My Initial Thoughts on the 2014 Open GA senate seat

The news that Saxby Chambliss is not going to run creates an opening for Georgia Democrats to rebuild the party even if we don’t take the seat.  Here are a few initial thoughts:

  1. Progressives should campaign vigorously for the Democratic candidate unless it’s someone truly awful.  The party is in disarray, and this is a chance to not only rebuild, but to rebuild with progressives positioned well within the party.
  2. In the primary, we should not accept a consensus blue dog, neither should we go for broke.  The candidate needs to be moderately progressive.  We don’t have to settle for a blue dog, and in fact it would not energize the progressives needed to build a ground game.  On the other hand we have to choose a candidate who can make a good run for middle class votes.
  3. Even a close election could shift the momentum to the Democrats, and energize the party for future races.  Anything over 47% is really a win in my view.
  4. We should campaign in all 159 counties.  Concentrating on seven or eight counties would be as bad as not having a candidate.
  5. Ground game, ground game, ground game.  We should start nowwith voter registration, GOTV, and building contact lists.

This is an excellent chance to resurrect the Democratic Party of Georgia.  The likelihood of the GOP picking a lunatic in their primary is high, but it’ll do us no good if we don’t do the work.

Ayn Rand/Tea Party Asshattery and the contemporary Democratic Party

I deliberately made the title of this post a bit provocative because I want to make it clear exactly what I mean, and how damaging I think the late 20th century swing to the crazy right of the U.S. political system has been.  But I’m not just doing it to attack the Tea Party or the Ayn Rand followers.  Their influence has peaked and is now in steep decline.  Pretty soon the Tea Party won’t be large enough to hold a real Tea Party, with teacups and saucers.

I’m much more concerned with the extent to which the Democratic Party has accommodated the “small government” mythology, and how to draw a line in the sand and move forward. The Democrats, the party which should have continued to be the party which represents the interest of the poor and the disenfranchised, allowed the Right to set the narrative for nearly thirty years.

When I was in my early teens in the 1960s, I read all Ayn Rand’s books.  It makes sense that Rand would attract many intellectually curious teens.  Her works were pulp fiction, with larger than life heroic characters, consistently evil villains, and very little grey area.  They were crudely drawn, but they presented ideas beyond the sword and sorcery novels which were the alternative pulp reading for teen-aged boys. I didn’t really think much at that time about how her views on the sacred nature of property rights and her thorough rejection of compassion and altruism would play out in a real world which was much messier, with many more complex moral issues than the cartoon world of her books.  At fourteen years old I had enough issues going on in my own life without developing a sense of nuance.

By the time I was eighteen or so, I began examining poverty and race, the role of money and corruption on the political system, and a host of other things for which laissez faire didn’t have an answer, and began moving steadily to the left.  The Civil Rights movement was unfolding all around me, so I saw the role the federal government was playing in enforcing social justice in the face of resistance by local reactionaries.  That was as much as I needed to learn about the proper limits of state’s rights.

As I was moving leftward the political landscape in the U.S. seemed to be moving rapidly rightward, due to a backlash driven by white reaction to the Civil Rights and antiwar movements, Nixon’s Southern Strategy of drawing the segregationist Dixiecrats into the GOP, and Lee Atwater’s strategy of building a disciplined right wing coalition with the use of “wedge issues”.

As the Right gained more power and undermined the programs set up with the New Deal and War on Poverty, the Democratic Party largely became “GOP LIte”, putting forward the notion that the abstract principle of “small government” was a Democratic Party principle, too, and often implying that the Democrats didn’t really care about the poor, the sick, immigrants, the environment or the rights of workers any more than the GOP did.

Now that Tea Party over-reach and the sheer force of changing demographics have damaged the GOP, the Democratic Party is in a very good position to stake out a claim to being the progressive, compassionate party, dedicated to social justice.

To do this we have to come to peace with several conclusions.

