According to Kenneth P. Vogel at Politico, a career Democratic operative named Nick Rathod is about to raise money for a liberal alternative to the State Policy Network.
SiX ultimately plans to raise as much as $10 million a year to boost progressive state lawmakers and their causes — partly by drafting model legislation in state capitols to increase environmental protections, expand voting rights, and raise the minimum wage — while also using bare-knuckle tactics like opposition research and video tracking to derail Republicans and their initiatives.
“Progressives are looking around to figure out where to go to push back, and there has not been a vehicle to do that at the state level — it’s the biggest missing piece in the progressive infrastructure,” said Nick Rathod, a career Democratic operative who started and will run SiX.
On the one hand, I’m relieved that this is finally happening, because Mr. Rathod is correct that this is just one gaping hole in the Democratic Party infrastructure (there are several). On the other hand, I am troubled by the knowledge that he is starting decades behind, and I see that his priority list is already too short. An effort to equal the Koch brothers’ decades of spending and organizing, or to hold the line against their poisonous influence, would require billions of dollars in dark money and a laundry-list of legislative countermands to their agenda.
To beat the right wing big money at their own game, Democrats need to think bigger. They need to build bastions of power in the states, and their laws need to have such positive impact that the negative effect of ALEC and GOP-dominated states is put into stark contrast. They need to think bigger than a long list of bullet points, plan, and build infrastructure with the objective of taking back the country in 2020.
They need to divide and conquer instead of reaching for a nonexistent bipartisan consensus. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
- Expanding single-payer healthcare in the states. Right now, Vermont is the only state in the union to take advantage of this provision in the ACA. Even though the Supreme Court is likely to make up a reason to overturn the key part of Obamacare that makes it work, the rest of the law will remain intact. This will create two different Americas: one where people die without health insurance, and one where nobody dies over lack of insurance. In the long run, guess which America people will vote to join?
- Passing the Equal Rights Amendment. I haven’t done the research to say whether Democrats control any states that haven’t already passed it, but this is worth exploring because it also creates two Americas: one where women are equal citizens to men, and one where they aren’t. Even without the ERA, states can follow Colorado’s example and make IUDs free to any woman who wants one, for example. Make the GOP own its culture wars by fighting back
- Regulate the militia. Stop trying to pass omnibus gun bills. Instead, maintain suppressive fire on the NRA, and force the gun lobby to waste resources suing states, with a raft of legislation aimed at the margins of gun culture. Not only should such an effort tax ammunition sales, it should consciously make the purchase of a semiautomatic rifle at least as difficult in blue states as it becomes to get an abortion in a red state like Texas
- Mandate fact-based education and police the charters. Democrats need to own as many school and education boards as possible, and they should use their power in the states to require that textbooks teach evolution, climate change, sexual health, and vaccination facts, among other things. The Democratic Party must also stop selling out to privatization schemes that impoverish the public schools and call attention to scandalous failures in the charter school movement
- Take no prisoners. Remember when Tom DeLay and Karl Rove were gloating about a “permanent majority”? The GOP is talking like that again now. American politics is a winner-take-all system, and the GOP long ago turned to attrition warfare with the overt goal of total victory. Democrats must do more than simply beat the GOP: they must set out to vanquish the Republican Party
Don’t get me wrong: I’m keenly interested in what Mr. Rathod has set out to do, and I see reason for hope. But Democratic politicians have waited a long time for the phone to ring while the Kochtopus was turning the Grand Old Party into its hallelujah chorus, the planet was getting warmer, the forced birth lobby was shutting down clinics and then slut-shaming and ultrasound-raping the women who use them, it became harder to vote…like I said, the list is long. And the whole time this was going on, the right was building a political brand that remains deeply unpopular while somehow winning elections.
That’s because Democrats don’t ever hold the line. They try to be conciliatory and engage their opponents’ ideas; they all want to have their own talking points instead of sticking to a party platform. There is a reason why liberal activism is so often compared to herding cats, and it is the same reason that Will Rogers joked about Democratic Party disorganization. I can’t underline this point enough: in order to beat the Republican brand, Democrats must be willing to adopt an alternative brand, and they must be loyal to it. If they continue to stand for everything, they will stand for nothing.