Wednesday, October 31, 2007Chris Bowers has some funny ideas.
Bowers envisions a new black-"creative class" alliance in the Democratic Party to wrest control from the current "Democratic Party Establishment." He defines those in the creative class as non-christian (secular? educated?) whites, who with the added support of African-Americans would be able to win Democratic primaries. Bowers saw Barack Obama as the possible architect of this coalition, and is very disappointed by Obama's indifference to the "netroots."
I think I know what Bowers is getting at. Howard Dean, Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, etc. - all the good-government liberal reformers who have run for the Democratic nomination have been undone in part because of their inability to win black votes. Black voters, while quite liberal, or liberal in a very specific way: like union voters and seniors, they are very much aware of their own economic and social interests, and vote accordingly. This is a tale that has been told throughout 2007 - "that Barack is having trouble winning over traditional Democratic constituencies because he talks about abstractions rather than concrete interests. Hillary, like her husband, or Walter Mondale, or Al Gore in 2000, appealed very explicitly to union and african-american interests, and were rewarded with their political support.
Which brings me to the point - African-American voters don't vote against reform candidates because those candidates aren't black, but because those candidates have very little to offer them. The reason the reformers can't win the black vote is the same reason they can't win over unions or seniors. Running a black candidate might accidentally overcome this obstacle, but this would be a temporary fix, not a permanent solution. As soon as the (insert black liberal here) was out of the picture, the alliance would collapse. Poof. No long-term change in the Democratic Party. I think Bowers may subconsciously realize this dilemma, since he says that the black-progressive coalition he envisions can only be created by a candidate, not by coalition members, implying without saying that it would take a black candidate to do so. What kind a movement or coalition is it if it is entirely dependent on one candidate? Not exactly the stuff of political transformation.
The other thing that really bothers me about Bowers' post is that it seems to relegate black voters to a distinctly junior status. What he's really talking about is a renovated 1960's strategy, this time with black liberal rather than white liberal candidates - the coalition that conquered the northern cities for the Democratic Party (a political revolution almost as spectacular as the Republican takeover of the South). I get the sense that Bowers' coalition would inevitably be dominated by the concerns of the white liberal constituency - black voters would be just as used as the religious right is by Republicans. I think african-americans may sense this possibility as well, which is why they've rejected the strategy.
Finally, this is a strange coalition to be attempting to forge, because it is focused solely on the Democratic Party. Let's assume that his strategy works and the coalition takes over. What then? Coalition strategy is supposed to be about contesting general elections - about defeating the other party, building a powerful new governing coalition. The conservative movement was able to crush its Rockefeller Republicans because it brought southern whites into the Republican Party, and with this new strength it destroyed its intraparty rivals and built a national political majority. Bowers' coalition adds nothing to the Democratic Party, which is already based on an alliance of liberals and blacks (and union voters, feminists, gay rights activists, and environmentalists). By the way, what happens to those other coalition members? Or are they already (with the exception of unions) members of the creative class? In which case, who precisely are they taking power from?
I'm all for making the Democratic Party more progressive, but I don't see how Bowers' "creative class"-black alliance gets us there.