Victory in 2004--and Beyond
3. Progressives Rising
As has historically been the case, progressives gave Democrats their voice in the run-up to the 2004 elections. The campaign started with the unprecedented mobilization against the war in Iraq in 2002-03. Millions rallied around the globe, opposing a war that had not even begun. Although the Bush Administration spurned them, the New York Times heralded the demonstrations as signaling the rise of a new power in the world--global public opinion. And in the midst of that mobilization, progressive organizations here like MoveOn.org were expanding exponentially, building an Internet base of more than 2 million citizens.
When the lies and staggering incompetence of the White House were revealed in the war's aftermath, the fury among progressives made itself heard. At a time when Beltway pollsters and pundits were warning Democratic presidential candidates that Bush was too popular to take on directly, MoveOn began publishing full-page ads censuring the President for misleading Americans. Howard Dean's meteoric rise came because he tapped into that anger, realizing that Democrats were looking for a candidate who would challenge Bush across the board. "There's a lot of recycling going on," Dean complained as other candidates began echoing his aggressive stances. Edwards gained momentum from a populist speech challenging the "two Americas" of wealth and work. Kerry railed against "Benedict Arnold" corporations and began indicting the White House for its extremism.
In the primaries, progressives provided the ideas that candidates had to embrace: the Apollo project for jobs and energy independence, the challenge to No Child Left Behind and demand for larger investment in education, opposition to the shameless giveaway to drug companies, affordable healthcare, indictment of Bush's war in Iraq, support for labor rights and environmental protections in trade accords, reaffirmation of the right to organize. Choice, affirmative action, environmental protection. These mainstream progressive positions defined the Democratic debate.
For decades, Democratic candidates have eschewed populist and anticorporate policies while they competed to raise money from Wall Street bankers and corporate fat cats. But in a potentially profound transformation of American politics, Dean and MoveOn broke the money primary, proving it was possible to raise millions through small donations over the Internet from committed citizens. For the first time, populist tribunes had no need to bite their tongues to attract big-money contributors. This change will have lasting effects, not only on presidential races but also down the ticket as well. For example, Progressive Majority is recruiting "the next generation of Paul Wellstones," identifying candidates for state and local offices and providing them with training, campaign organization and progressive coalition endorsements in selected states across the country. MoveOn and Dean's new organization Democracy for America have committed to asking their members to help provide early money for those campaigns, offering progressive challengers at the local level the opportunity to be financially competitive and independent from the start.