George Bush is not the only one who has to fight a two-front war in the months ahead. So do progressives who want to take power in 2004–and beyond.
While we keep fighting for smarter ways to tackle the terrorist threat than war in Iraq, here are some simple rules for winning elections and building effective coalitions here at home.
Kumbaya Dammit. If life under W has proven anything, it’s that we can’t afford to fight with our friends. There are ways to stand for your principles without ending up in a fight over crumbs. That’s what we want the other folks to do, right? At the core, good meetings and sustainable collaborations start with everyone sharing their vision of what they want and what they need. The dammit part is pretty simple: Check your passive-aggressiveness at the door.
Agree on One Or Two Things–and Then Go! Let’s not forget that “the perfect” is the enemy of the good. The old coalition model of gathering everyone around a table, writing a mission statement and then hashing out the big strategic plan together is dead. Now it’s about picking a few things we can agree on and then working on a project or two together. Then rinse. Then repeat. Grover Norquist’s successful Leave Us Alone coalition is the perfect model–a coalition of gun owners, anti-taxers, home schoolers and more united by that one “leave us alone” principle. What’s ours? Maybe progressives are about families, communities and individuals building the new American dream. But maybe not? The mission statement can wait; your hottest campaign cannot.
Groundhog’s Day. If you haven’t seen this wonderful Bill Murray movie, rent it and see it (along with Network and Meet John Doe for the perfect political-cinematic trio). If you’ve seen Groundhog’s Day, you know this is a pretty good metaphor for the frustrations of progressive politics. Getting that Groundhog’s Day feeling during a campaign? Stop and change the vibe. Invite others to join you. We need a new script for success.
Practice Open Source Politics. We have lots of groups, players, fiefdoms, strategies–you know what I mean. They won’t go away overnight and no one should be forced to change their vision abruptly. So take a deep breath if this collaborative-kumbaya stuff gives you shortness of breath. Trust me, it’s gonna be OK. If you can’t work with someone who theoretically is on your side, don’t. But do find a way to share what you are doing. As in, “we’re organizing Missouri, stay the hell out!” Just sharing that is useful data–because transparency is a form of collaboration. Transparency, for progressives, is progress.
The Perfect Message. Uh…guess what. There isn’t one. We need to micro-target, organize and motivate different audiences, in different places, at different paces. This can work, especially if we mimic the right on one score: patience. Newt Gingrich, Eddie Mahe, Paul Weyrich and other top conservatives didn’t look for one single slogan to win power in an instant or an election cycle but for solid message, organizing and execution over many years. Let’s copy that.