1) “Small government” is an idiotic goal in a nation of 312,000,000 people.  We should avoid unnecessary and stifling bureaucracy, but the government is going to be large, complex, and expensive, no matter who we elect to power.  The GOP’s inclination is to  use government for military adventures, bedroom policing, and “wars” on drugs, the Democrats (when they are behaving as Democrats) for social programs, but neither party is trying to move toward “small government”.  The question isn’t size of government, but what the government is actually doing.

2) Altruism and compassion is a good thing, and in fact the only way to promote social peace in a huge, diverse population.  The Ayn Rand/Tea Party notions of “rugged individualism” are about as meaningful as your average Chuck Norris movie.  Fun in a lowbrow sort of way, but limited in their ability to solve problems on a wider scale.  Helping each other is not only the right thing to do, but it brings about social stability to everyone’s benefit.

3) The government has a large role to play in a wide variety of aspects of our lives, from ensuring that minority rights are protected, to aid in disasters, both large scale and personal.  Rightwingers often say “but not with MY money”.  Well, I didn’t like paying for Bush’s war in Iraq either. We can argue about how much money goes into what programs, but the issue of whether helping people out in times of need is a valid government function is off the table.  Tea Partiers can gripe about it over their Chik-Fil-As, but health care, the environment, poverty, and minority rights are all valid and legitimate government roles.

Summed up, there is a lot to discuss regarding which approach to issues like poverty and the environment have the most efficacy.  But as far as I’m concerned the question of whether or not the government has a direct and important role in solving these problems is not negotiable, and I don’t think it should be for the Democratic Party at large.

Turn Georgia Blue precinct by precinct

It’s my firm belief that turning an entire state in a new political direction can’t be done by the media-driven methods which have been dominant in politics since radio ads (and later television ads) essentially took over political campaigning.  The fight is going to be won on the ground, not on the airwaves or over the internet.

Progressives should not avoid television, the radio, and internet as means of campaigning or getting the word out, but in an ironic sort of way, Citizen’s United proved that there is a point of diminishing returns for campaigning by dumping money into ads.  Karl Rove’s Crossroads group, and Sheldon Adelson poured enormous amounts of money into the 2012 campaign, and failed miserably.

Even if strategy and tactics are developed and coordinated at the statewide level, the best strategy for a progressive makeover in Georgia has to be based on an intimate knowledge of the voting precincts by a core group of activists on the ground.  The precinct is the largest unit any individual activist can touch directly.  It’s also a manageable unit for tailoring the progressive message for particular circumstances.  The specific concerns of a person in the Grant Park neighborhood of Atlanta is going to be considerably different from a resident of Walker County, and even within the City of Atlanta or Walker County issues will be different on different sides of the city or county, and in different subgroups within each precinct.

Most people don’t know anything about their precinct beyond the physical location where they vote.  That even applies to activists.  Until I began thinking from the point of view of bottom-up organizing, I had no idea what the boundaries of my own precinct were, or what it was called.

Now I know that I’m in Cobb County precinct LI01 (which stands for Lindley 01).  The boundaries of the precinct coincide roughly with census tract 313.13.  The boundaries are Veteran’s Memorial to the south, the Chattahoochee River to the east, Cooper Lake Road to the west, and the City of Smyrna to the north.  It’s a good, compact place for me to live politically.  I can get to know most of the activists in the precinct (and I’ve already met a sizeable number of them).

Between census data available via the census bureau’s wonderful tool  American Factfinder, and the election result data available at the Georgia Secretary of State’s office,  I can put together a really good picture of my precinct.

There are times when the best strategy is to blanket one’s efforts state-wide or county-wide.  But to build a permanent and lasting Democratic progressive movement in Georgia, with real political influence, we have to think of it as capturing ground on a map of Georgia.  The most basic unit on the political map is the individual voting precinct.

Every progressive activist should know the name of the precinct he or she lives in, its boundaries, a little about the demographics and hot button issues within its boundaries, what census tracts it corresponds with, and should know a few other people within the precinct who work on various political issues.  It’s amazing how many of us have a “bedroom community” view of our own immediate surroundings.  We sleep in our precinct but our activism is concentrated elsewhere.

