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Tea Party, Not Progressives, Make a Statement

Norman Solomon: As Tea Party splits Republican vote, Progressives advised to support Democrats

Sept. 15 – TRNN With the Tea Party’s success in the state primaries, Progressive Democrats wanting to throw their hands up in frustration are advised instead to put them to work in grassroots organizations, and vote for a Democrat.

In an interview with The Real News, Norman Solomon, a member the national advisory committee Progressive Democrats of America, said that rather than forsaking the Democratic party for grassroots progressive movements, the two should be used simultaneously to keep Republicans out of congress, while working to bring more Progressive Democrats in.

“What I think we need, more long-term, is serious engagement. It’s not either/or, but it’s both grassroots organizing outside of an electoral focus, as well as working to elect people who represent our values,” he said.

Despite criticism that once elected, Democratic Party members exchange their social agenda for a corporate one, Solomon said withdrawing support from the Democratic Party isn’t the answer, as it hasn’t successfully steered it to the left in the past.

“…you could argue that if ever there was an instance where progressives cost the Democratic Party something big, i.e. the White House, through not voting or through supporting Nader, it was 2000. Well, in no way did that result, in the last decade, per se, [in] moving the Democratic Party in our direction,” he said.

He added that strategically, the party could work on appealing to the average American.

“I think it’s partly a challenge that progressives need to find better ways to just talk to the general public overall,” he said.


To view/read the full interview – Tea Party, Not Progressives, Make a Statement

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. Yesterday, several states held the final primaries of this electoral season. News media, the story was the Tea Partiers in several areas made a charge and won some primaries. But on the left of the Democratic Party, where one would have thought a similar challenge to center or centrist—but not, certainly, as much as the Tea Party seems to have had on the right. And joining us now to discuss why this is is Norman Solomon. He’s the author of the book War Made Easy, and he’s also a member of the national committee, the national advisory committee of the Progressive Democrats of America. Thanks for joining us, Norman.


JAY: So what’s going on with you guys? How come the Tea Party guys are able to virtually knock off some incumbents, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party just doesn’t seem to be able to accomplish the same feat?

SOLOMON: Yeah, well, I think it’s a barometer of the strength and the growth of right-wing xenophobic so-called populism on the one hand, represented by the Tea Party and all the rest of that; on the other hand, really progressive populism, which is where the future should be. But that tendency gets very little support or sympathetic or even nonsympathetic news coverage; it’s simply ignored, largely, by the corporate media. And then there’s the reality that the Obama administration tries to keep a tight lid on the Democratic Party, which is really, I think, the avenue, in electoral terms, for progressive populism to express itself.

JAY: It’s clear that the Tea Party movement gets enormous support from Fox News and all the Fox talk shows, which I think the three main Fox talk shows are the three highest-rated cable shows, and then all the other news media talks all about those talk shows. So they get a tremendous push. But do you think part of the problem here is that a lot of ordinary people that are feeling resentful and angry and get caught up in the Tea Party movement get vilified by the left, by the progressive left, and they’re kind of all lumped together as being some kind of right-wing, as you said, xenophobic rise? Is part of the problem the left or progressives don’t know how to talk to people in the Tea Party movement?

SOLOMON: Well, I think it’s partly a challenge that progressives need to find better ways to just talk to the general public overall. I think often of something that Jim Hightower said way back when there was another sort of corporately driven, mass-media enthralled phenomenon called the Ross Perot campaign for president in the early ’90s. And what Hightower said, I think, is quite apropos: just because Perot is a phony, it doesn’t mean his followers are phonies. I would say that about leadership such as it is and the propelling impetus with big money behind the Tea Party. These are corporate flacks, phonies, big-money interests claiming to be supportive of populists. And so we can sort of write those off, you know, the Dick Armeys and all the rest of it. But there is a base which is multifaceted. And to the extent that people are open to progressive possibilities and analysis, they should be presented with those perspectives. But where are they going to get it? I mean, they’re certainly not going to get it from mass media on the whole. And we need to find better ways to reach them.

JAY: When I talk to people on the left, quite a few of them just think the Democratic Party is a write-off. They either want third-party challenges or they talk about grassroots movement building. But there are a lot of people that just think there’s no point trying to do in the Democratic Party what the Tea Party’s doing in the Republicans. It just doesn’t lead anywhere. The corporate control of the party’s just too consolidated.

SOLOMON: Well, if people think there’s no point to winning state power for progressives, if people think that it doesn’t matter to, for instance, get progressives into Congress, then there’s no point in really dealing with the Democratic Party. I think, and I believe most people would perceive, including on the left, that it does matter who’s in Congress or who’s in the Senate, or for that matter who’s president. So I think that’s the question. In those terms, we could ask what is a plausible scenario for getting progressives into Congress who are not from the Democratic Party. I mean, I can think of one example, Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats. But if there were some possibility of getting progressives into Congress and they’re not going to be Democrats, where are those people on the Hill? They’re not there. And so I think that we have to be realistic and pragmatic and idealistic and strategize in those terms, and that means, I think, moving ahead and finding more channels within the Democratic Party to get genuine progressives elected. We can make critiques—and we should—of the 80-plus members of the House of Representatives Progressive Caucus, but some of them have functioned as progressives, and it’s good that they’re there. They need some company.

