We have to work together, you corporate stooge neoliberal basically-Republican money-chasing scumbags!” In those cases, just skip the “have to work together” part, since it really means, “You must bend the knee to us and submit in every way”.

That, by the way, is the privilege of every political actor, from individuals all the way up to movements: to insist that they want it all, exactly as they want it. But you know what, that means one more thing: you have the power, or a plan for having the power, to make those unyielding demands meaningful. If you have the power or a plan for having the power, stop talking *to* the political factions you intend to compel or coerce into submission to your own agenda. If that’s the way it is, stop whining about Kamala Harris or Cory Booker to the mainstream Democratic Party, because you do not expect them to care. If that’s the way it is, stop whining to Sanders supporters about how they’re sexist or immature or unrealistic, because you do not expect them to listen.

Right now I don’t think that either mainstream Democrats or Sanders-aligned progressives have a plan for compelling or coercing their opposing faction, and neither do they have an awareness of the necessity of coalition and the necessary requirements for coalition. As far as I can tell, the plan on both sides is “We’ll lose again! And lose even more seats in state legislatures and Congress! And then you’ll be sorry! Then you’ll listen!”

The Tea Party had a plan that actually worked for compelling the mainstream Republican Party to obey them. I think maybe even some in the Tea Party are now regretting that. In an earlier era, the mainstream Republican Party from 1968-2000 had a plan for giving the ancestors of the Tea Party enough of what they wanted to keep them happy and in coalition. Thinking of that kind is more or less absent among Democrats, progressives and radicals. More’s the pity.

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13 Responses to Recipe for Coalition: 1. Add Recognition, At Least Half a Cup.

  1. Oren Cheyette says:

    “I don’t think that either mainstream Democrats or Sanders-aligned progressives have a plan for compelling or coercing their opposing faction, and neither do they have an awareness of the necessity of coalition and the necessary requirements for coalition.”

    This seems wrong. Your use of the “bend the knee” line above is a reference to Chapo, and there’s clearly a loud cohort of the DSA left exemplified by them and TYT that express themselves this way. But where are you hearing comparable demands for capitulation from the traditional liberal wing of the party? I read quite a bit of stuff from TNR and similar sources and mostly I see handwringing about exactly what you’ve written further up about not understanding what a coalition is. You’ve got RoseAnn DeMoro trying to recall the liberal Democratic speaker of the CA assembly because he wouldn’t push a comically incomplete single-payer bill. Her staffer writing a vituperous letter to Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum accusing him of being an acolyte of Milton Friedman. And of course the antifa loons who seem to think that if only they burn a few more Oakland storefronts they’ll bring the revolution, showing only contempt for liberals who express concern about what this actually achieves politically.

    There are lots of examples of demand for submission from the energized left, but I’m really coming up empty trying to think of comparable centrists demanding submission as opposed to a plea to just: “Get in the tent with us & after we all win then we can fight about the details.” There’s certainly some eye-rolling at the ridiculousness of the continuing insistence in some quarters that HRC was a fundamentally corrupt and flawed candidate, but that’s as far as I’ve seen it go.

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    What I am seeing coming from the pundits who tend to align closely with the basically centrist ranks of the elected Democratic Party runs something like this: “You silly people! You’ll have to stop condemning Cory Booker and so on if you want to win! Stop dividing us! You’ll never get any of the policies you want if you don’t cut it out.” And so on. This is not quite “bend the knee” as an actionable political plan, but it is not far off in aspirational terms, because it simply says “We don’t really care what you guys think about anything, you’re unrealistic and immature, we don’t have to acknowledge you as an actual faction with actual political aspirations, just give up and join”. There’s a belief that involves some magical thinking that this is inevitable–that any national Democrat can count on the loyalty of all progressive voters–and that there is thus never a need to engage left progressives as a coalition. Which is precisely what infuriates and provokes left progressives.

    I don’t think either faction (assuming we decide it’s just two rather than three or four) has a meaningful plan to compel the other faction to submit to its wishes. The character of the *gestures* they use is different, but they boil down to expressions of contempt rather than some meaningful form of organizing, which is what I was referring to. Folks can stamp their feet or roll their eyes all the want, but if they’re actually serious about forcing the subservience of another political group, that takes something systematic and electorally meaningful, like a real organization intended to promote primary challenges across a large range of districts.

    I do think you’re not seeing very clearly if you don’t see the numerous gestures of contempt for Sanders-aligned progressives or other leftists coming from the Democratic center.

