Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Coming Battle for the Democratic Party

"Left in the wings: The looming fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party"
Mark Hertsgaard San Francisco Chronicle October 10. 2004

Fights over a political party's future are common after the party loses a big election. But John Kerry figures to face a fight over control of the party from fellow Democrats even if he beats George W. Bush on Nov. 2.

Influential figures on the party's left wing are planning a long-term campaign to move the Democrats to the left, just as right-wing activists took over the Republican Party and moved it to the right over the past 30 years.

If the left's campaign is successful, it could transform the political landscape of the United States, changing the terms of debate and bringing dramatically different policies on local, national and international issues.

And left-leaning activists are mounting an unprecedented grassroots campaign to educate and turn out voters for Kerry.

The nation's largest labor union, the Service Employees International Union, has joined with the Sierra Club, the NAA"CP, the National Abortion Rights League and other groups to organize "the largest voter mobilization in American history" through the newly minted alliances America Coming Together and America Votes.

Other supporters to Kerry's left include Democracy for America, the organization Dean created after the primaries to channel the energies of his grassroots constituency, and the AFL-CIO, whose get-out-the-vote work was crucial for Al Gore in winning the popular vote in 2000.

And perhaps no one has attracted more attention than MoveOn, the Internet- based group whose television ads and in-your-face opposition to Bush has driven right-wingers crazy, even as its small-donor fund-raising model has challenged Big Money's hold over democracy.

Call them the Beat Bush Brigades. Collectively, these groups boast a combined budget of perhaps $100 million and tens of thousands of staff and volunteers. And as much as they may obey federal laws that prohibit them from coordinating with Kerry, in effect they operate as an unofficial "Kerry for President" campaign.

All this signals a historic shift in the American left's approach to national politics. In the past, left-wing groups and individuals would moan about a Democratic nominee's perceived deficiencies and defect to a protest candidate, such as Ralph Nader or Jesse Jackson.

By contrast, the Beat Bush Brigades are showing a new patience and maturity. They are working in the short term to elect a Democrat they see as imperfect in order to build their movement's strength over the long term.

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