JAY: Well, right now there’s not very many progressives that one could vote for. There’s maybe a few that are actually going to be running. But most people in most congressional districts or any of the Senate or even governor races are going to be back to choosing between centrist or even Blue Dog Democrats versus Republicans. What would you do if you’re in that kind of a district? Are you back to the 2008 elections? Like, a lot of people didn’t want to vote for Obama, but they decided they had to vote for Obama because they didn’t want to–McCain. What are you going to do?

SOLOMON: Well, I mean, if you look at this season, this election year during the primaries, you vote for and fight for and work for genuine progressives. When it comes to November, if you’ve got a choice of the right wing versus a Democrat, I think you support the Democrat. The question concretely is: do you want Speaker Boehner or Speaker Pelosi? And, again, if some people on the left think it doesn’t matter, I would beg to differ. It mattered that you had Newt Gingrich as speaker for all those years and so forth, and Denny Hastert. So to conflate a Pelosi and a Boehner I think might be therapeutic, you know, and a plague on all their houses might feel good emotionally, but it’s not real in terms of policy and leverage, power. What I think we need, more long-term, is serious engagement. It’s not either/or, but it’s both grassroots organizing outside of an electoral focus, as well as working to elect people who represent our values. And it’s a both. It’s an and. It’s not an either/or.

JAY: Well, counterargument would be that as long as what you call the corporate ownership or leadership of the Democratic Party can always depend on the left because of exactly these reasons—the Republican right just seem so much worse—then they never really give a damn, once they’re in between elections, what this left has to say. I mean, you can look at, especially in relationship [with] what the union’s agenda was for this administration—you know, the Employee Free Choice Act has disappeared; the public option disappeared from health care. But the unions are going to be back in the same situation again. They are. They’re already out there campaigning for Democratic candidates. But if they don’t think at some point—they being the center, center-right of the Democratic Party—that they can’t count on this constituency, why do they ever have to give in to anything?

SOLOMON: Well, we always have the option of cutting off nose to spite face. I mean, we can say, oh, we’re so angry, and we’re going to show them that we matter, and then help to get a Boehner in or get somebody like Mitch McConnell to be the Senate majority leader. So I think we need to look at our interests. I mean, one of the contradictions is that politics often is and should be driven by emotions, including anger, but to think and analyze and strategize with anger often is counterproductive.

JAY: I’m not saying the argument—I think people that give this argument are not just doing it out of anger. They’re saying that you don’t—like, take the big unions particularly. If the big unions will never say to the Democratic Party, “If you don’t actually fulfill some of the agenda you said you would, you know, we’re not going to pay for this campaign, we’re not going to go knock on doors,” if they’re always there, then why give them anything?

SOLOMON: Well, if it’s just a matter of something more than anger, if it is something more than anger, then it needs to withstand the scrutiny of analysis, and we have to ask, well, where does that lead us? Is it in our interest in November to say, well, it doesn’t matter to us who’s elected? Or, we’ll teach them, we’ll teach those Democrats? I think that we have seen, by laboratory, real-world experience and test, if you will, whether that actually pans out, whether if progressives cost Democrats big elections it moves the Democratic Party in our direction. I would say, au contraire, that hasn’t happened. We can talk about what happened in 2000. But if progressives had been there or if fewer progressives had chosen to opt out of that election, either not voting or voting for Nader, then we wouldn’t have had George W. Bush. So you could argue that if ever there was an instance where progressives cost the Democratic Party something big, i.e. the White House, through not voting or through supporting Nader, it was 2000. Well, in no way did that result, in the last decade, per se, [in] moving the Democratic Party in our direction. So I think we need to look at it strategically. And to me there’s a lot of sort of venting on the Internet and so forth as a substitute, a very, you know, facile and inadequate, ersatz way of detouring around the reality, which is, until you do grassroots organizing, until you do the block-by-block organizing, whether it’s outside or inside the electoral arena, you don’t amass power and leverage that’s tangible. And, frankly, a lot of folks that are venting don’t want to do that or don’t bother to do it, can’t even talk to their neighbors about politics. Quite often they’d rather vent on the Internet. That’s a stereotype, and I don’t mean, per se, to convey that that’s what goes on all the time or most of the time, but it is an element, it is a problem, because we live in a vent culture. It’s sort of a progressive mirroring of what is on cable news, often, from the right. People tend to think, wow, politics is just getting on a soapbox. Well, that’s part of it, but a lot of it is learning in our communities how to organize to galvanize power, whether it’s a public demonstration in large numbers or winning elections for progressives.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Norman.

SOLOMON: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Norman Solomon is the co-founder of, and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.