  3. NickS says:

    I agree with you completely (including the observation that both sides can be condescending and insulting). The obvious next question is “why?” Why does this debate feel so acrimonious. A couple of possibilities (not all of which do I find convincing, but brainstorming here).

    1) People are mad as hell and ready to fight.

    2) Some element of the discourse boosts the profile of more combative people.

    3) The Big Sort: we are a divided nation in which most people spend time around other who agree with them; so there’s less chance for people to practice or model courteous disagreement.

    4) Most of the public posts/articles in which people purport to be trying to engage in dialog are actually aimed at spectators who already agree with the author, rather than being an honest attempt to reach out to other people.

    5) In this particular case both the mainstream and the activist-left believe that they’re arguing from a position of strength and don’t think they have to compromise (I realize the article is specifically directed towards people who believe that, but we should ask “is that a pervasive belief, and if so why?”)

    6) Politics as sport; there are a significant number of people who are passionately invested in politics without being actively involved in electoral politics — they just want to hear that their side is winning, rather than build towards wins.

    7) Politics as identity: I was talking with a friend recently who said that political affiliation is one of the few categories for which it’s still okay to indulge in stereotypes and sweeping generalizations. Perhaps there are an increasing number of people for which their political affiliation is a primary component of their sense of identity.

    Which of those explanations seem more convincing to you?

  4. Daniel Miller says:

    One great example of what Tim discusses is the decision by the centrist wing to campaign hard against Keith Ellison for DNC Chair, while simultaneously saying that the position was meaningless. By itself, not a huge thing, but it’s indicative.

  5. I was in my thirties when I went to see my doctor for my annual physical. At the end he asked if I had any questions, and I said that I had a hard lump in my chest. He said, “Show me.” I did, and he said, “Congratulations, you have discovered your sternum. Don’t worry, you are going to be okay.” I want to say that the discussion here about factions is one that has been repeated for more than two centuries in America, and far longer in human history. Factions, like my sternum, have been rediscovered millions of times and the resulting discussion has probably followed the path you put forward here.

    James Madison covered the problems of factions very well. He discussed the same class of problems that you have described and he, like you, proposed ways to deal with them. Unlike your proposals, his became embedded in the Constitution. Our system of government is exactly that, a system. And when systems do not serve our needs we can, or should, change them. First we have to identify what causes them to fail. Madison identified the cause: human nature. In Federalist 10 he said, “The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.” He said that men are born different, that they have different ideas and abilities and these differences lead to political differences. Some of those differences lead to factions, just as you have said, and he defined factions in the same way you have:

    “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

    He said that the ways to control factions are limited: “There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.”

    Then, in a sentence or two, he showed that it is impossible to eliminate the causes of factions: the natural, different opinions of human beings. He then said that we are left with one method to keep factions from destroying us: find a way to control their effects. He said that the way to do it was to elect a group of representatives that is large enough to “guard against the cabals of a few,” and is small enough to “guard against the confusion of a multitude.” He then presents arguments to support these ideas, but they make no sense. It is amazing to me that this fact has been ignored by so many historians. The proof is easy to see. Our present group of representatives (Senators and Representatives) numbers 535 citizens.

    You tell me, is this number small enough to avoid confusion; is it large enough to “guard against the cabals of a few?” The real number comes to this: 10,000 representatives chosen for each legislative act. If we process three hundred acts per year then we will need to choose 3,000,000 representatives. But we will need a variety of support personnel for all these acts. The total number that is large enough to avoid the cabals of a few and small enough to avoid the confusion of a multitude is 26,250,300. Each of these citizens will serve for the time required to process one legislative act.

    Madison would oppose such huge numbers because he was not trying to give power to the people. He wanted to give power to a few elite men. He said that the effect of delegating the power of the people to a small number of citizens elected by the rest, “is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.”

    This proposition is many things. It is highly desirable, highly contingent, and highly unlikely. It seems natural at this point to expect, to hope, that Madison would launch into an explanation of how his system would put the right people—discerning, patriotic, just, and wise—into office. But he didn’t have such an explanation. Instead, in the very next sentence, he said, “On the other hand…”

    “On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” It seems that Madison’s scheme of representation does not live up to its advance publicity.

