Books About Building a Better Progressive Movement And/Or Democratic Party?

In recent years, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salaam, David Frum, and Michael Gerson have written books about how the GOP needs to change course. I was wondering what some good parallels on the left are (whether reflecting on changes the Dems need to make or progressives need to make); there’s Rebuild the Dream by Van Jones…any others?

Shea and Wilson’s classic Illuminatus!

I can’t think of any Democratic examples, but there’s Hopes and Prospects by Chomsky. There’s also this by Eric Hobsbawm, but I don’t know of any book (on this specific topic) by him.

Try The Next American Nation by Michael Lind.

Markos Moulitsas has written some books on the subject.

The reality is I don’t think that progressives can compete in a citizens united society with regards to money. Progressives do not have the kind of bankrolled support that conservatives are going to, because progressives run on raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy if not outright hostility to them.

A good book on progressive capital funding of political movements is called the blueprint about how various wealthy individuals with progressive tendencies (most were gay and got rich in IT) funded an alliance that brought together trial attorneys, organized labor, environmental rights, civil rights, minority groups, etc into an umbrella organization to improve productivity and prevent duplication of efforts in politics. Supposedly it helped them turn Colorado from a pretty red state to a pretty blue state. One of the founder millionaires is a congressman now, at least he was (no idea if he is still in office after 2010).

But meh. Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers will end up spending $300 million or so during this single election cycle. Tim Gill, one of the wealthier founders of the democracy alliance, has a net worth total of $400 million (so his entire net worth is about what the GOP billionaires will spend in one cycle). $400 million is nothing to sneeze at, but nowhere near the $100 billion or so that Adelson and the Koch brothers have.

Building a labor movement again would be a good idea since labor provides money and volunteers, plus it moves the overton window to the left (white working class people who aren’t in unions tend to vote GOP, those who are tend to vote dem). So would expanding the voter base as much as possible via things like automatic registration, same day registration, making election day a national holiday, funding registration drives. etc. Democrats tend to do better among the disadvantaged class (poor people, the disabled, etc) who are the most sidetracked by voting roadblocks.

It is not a coincidence that the GOP has taken a course of doing the exact opposite (decimating unions and making it harder to vote). Strong unions and making it easy to vote strongly help democrats and by proxy progressives.

I think that’s where liberals go wrong, thinking it’s all about organizing people who already support you and raising money from people who already support you. That’s not how conservatives became dominant since 1980. The only way to win in the long run is by persuasion and winning the independent vote. And constantly trying to change the party from within to adjust to new realities.

When Republicans lose, they figure out why and start getting rid of those responsible. Almost all of the leadership from the 2001-2008 period is gone. Frist, Hastert, Delay, outta here. Meanwhile, the Democrats have made no changes since their huge defeat in 2010 and aren’t likely to change course if they lose in 2012 either.

You know, I’m wondering if it’s worthwhile to even challenge the SuperPAC money. Why not just invest directly in land and achieve autonomy by reducing the endemic form of rent? I can think of one example of a progressive movement (Union, in this case) attempting to purchase a factory which was denied by the owners, but if that could be achieved, I could see it spreading.

Laura Flanders’s** Blue Grit** comes to mind. She makes the point that it’s year-round institutions staffed by Democrats that win elections, not just pop-up campaign outfits. The GOP have their churches, which are constantly there pushing an identity that conveniently leaves the reins of power to the elite. What do the Dems have?

If the media is on your side, that’s worth much more than even a $1 billion ad campaign.

It would be. But the media is not on anyone’s side. Certain elements of the media are. FOX and MSNBC take sides, although the former claims to be a news channel while the latter bills itself as opinion. And certain newspapers, like the Murdoch run New York Post and Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Times are also on one side, in that case the right. The left does not have an equivalent, no matter how often The New York Times, the last paper to do real news, is falsely accused of it. There are small but influential magazines of both the right and left but no national magazine is very influential these days. Websites can be found in every flavor. The one that drives the most viewers is the right-wing Drudge Report.

I don’t know if you are implying that the mainstream media is leftest, although that’s the line that is heard most often. I hope not. Saying so is merely a talking point, and talking points are by definition lies.

No, I’m just saying that the concern over Super PACs is overrated. Fox News is worth a thousand Super PACs. And the media was very pro-Obama in 2008, they got caught up in the euphoria over him and did very little vetting of him, much less than an average candidate would have gotten, like Bill Clinton, where the media went over every story with a fine tooth comb. Obama could have been outraised by McCain 10-1, and that kid gloves media treatment would have won him the race.

To my mind every statement in this post is wrong.

I offer a cynic’s view - probably not totally accurate, but influenced by my gloss on the facts:

The left coalition should probably embrace the idea of elites. What!?, you say. No, not money elites or intellectual elites, at least not the upper-upper of either group. I’m talking about the x percent of society today that is far enough above average in education, social conscience, political awareness, cosmopolitan ethos, and intellectual abilities to really be able to have a meaningful and constructive conversation about the nation: what’s good, what’s bad, what needs help now, what we ought to wait on. People who are tuned in to something besides partisanship, fearmongering, trend-following, gamesmanship and aggrandizement.

Cynically speaking, that information elite would probably include
• a chunk of the commentariat (people like Flanders, Moulitsas, Joan Walsh, et al.);
• a slice of academe (poli sci, soc, econ, environment sciences, cultural studies);
• a disproportionate % of certain social outgroups (gays, Jews) as well as certain ingroups (coastal urbanites, the graduate-level educated).

People like this just seem to be the broadest, most fertile seedbed for the kind of discourse I’m talking about. Everything else is probably up for grabs. People in international industries or nonprofits, small business/local food/energy advocates, just everyday fed-up good citizens and veterans and teachers and such, all could play their roles.

The difference here is that like the conservative movements, everybody knows who’s in charge - in a looser way, of course; more like what kind of people are in charge. People who are good at discourse will be good at airing problems, gaining input, and proposing action. It won’t be the cacophony of idealistic mee-meeing that left coalitions often turn out to be, because people will recognize the value of my information elite once it starts to get things happening.

that model already exists in the blogosphere. The lefty blogosphere is dominated by a few bloggers, while the righty blogosphere is more diverse and has no clear leaders like Moulitsas.

Can you back this claim up?

An effective information elite could (and ought to) extend well beyond the blogosphere.

EVERYBODY who was not a die-hard Republican in 2008 was in favor Obama. Dubya was HATED, DETESTED, and so any Republican candidate was doomed. Sad thing is, Obama is just a Reagan Republican. I go with Chris Hedges, the parties don’t make a damn bit of difference at this point, it’s getting to the point where street demonstrations and similar efforts, up to an including violent revolution, are the only answer. I hope he’s wrong about that. I am afraid he is not.


I was going to quibble that the part about Fox News is mere hyperbole, but I think that even that’s wrong. No one watches Fox News who doesn’t already agree with their stance, whereas there are plenty of non-political TV viewers who can see Super PAC ads on sports shows or drama shows. It coudl influence them, people who may not already have made up their mind, or at least get them so riled up that they actually vote.

Not sure how, it’s just my own personal observation. Do you disagree that Markos Moulitsas occupies a commanding height on the liberal side of the blogosphere that has no right-wing equivalent? As for the right-wing side being more diffuse, small liberal bloggers are always complaining about how they don’t get linked to by the big liberal blogs, whereas bloggers like Glenn Reynolds liberally share the eyeballs.

Fox News pushes narratives that are then picked up on by the other channels. That’s not something 30-second ads can usually accomplish, no matter how much money is backing them.