Progressives should avoid gun policy debate devolving into culture war

In the aftermath of a series of horrendous shootings there is now enough public attention on the reality of guns and violence in America that there is a real opening to move toward a sane and sensible gun policy in the U.S.  The NRA was even helpful in that respect, coming across as almost comically clueless and evil in their “press conference”, which I put in quotes because unlike a real press conference, no questions were allowed.

Progressives have a chance to influence good gun legislations with sensible requirements, restrictions, and regulations, if we avoid framing this as enlightened northeastern progressives versus stupid southern rednecks.

Both sides frame many issues in this way, although of course the wording is different.  On the left it’s enlightened progressives versus stupid southern white male wingnuts.  On the right it’s Real Americans versus socialists.  But it amounts to the same sort of largely regional culture war trenches.

The dangers of a gun owner backlash should not be underestimated if we allow this to be framed in terms of banning guns.  While the progressive movement has the momemtum and the upper hand with the disarray on the right, the almost comical swing to the extreme right by the GOP, and the results of the last election, there is a very real prospect of a backlash.  Romney lost, but he got 47% of the votes of the American people.  If we overreach on any issue we could find ourselves fighting an idiotic culture war rather than making good gun policy.

We should focus on the obvious and winnable things.  Restrictions on magazine size, a ban on “cop killer” bullets which pierce body armor, more extensive restrictions on where a person can carry a loaded firearm, a resumption of research on gun violence and gun injuries by the CDC, and public availability of BATF data on the weapons used in crimes, so that there’s enough data to make informed decisions,  would all be good places to start.

The internet in some respects let the genie out of the bottle in terms of driving culture war rhetoric to the extreme.  The crazy secession petitions after the elections unleashed a barrage of northern progressives shouting “Let’em secede”.  Every excess of the Tea Parties likewise prompts visions of obese, racist, southerners among many progressives.  This can’t be avoided altogether, and I find myself tempted to fall into it, even though I’m a 61 year old white southern male.  It’s fun to tribalize politics, and parody the other side.

But it’s not a good idea from a political perspective, especially on a hot button cultural issue at a time when the progressive majority it just taking form.

I’m a Georgia progressive Democrat.  I have every intention of seeing Georgia become a progressive stronghold before I die.  We’re not going to get there by deliberately frightening and insulting white southerners as a group.  We have to, without sacrificing a single one of our core progressive principles, figure out ways to reach out to a segment of the population which should be part of the progressive coalition.

The issue of sane gun policy presents a good opportunity to test ways of doing this.

Really Democrats? We’re going to help the GOP dismantle SS and Medicare?

Really Democrats?  Did the GOP just win the 2012 elections?  Social Security and Medicare, the two most popular progressive social safety net programs of the 20th Century are “on the table”? 

One of the GOP’s pet projects has been dismantling Social Security and Medicare.  That’s what they do.  It’s in their nature.  It should be a deeply engrained part of the Democratic DNA to preserve, protect, and expand … yes EXPAND … those programs.

The GOP is intent on doing three things:  weakening Medicare and Social Security, turning them into means tested programs, and eventually killing them.  It’s part of Norquist’s “drowning it in the bathtub” strategy.  So we’re talking about helping the GOP accomplish that?  Do Democrats really want a war with their own progressives, and with the seniors in this country?

How about this for something on the table?  GOP, you drop your demands for weakening Medicare, and we won’t have more political ammunition to burn your crops, salt your earth, and turn you into the 21st Century version of the Whig Party.  How’s that for something on the table?

This is, needless to say, just a rant on my part.  But it’s a rant the Democratic leadership from the president down should be thinking about.

How the Democrats can edge toward 50% in GA

Since I’m feeling lazy this Sunday morning, I’m going to recycle a couple of comments from a Daily Kos diary.  I think the comments are a good starting point for a discussion among progressive Georgia Democrats about how we could make Georgia competitive.

I had set up a diary on Daily Kos to try to get a discussion going of the book Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority by Bob Moser.  HeyMikey, one of the Daily Kos regulars made the following comment:

The following factors are associated with high voter turnout: being white, having higher income, having more education, being older.