    So the nature of our government depends entirely on the nature of the men who control it. This is starkly clear, but Madison’s statement is virtually unknown. I will wager that almost no Americans are now, or have ever been, acquainted with this important warning—I will double the bet by saying that no American at all can recall any national politician ever making reference to this essential point in any campaign speech. Madison’s system did not provide protection against factions gaining power—he said so himself. Let me repeat—the nature of our government depends entirely on the nature of the men who control it, and there is no way to keep tyranni out of office.

    Of course Madison was right in theory. If we elect men who are wise, who can together seek and find the true best interests of the nation, who are patriotic and just, and who will rise above temptation, we will have a government that works for the people. But “if” is not good enough. By Madison’s own admission, the new government had to control the effects of faction—if it failed to do so, it would perish. His scheme of representation would work if, and only if, we put the right kind of people in office. But he had no way to make that happen. Our nation was built on “theoretic” thinking.

    Madison’s description of the right kind of people (wise, patriotic, just, discerning, and above temptation) sounds familiar doesn’t it? He said that this “chosen body of citizens” might reach decisions that are “more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.” This is “pure” elitism. Madison was talking about himself and the other Framers. They were a “chosen body of citizens” who viewed themselves as wise, patriotic, just, discerning, and above temptation. To his way of thinking, this wealthy elite body, and future such bodies, would serve the nation better than a body chosen from the people themselves. He was attempting to justify the exclusion of the people from their own government. To Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, only the wealthy elites, only the plutocrats, knew what was best for the people. In fact, according to many sources, John Jay was fond of saying, “those who own the country ought to govern it.”

    So, we good citizens try to work within a system that will never work for our benefit. We blame factions, and we should, but we do not blame the failed system that can never deal with them. Our systems of government and economics must be changed if we are ever to rid our nation of the problems you have described here.

    Let me repeat: working within our current system is doomed.

    And now for something completely different, but is, at the same time, fitting. Sam Houston was governor of Texas when secession fever was burning its way across the South. He opposed secession and he warned Texans that they were about to make a catastrophic mistake. His warning was proved to be correct. If we adapt it to our present circumstances, it is easy to see that it fits:

    “Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of global warming as the result of burning fossil fuels, but let me tell you what is coming! You, your children and grandchildren, and all their descendants, will suffer tragedy because of irreversible damage to the benevolent natural systems that have supported our species since we were created. You may, after the sacrifice of countless trillions of treasure and billions of lives, as a bare possibility save our species, perhaps even save our civilization. But I doubt it. I tell you this: while I believe, with you, in the benevolence of Providence, the laws of physics are neither friend nor foe. They are merciless, relentless, and amoral—they do not care if we live or die. As greenhouse gases pile up in our atmosphere they will be true to their nature and they will begin to cook us as if we were cuts of meat on the backyard grill. I fear that they will destroy our civilization and our species. There will be no one left to mourn our passing. The future of the world is in your hands.”

  6. Timothy Burke says:

    1. Yes. People’s political feelings are in fact deeply felt at the moment, even people who don’t care about the online sniping. That always makes coalition-building hard.
    2. Yes. Online discourse is generally mediated by algorithms that almost intrinsically amplify antagonisms, in slightly different ways across different platforms. More humble, more coalition-friendly sentiments get sorted out.
    3. Yes. Sociologically we are being more and more clustered with people who not only share our class interests but even our everyday habits.
    4. Yes. Talking across communities of interest and belief is much harder, and the institutions which support such talk are fading or becoming more reluctant to do it.
    5. Yes. Both (or more) groups either think they have a really strong hand or think they have to act like it.
    6. Yes. “Winning” in online talk particularly is increasingly divorced from “winning” in retail politics.
    7. Yes, somewhat?

    I’ll add this:

    8. It’s been nearly 30 years since something like coalition politics existed in the US in a deep way. Karl Rove’s orchestrated redistricting has especially undercut this since the late 1990s. There is simply a skills gap now: both political leaders and political followers just don’t know how to give something to get something because they’ve never seen it done.

    9. People who *do* remember coalition politics, or who have entered into coalitions of some sort, presently feel very badly burned by them. I think this is especially potent for progressives, who look at the mainstream Democratic party the way Charlie Brown looks at Lucy when she holds up a football. I think that feeling is not entirely unwarranted. There is very little appreciation for the left of the party among elected Democrats even though they’re an absolute requirement for electoral success in most areas where the Democrats are strong. I think this is why the first move is really on the mainstream of the party–some genuine affection and some serious attempts to make the most politically popular ideas of progressives into mainstream talking points would go a long way. (Single payer and free education are genuinely popular positions nationwide if you look at polls–when a mainstream Democrat insists that they can’t be in favor of either until they have a comprehensive 100-point implementation plan that would pass a rigorous CBO evaluation, an angel loses his wings. Just say you’re in favor of both *ideas* and you’ll be everybody’s darling, maybe even some center-right independents and Republicans.)

