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A progressive ascendancy?

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Perlstein and Cannick conclude their Dust-Up today with a discussion on the prospects of long-term Democratic Party success. Previously, they discussed the reasons for the left's apparent national strength, the compatibility of progressive politics and religious values, whether Democrats have co-opted the national security plank from Republicans and the core identities of the modern liberal movement.

Progressives act, Republicans obstructBy Rick Perlstein
Now here's a question I can sink my teeth into!

The answer is: as long as Democrats do their work and continue to earn the trust of the people. If not, I myself want them as good as gone. But the conditions are propitious.

The notion of a conservative ascendancy has always been a bit of a confidence game. In 1980, 38% of Reagan voters said they were voting for him mainly because "it is time for a change." Only 11% did so because "he's a real conservative" -- yet the right claimed that election as a mandate for conservatism. Likewise, in 1994, Newt Gingrich's revolutionaries ran on a poll-tested, focus-grouped marketing strategy to convince disaffected Ross Perot voters that the Republicans were all about Perot-style reform -- and then, after they won, once more called that a mandate for conservatism.

So it went with Karl Rove. He loudly barked that President Bush's anemic three-point victory in 2004 with a fading, jerry-built coalition heralded all-but-permanent realignment and prayed political reporters wouldn't call his bluff. They never did -- even though Rove's plans for a permanent Republican majority relied on two strategies that were already unraveling: attracting Latinos into his coalition (his base proved unwilling to buy it) and building up a "client-based" national machine to reward friendly Republican constituencies and punish unfriendly ones. But that didn't lead to an unceasing majority. It led to unceasing congressional and judicial probes of plainly illegal activity.

Now a progressive congressional majority faces the challenge of keeping its promise to push a plainly popular progressive agenda. Here are some approval ratings for the Democratic majority versus the Republican minority's legislative positions (click here for sources): stem cell research, 64% to 31%; troop withdrawal from Iraq, 59% to 36%; Medicare drug-price negotiation, 79% to 17%; and renewable energy, 70% to 7%. None of these things have passed into law, of course, and that's largely because of a rather monstrous strategy on the part of the Republican minority: They've intentionally abused the minority's power to obstruct in order to get the media to label this a "do-nothing" Congress.

It's stunning: The most cloture votes -- filibusters, in other words -- in any previous modern Congress was 61. Each Congress, of course, lasts two years. But in just the first year of this Congress, Republicans had already filibustered 62 times -- yes, they're on track to double the obstructionism of any previous Congress, and so far the political press hasn't even noticed. "The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail ... and so far it's working for us," Sen. Trent Lott told Roll Call last year.

Give progressives a fair fight on an even playing field, and this progressive movement will last a very long time indeed.

Rick Perlstein is the author of the forthcoming "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" and a senior fellow at Campaign for America's Future.


The Democrats' worst enemy: DemocratsBy Jasmyne Cannick
Rick, I agree that as long as they do their work and earn the trust of the people, Democrats will continue to rise in both popularity and power. The pickings are ripe this year for Democrats to take control of the White House. Thanks in part to Republicans and President Bush, the entire country -- both red and blue states -- are feeling the effects of bad policies every time they fill up their tank, go to the grocery store or read the newspaper.

I would argue that the only people who could stop the Democrats' march on the White House are themselves. We simply cannot allow Republicans to capture the presidency again, or we'll be in for at least four more years of gloom and doom.

But there's got to be more to our strategy than pointing out the catastrophe that is Bush.

To earn back the trust of the people, our Democratic leadership needs to read from the same page of the same book as it relates to policies on healthcare, tax reform, ethics, Iraq and raising the minimum wage. Those are the issues that people care about; they're also issues on which we haven't seen enough progress.

And perhaps, as you said, Rick, Democrats aren't fighting on a level playing field. In that case, we should start taking the steps necessary to avoid another Congress that passes by with relatively no movement on the people's issues. Plainly stated, we need more than lip service. Beyond Washington, Democrats need to make sure that they themselves don't end up guilty of the same voter disenfranchisement as their Republican colleagues.

Heading into what is expected to be a highly contentious convention in August, Democratic superdelegates are being called onto the carpet for their continued support for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, even though many of their districts voted overwhelmingly for Sen. Barack Obama. Nowhere is that more evident than with African American members of Congress who happen to be superdelegates.

This is not the way to earn the people's trust.

In Michigan and Florida, voters are being punished for their states' decisions to break party rules and hold early primary elections. Make no mistake: Voters in these states are going to feel disenfranchised if their voices aren't heard; they are not going to be happy.

That's not earning the people's trust. The people do not want the Democratic nominee to be selected in some backroom at the national convention. If that happens, all bets are off for the Democrats.

So, like I said, the only thing standing between Democrats and the White House at this point is themselves. I guess only time will tell how it all plays out.

Jasmyne Cannick is a critic based in Los Angeles who writes about pop culture, race, class and politics as played out in the African American community. She is a regular contributor to National Public Radio's "News and Notes."

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