Which of course means non-white, lower-income, less-educated, younger voters generally turn out in a lower %.

OTOH there are more poor people than rich people. So a party is always faced with the choice: do we go for a smaller % of a bigger number, or a bigger % of a smaller number?

You can try to come up with policies that benefit everybody, or at least both the poor and middle class. But that can make it harder to explain your sales pitch. Nevertheless, I think there’s always room for a persuasive case to be made. And I’m still proud to be a Democrat.

My response to the comment was:

In Georgia, if we’re going to really flip the state blue, we’re going to have to manage to do both:  to make sure the existing progressive constituency turns out, and to expand  that 40 to 45% number closer to 50%.

We should never become a wedge issue party to the extent that the GOP has, because the returns are always diminishing.  If anyone asks what I think of my opinion, on say, abortion, I’ll tell them honestly (I’m pro-choice).  

But on the other hand I wouldn’t suggest that a campaign be run in a place like Walker county gravitating around convincing voters to be pro-choice.  It isn’t a natural fit between our progressive politics and the existing culture of the area.  We wouldn’t eliminate a pro-choice candidate who was otherwise popular, but we’d avoid making it a wedge.

In Walker county the natural progressive issue would be economic justice.  The income disparities there should make Walker a natural for Democrats, yet it voted around 75% for Romney.  It’s a county which is 95% white, yet has a 13% poverty rate.  I haven’t looked at the income figures for Walker closely (I intend to since it’s close enough to Cobb for me to make day trips) but I suspect that the entire county is shifted downward on the economic number line.  In other words, I don’t think I’ll find a Buckhead or an East Cobb there.

The only way to really carry out a strategy with the sort of nuance I’m suggesting would be to have a strong and permanent Democratic Party in the field.   There would have to be Democratic Party tables at every major festival, Democrats would have to be active at the school board and neighborhoods associations, and most people in each precinct would have to know at least one Democrat whom they liked, or at least trusted, so that the Democratic Party isn’t just that scary party based in either Atlanta or Washington.

I’d add to the comment that there has been an assumption for a long time that the only way for Democrats to win office across latge swaths of the south is to run as conservatives with a D by their name.  I’ve always though that was a nonsensical postion to take, and sped up the Democratic Party’s statewide collapse here in Georgia.  What choice does that really leave a voter, in, say Walker or Cobb county?  If the Republican and Democrat have the same position on everything, a voter may as well choose the one whose party is a genuinely better fit.

So I think that Democrats should run as Democrats.  If we can’t build a convincing case that a worker in a chicken processing plant in west Georgia has more affinity with the Democratic Party than the rich people who dictate policies in the GOP, perhaps we deserve to be a permanent loser in Georgia.


December 8, 2012 - Up with Chris Hayes opened with my Tumblr post on Rand Paul and his lack of knowledge of Kentucky industry.

Secession talk, progressives, and nutiness

Nutiness is often a lot of fun, particularly if the person exhibiting the nutty behavior realizes that they are behaving in a nutty fashion.  It’s fun, therapeutic, and is often a good way to blow off steam.  But it’s probably not a good thing for nutiness to become an operating principle in politics.

Since Obama’s re-election, there have been a number of petitions circulated calling for the secession of various parts of the country.  The most well known ones originated from the South (particularly Texas, where a segment of the population seems to shout about secession every time something happens that they don’t like)

Inevitably, when the secession talk starts, a few progressives respond with “go ahead and secede!!”, often accompanied by the customary depiction of southern whites as ignorant rednecks.

I can see how this could be fun for both the people circulating the secession petitions, and the progressives who are ridiculing them.  Two things should be made clear, though.

The first is that nobody here in the south who isn’t already hunched over their keyboard wearing a tinfoil hat takes the secession talk seriously.  The petitions were mostly part of the general outpouring of disappointment Republican southerners felt over Obama’s re-election.  Perhaps a few of them took the petitions seriously, but most were just engaged in an outpouring of grief.