  7. NickS says:

    I agree with your 8 & 9, but I think the examples you chose point to some of the difficulty.

    I think this is why the first move is really on the mainstream of the party–some genuine affection and some serious attempts to make the most politically popular ideas of progressives into mainstream talking points would go a long way. (Single payer and free education are genuinely popular positions nationwide … Just say you’re in favor of both *ideas* and you’ll be everybody’s darling, maybe even some center-right independents and Republicans.)

    Before I get into details — full disclosure, I’m somebody who’s political preferences are fairly left but my temperament is fairly centrist — I’m an incrementalist at heart. So I’m both rooting for the success of the progressive wing and also keep having the impulse of, “is that really a good idea?”

    So, in that spirit, I think those are very interesting examples to choose. For one thing, they’re both massive in terms of the amount of funding they would require. They might be easy *ideas* to support, but any legislation to implement them is not going to broadly popular — it’s going to be highly contested and controversial.

    Secondly, I am wary of something that Mark Schmidt said a while back which was, approximately, that when he sees an issue on which the activists and polling are strongly on one side but, as he said, “people who are paid to win elections” aren’t endorsing it, that make him think that they probably have a reason for their caution. In the case of recent political history the two times that Democrats have brought a major health care bill up for a vote they got killed in the next congressional elections (1994, 2010). A sample size of 2 isn’t definitive, but it suggests that the party may have reason to be very careful about the positions they take on health care.

    Third, when it comes to health care, I think about a remark that Ezra Klein made last year. He said that from what he’s heard when Obama was elected if he could have chosen the issue to bring up for a legacy-defining legislation while Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate he wanted Climate Change. But he went with health care because there was a lot more work that had already been done to hash out the framework for possible legislation and more people that were already comfortable with what the coalition would look like and what sorts of compromises would be involved.

    That sticks with me because it’s a good example of how major legislation is the result of years of behind-the-scenes work by activists, wonks, and people within the party floating ideas and seeing what can work and what doesn’t have support.

    For another example of that process I recommend The Climate Wars to people as one of the best books that I’ve read on the US political process. In that case it documents a multi-year process to pass cap-and-trade which almost succeeds. It gets a wide range of people on board and willing to agree that cap-and-trade is a good solution but then, it turns out the coalition just isn’t strong enough to pass legislation. For various reasons, some of which make sense and some of which feel like just political bad luck, it falls apart in the end. I don’t bring it up to dwell on the failure mostly I just wanted to recommend it as a book and use it as an example of how long the process is.

    Finally, if you ask me, I think free education is a terrible idea from a policy perspective. I like the idea in theory, but I think it’s just not worth it unless it’s possible to make the higher education system much cheaper. I would support federal funding for something like your “21st Century College” but, gosh, when you look at how much it would cost to provide free education to existing colleges and universities . . . I just think there are much better things that could be done with that money.

    FWIW (betraying my incrementalist nature) I thought the Clinton proposal to make technical and community college free was a really good one — it would provide immediate help to some of the most marginal students, it wouldn’t be too expensive, and it would start to build in infrastructure for direct federal funding of higher education.

    As I watched the 2016 campaign the two issues on which I thought there was the most potential for a “serious attempts to make the most politically popular ideas of progressives into mainstream talking points” were the “fight for $15” (with Clinton personally supporting $12 as a goal but still being fairly supportive of the fight for $15 activists) and criminal justice reform. Both of those were areas in which I thought the political mainstream had clearly moved left in the last decade, and that there was a chance to consolidate gains and treat them as basic proposals of the democratic party. But, perhaps because there had been so much movement already, neither of them were seen as counting as “first move” by the party.

  8. Timothy Burke says:

    There’s a sense in which I think the mainstream of the Democratic Party has completely confused implementation with values/aspirations, and that this was the major lesson they could have learned from either Sanders or Trump but have stubbornly refused to learn so far. “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.

