Election years invariably produce stacks of books about the political parties that -- for better or worse, mostly worse -- form the framework of the American electoral system.
The vast majority of them will fail to last the year, and rightly so.
That's because they are written not by people who care passionately about the values that are supposed to define a Democrat or a Republican but by pundits and out-of-work pols who reduce heart-and-soul concerns to drab debates about strategy....It is enough to turn even the most serious political reader toward fiction.
But, don't despair. We have Glenn Hurowitz's "Fear and Courage in the Democratic Party" to see us through the 2008 campaign season.
This is a smart book by a smart man who cares deeply about the Democratic Party and recognizes that its dismal track record in recent years -- both out of power and in -- is less about specific stands on issues than it is about a deep and unrelenting ignorance of what matters, and what works, in politics.
"It's not that they're intrinsically bad or cowardly," Hurowitz says of Democratic leaders. "It's that they remain slaves to a deeply flawed political strategy that says courage would ruin their political chance of success."
He is, of course, correct.
Democrats who were elected in 2006 to end the war in Iraq and to hold those responsible for the war to account have done neither. Is it because they support the war? No, most Democrats in the House and Senate opposed authorizing George Bush to take the country to war in the critical 2002 Congressional votes, and the overwhelming majority of Democrats elected in 2006 ran as anti-war candidates. Is it because they have a fondness for George Bush and Dick Cheney? No, they know these are dangerous and delusional men who have done severe damage to the Republic.
So what's wrong?
Hurowitz argues that there is a courage deficit. And he makes the case by examining the records of various Democratic leaders -- some of them courageous, some of them not.
Former Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone is remembered as a paragon of virtue, a predictable enough assessment. But Hurowitz digs into Wellstone's story with a fine eye for detail and gives depth to this discussion of courage -- especially when it comes to Wellstone's election season votes against Bill Clinton's welfare reform agenda and George Bush's war plans. And Hurowitz, who served as a deputy national field director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group before starting Democratic Courage -- a group "dedicated to electing a progressive, courageous and winning Democratic presidential candidate" -- reminds us that Wellstone was not the last of his kind. He writes ably, for instance, about a pair of edgy new Democratic senators, Montana's Jon Tester and Virginia's Jim Webb.
But Hurowitz is at his best when he takes on the Democrats who do not seem to understand that Americans want muscular leadership rather than apologies and compromises. He uses former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. -- the man who helped Bush put the finishing touches on the Patriot Act and promote the war -- as an example of a classically ineffectual and ultimately failed Democratic leader. And, of course, former President Bill Clinton is recalled as a Democratic leader who left no progressive legacy whatsoever.
The critique is right. But what's the solution? Hurowitz suggests that progressives need to alter their dysfunctional relationship with the Democratic Party. Democrats who stand strong for progressive ideals should be supported, strongly. Those who fail to do so should be abandoned, quickly and unceremoniously.
Hurowitz has suggested that we would be wise to begin by recognizing the threat that is posed by Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy. "Hillary Clinton," he suggests, "has repeatedly given in too easily to pressure -- and too often decides her policies not on the basis of what's right, but on the basis of what polls and focus groups tell her. As history shows, that's a dangerous road for Democrats and for the country."
Hurowitz is not a Hillary hater. He is a Hillary explainer. And what he explains in this fine book is that the politics of the pulled punch and the compromised conscience may deliver a transitory victory for the Democrats. But it never wins the future.
- John Nichols
"Glenn is a brilliant emerging star in the progressive movement." - Matt Stoller, OpenLeft.com.
* Find out why "issues don't matter," why "politicians should only pander to people who care" and discover what exactly the "wimp love myth" is.
*Read why the legacy of Bill Clinton, proclaimed his generation's greatest political talent, will actually burden the Democratic Party and the progressive movement
*Learn how progressive heroes like Senator Paul Wellstone and organizations like MoveOn.org can teach you to transform your community, your country, and the world.
If you're wondering why the Democratic party used to lose election after election (until the Republicans imploded and the Democrats started winning again by default), this... Read morePublished on March 9, 2008 by D. Lipowicz
I thoroughly enjoyed the book's chapter on Paul Wellstone, late senator who never backed down from a tough fight. Read morePublished on January 14, 2008 by Herbert Allen