The second is that we progressives aren’t going to convince white southerners that they would benefit from our policy proposals if our response is to stereotype them as ignorant bumpkins.

The south is an integral part of the United States, and is going to continue in that status, and southerners are happy with that.  Secession didn’t turn out very well for the south in the 1860s, and a solid majority of the population here, of all races and national backgrounds, is aware of that fact.

So let me address a paragraph each to the two groups I’ve talked about: the people circulating the secession petitions, and the progressives who are ridiculing them.

To conservative southerners who fantasize about secession, take a few deep breaths and go on with your life.  The world out there is the same world it was the day before the election. Your side lost the election, but losing an election is no reason to go publicly nuts.  If you want to discuss the finer points of constitutional law on this issue, fine, but realize that in a practical sense the issue was settled 150 years ago with over half a million Americans dead.

And as for progressives, you are supposed to be the segment of the political spectrum which most values inclusion and diversity.  Act like it.  I’m a white, southern, Georgia progressive Democrat.  If I didn’t believe that Democratic values, and progressive values, were universal, I’d find some other way to spend my time.  White southerners are not the uniformly racist neanderthals some of you seem to think we are.  If the progressive movement writes off any part of the population, and fails to try and convince them that our ideas and our values are the ones to move the nation forward, we might as well just retire to the forums on Poltico, or Wonkette, and be done with it.

So, that being said, everyone resume trading insults across the internet.  Or don’t.  It’s up to you.

Welcome to Bluestate Georgia

Welcome to my new blog, Bluestate Georgia.  In it I will put forward the proposition that Georgia can not only become a state within the Democratic Party fold, but that a strong Democratic Party will be a good thing for the citizens of the state, and can lead to opportunity and prosperity for all Georgians.

The purpose of this blog is not primarily to  promote the Democratic Party, which has had a really mixed history in our state, ranging from positive to downright evil, but to explain why the progressive movement is the natural home of the majority of Georgians.  At this point in history the Democratic Party is the home of progressive impulses in our state: of fairness, of equality, of justice, and of the proposition that people in our state should help each other, both in prosperous times, and in times of trouble.  I’m interested in helping to transform Georgia from a red, majority Republican state to a blue, majority Democratic state.

It should go without saying that I’m in no way shape, or form speaking for the Democratic Party of Georgia.  The things I post here are my own opinions.

There is a tendency among some  progressives to parody and ridicule southerners, and in particular to make assumptions about working class and middle class white southerners.  This is a self-destructive approach.  If we’re going to build a truly just and equitable society, everyone has to be at the table.  Let the GOP pursue the politics of fear and division.  The Democratic Party needs to reach out to every part of the population, and that includes white southerners.

All the residents of our state, Whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, and all the other people within our incredibly diverse state have the same interests: security and prosperity for their families, safe neighborhoods, good education, healthcare, and happiness.  Every segment of the population has its own particular needs, but those needs are not a threat to the other parts of the population.  We are all in this together.

The Democratic Party is the natural home to the majority of citizens of Georgia, no matter what their race, national origin, or background.  At this point in history the Democratic Party is the party of progress, and of inclusion.  It’s the party of the people.

Quite a few of my posts will be directed at my fellow white southerners.  The political polarization in this nation has caused a situation in which many white southerners believe that the nation is on the path to doom, brought on by Obama’s election.   This nonsense was fed by both the GOP, and irresponsible talk radio and cable TV hosts. 

So let me make a couple of things clear.  Political campaigns are rough business.  Campaigns are built on convincing a large segment of the population that the end of civilization as we know it will be caused by the opposition party winning.  This is nonsense.  As a Democrat, when the GOP wins, I believe it’s the same world out there as the day before the election.  I’m disappointed, but I go on with my life, and work for a better outcome in the next election.

I seldom agree with Grover Norquist on anything, but I saw him on a live interview yesterday, and he had the best quote I’ve heard yet in the aftermath of the election.  I don’t have the exact quote, but it’s something like:

"Whining isn’t work … and neither is gloating."

So let’s stop with the whining, stop with the gloating, and get to work.