    If you go back to FDR, it’s significant that he put the major implementation challenges of the New Deal “under the hood”, so to speak. What came first was, “We’re going to end this Depression.” Now on the other hand, Obama did in fact make the mistake of sounding like that while having an incrementalist’s temperament when it came to actually governing. That’s also bad. But I think if on health care or climate change or higher education you come in and you say, “We’re going to find a way to make this happen” and you talk in broad but authentic, everyday ways about what “this” is–if you don’t sound like you focus-group-tested and message-disciplined something but instead sound more human and intimate–you are going to bridge some gaps, and create the infrastructure for coalitions.

    So on “this” for education, you say: “Whether 18 or 60, we have to feel that we have a future. That there’s a job that we could have and keep. That we can get to the education or training that we need. The government needs to make sure that can happen. It can’t be so expensive that you have to go into crippling lifelong debt to do it. It can’t be so unresponsive to what people need or want that it’s of no value. But we can’t be throwing people away, either, no matter what.” I dunno–that sounds too massaged. But something that’s got the emotional punch and power of “school should be free”. The should be is the thing there–a value statement that precedes “here’s how we’re gonna do it”.

    Same on climate change, health care, you name it. Say: this is the way life should be. On some of these issues, it’s literally better to go down losing in the legislature with a simple, powerful plan than it is to spend too much time building a juryrigged apparatus that has no strong values statement attached to it. Everyone’s making fun of Trump on his “tax plan”, with some justice–but there’s a power in saying, “Paying your taxes should be simple, there should be fairness, we shouldn’t have loopholes” and then losing a vote on a plan that is simple and reflects those priorities. Because I think that might mean that in the next round, you get a good plan that enacts those values, because the values themselves are powerfully appealing. Single payer feels the same way to me–a strong majority like the sound of it. I’d almost rather go down on at least somewhat plausible single payer plan in the first round in order to build political demand for something like it in the second.

  9. NickS says:

    I think we’re talking past each other. Which is fascinating to me give both the topic of the original post and the fact that I suspect we agree on 90% of this stuff.

    I too think that Democrats would be better off with short punchy statements of values (or, as Mark Schmidt put it, “it isn’t what you say about the issues; it’s what the issues say about you” — that the choices about what a politician chooses to foreground and emphasize say more about their beliefs and priorities than the language that they use about the issues). But that’s hardly original advice; that’s been the basic message from activists too Democratic politicians since at least 2000 (possibly 1988). It’s possible that politicians are stubbornly resisting good advice, but it’s also possible that it’s harder to pull off than you would think.

    (Consider this post from 2015 which argues that the most visible contemporary version of politicians who make simple statements and straight-talk is in the fiction of Aaron Sorkin and that Donald Trump might be the natural heir — as somebody who doesn’t care at all about what’s “under the hood” but never sounds scripted).

    But, again stipulating that I agree with your goals, let’s think about this question of what would it look like the progressive and incrementalist wings of the Democratic party to compromise. When you say (1) “the major lesson they could have learned from either Sanders or Trump” is to offer clear statements of purpose, and (2) “Now on the other hand, Obama did in fact make the mistake of sounding like that while having an incrementalist’s temperament when it came to actually governing. That’s also bad.” and (3) “On some of these issues, it’s literally better to go down losing in the legislature with a simple, powerful plan than it is to spend too much time building a juryrigged apparatus that has no strong values statement attached to it.” I wonder how a mainstream Democratic politician is supposed to compromise with that vision.

    If you’re saying, (1) we need bold vision, (2) which must be matched by bold action, and (3) better to fail with conviction than to succeed on something which is hard to explain and represents various concessions to “the art of the possible.” That sets the bar really high! That doesn’t give much room for a politician to anything other than be completely on board with your perspective and still live up to that standard.

    As a side note, my speculation about why it’s so difficult for politicians to start with simple statements of values is related to Al Franken’s description of the “de-humorizer” — the multi-million dollar media force which exists to strip humorous statements of any context, tone, or humor, and then demand that people defend them on a literal basis. Politicians (on both sides) have figured out that the best way to respond to somebody who’s trying to make basic statements of philosophy is to willfully misinterpret them, take them out of context, and rob them of anything that would make them “sing.” I realize that Trump and Sanders both had a lot of success, and that’s encouraging, but I also think there were unusual circumstances for both of them which meant that they didn’t face many questions about how those values would operate in practice (certainly both of them received those questions but, particularly in the case of Trump he never answered them, and was able to pull that off in a way that most politicians couldn’t).

    Also, consider Rob Quist, in MT, as a recent candidate who attempted that strategy and who did fairly well, all things considered, but not well enough to win against an opponent (who was recorded physically assaulting a journalist) or to shake up the basic partisan leanings of the state. On one hand that’s encouraging in that it supports the idea that a politician can be more human and less scripted and not suffer too badly for it but, on the other hand, it suggests that isn’t a silver bullet.

  10. NickS says:

    I feel weird leaving things with my last comment. Left as a final statement it feels more combative than I intended.

    So let me suggest one more theory about why the tensions between the progressive and mainstream Democrats are so high — sadly without any idea about how to improve it.

    I think that neither faction takes Republicans seriously, and that changes the dialogue. On the simplest level, the 04 election changed things. Progressives were ideologically disappointed with Clinton, but there was a clear reason why a coalition was necessary. It did seem clear that there were electoral benefits to Clintonism. But many progressives felt, after the loss to Bush many progressives felt like the mainstream party couldn’t be trusted to hold up the simplest part of its side of the bargain — to defeat an idiot like Bush.

    Since that point the Republican party (and conservative media) has continued to move in a direction that doesn’t allow any meaningful points of engagement between progressives and Republicans. From a left-of-center perspective Republicans no longer seem like a faction, they are the White Walkers; a destructive force that can’t be negotiated with (side note: I remember a poll early during the Obama years that said a majority of Democrats liked the idea of bipartisanship, and a majority of Republicans didn’t, and suggested that was why Obama kept trying to invite Republicans into policy discussions and why they kept blowing up. I would guess that has changed — I know for myself, I wouldn’t have valued bipartisanship very much to begin with, but the Debt Ceiling showdown left me with no hope whatsoever for reasonable negotiation).

    So, at that point, there’s also not much desire for a Democratic politician who offers, as a selling point, that they can try to appeal to Republican voters. The party mainstream still feels like they need some centrist credentials to be able to win elections but it’s hard to make an argument that seeming receptive to Republican ideas has any policy benefits, it’s just a cost.

    I’ve just been reading Matt Taibbi’s collection on the 2016 election, and there’s one piece in which he speculates that after Trump destroys the Republican party we will be left with one-party rule which would be bad because the Democrats would just be a political machine. Reading that now that thought feels so wildly estranged from the reality that we’re living in. But I think in some ways that’s happened within the sphere of policy debates without also happening in the electoral realm, and so there’s a cognitive dissonance in which it’s easy to feel like there is no meaningful opponent while, at the same time, losing elections.

    I think that exacerbates tensions within the Democratic coalition, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

  11. NickS says:

    As a follow-up, John Qiggin argues that the branch of conservatism that may be most productively in dialogue with the left is Libertarianism — it’s a good post, and I think supports my argument that the current level of extremism among Republicans has a significant effect on the way that Leftists frame contemporary political arguments.

  12. Timothy Burke says:

    I think John’s basically right. But I think that’s libertarianism in its philosophical sense. American libertarians who actually practice it as their primary political affiliation often seem to me to choose alliance with social conservatives that they ought to find complete anathema over possibly working with civil libertarians who favor some form of restriction on corporate activity.

  13. Karl Kolchak says:

    The problem is evident right here on this page, where the discussion about building a left wing coalition is merely an academic one, when in fact the Obama betrayal (and that is what is was: a betrayal), greatly affected people’s lives. How many people died or have been bankrupted because of how he deliberately sandbagged the possibility of single payer health care? How many middle class jobs were destroyed by his love of free trade policies? How many lives have been destroyed by an opioid epidemic that is the result of sheer economic hopelessness eight years after Obama bailed out Wall Street and the big banks while doing NOTHING for their victims? How many innocent minorities were gunned down in the streets by criminal cops while Obama refused to have his Department of Justice open civil rights investigations? How many innocent people were bombed or droned to death overseas at his direct order? How many Libyans and Syrians were turned into hopeless refugees?

    The continuing worship by mainstream liberals of false idols such as Obama and the Clintons and even the credit card companies’ favorite senator, Joe Biden, shows why no coalition can be built with them. They simply refuse to look critically at themselves and acknowledge the tremendous damage they have wrought upon American society and the world.

    Trump is a monster, but defeating a monster with monsters of your own who hide their evil behind a mask of soothing rhetoric is no answer. The left needs to purge itself of surge people, which shouldn’t be too hard to do now that they’re all cosying up to the neocons. It’s the only possible way save the republic.

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