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“Reclaiming the Democratic Majority”–Progressive Activists Organize to Change Democrats in Congress

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Many progressives helped to elect Democratic majorities in Congress in 2006 and 2008 and helped Obama win the presidency. But with the Democrats in power, the feeling now among many grassroots activists is that most Democratic lawmakers have not acted on behalf of their progressive constituencies. We speak with two progressive activists: Ilyse Hogue of MoveOn.Org, and Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “Viva Las Vegas!” Elvis Presley here on Democracy Now!,, the War and Peace Report. You know, it’s interesting to hear Elvis Presley, because this Netroots Nation convention of thousands of people is taking place in a casino. Yes, there is a lot of things people are gambling on right now, in especially this state, in Nevada, which has the highest unemployment rate, the highest bankruptcy rate, the highest foreclosure rate.

Many progressives helped to elect Democratic majorities in Congress in 2006 and 2008 and helped Obama win the presidency. But with the Democrats in power, the feeling now among many grassroots activists is that most Democratic lawmakers haven’t acted on behalf of their progressive constituencies.

My last two guests participated in a very interesting panel discussion yesterday here at Netroots Nation called “Primaries Matter: Reclaiming the Democratic Majority.” Ilyse Hogue is with, and Adam Green is a co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee at

Welcome, both, to Democracy Now! Ilyse, let’s begin with you. Well, what about this? The media looks at Democrats versus Republicans. You guys are talking about recapturing the Democratic Party.

ILYSE HOGUE: Mm-hmm. Well, Democrats are not monolithic, but what we have found is that if you only look at your choices through the frame of a general election, the political dynamics, the mainstream media narrative, encourages a race to the bottom, because everyone is after this elusive swing voter. What primaries do is allow us to actually have our champions, have our champions compete on courage and the issues that most Americans, and most of the base certainly, care about. They’re critically important in defining the values of the Democratic Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Adam Green, talk more about the primaries that are going on in this country. And particularly yesterday there was a focus on Arkansas and what happened with Blanche Lincoln.

ADAM GREEN: Yeah, Arkansas was a fascinating case study. Blanche Lincoln has made a career out of voting for things like deregulating Wall Street, and she’s very unpopular back home. And part of our point in this panel yesterday was that Bill Halter was both the more progressive populist candidate and the more electable candidate. A new poll came out this week showing that Blanche Lincoln, who squeaked by in that primary, is now behind twenty-five points against the Republican. And many polls, going into that primary, showed that Bill Halter would have actually been much more competitive.

AMY GOODMAN: And Bill Halter was here. He was at Netroots Nation. He was on your panel.

ADAM GREEN: He was. He was running a really populist campaign, taking on Wall Street. And one of our big-picture messages yesterday was that for Democrats in a governing capacity right now, doing the populist thing is also the politically winning thing. There’s not a tension between being very progressive and doing what’s politically smart. They actually align very well, and we’re trying to push Democrats to really do the politically smart thing, which also results in good policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Ilyse Hogue, what about other primaries that are taking place?

ILYSE HOGUE: Well, I think Bill Halter was the precursor. What we saw was him embodying a very strong feeling that our members have and, we think, is sweeping across the country, which is, he was taking on Wall Street, but Blanche Lincoln was also showing a friendliness towards the HMOs during the healthcare fight, and what we’re seeing is our — the base, our members, saying, “Enough with Democrats who think that they are more accountable to corporate powers in this country than they are to us.”

So we’re seeing that same thing play out with Stephen Lynch and Mac D’Alessandro in Massachusetts-09. That primary is September 14th. What’s interesting about that is that that is largely believed to be a safe Democratic seat. So the primary is actually the election. And Stephen Lynch, who is the incumbent, voted against the healthcare bill, even though, at the end of the day, you know, most of the Democratic base thought it would provide some relief, he did not do it as a champion for the public option. He was not there for the public option fight. Mac D’Alessandro has come in, and he said, “You know what? If we really want this democracy to be owned by the people and work for the people, we’ve got to do things. We’ve got to overturn Citizens United. We’ve got to actually get public financing. We’ve got to get lobbyists out of DC.” And I think that most Americans are looking for action on specific legislation, like financial regulations, but they’re also looking for people who are going to challenge the system, because the system is not working for most Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Adam Green, take that further.

ADAM GREEN: Yeah, so there, that is one of several very interesting primaries this year. Our organization was formed specifically to help progressive candidates. One other good one is up in New Hampshire’s Second District, an open seat currently held by a Democrat. What we have there is one very progressive candidate named Ann McLane Kuster, has a real history of organizing the grassroots in the state on issues like women’s choice and healthcare, and she’s up against Joe Lieberman’s national presidential co-chair when he ran for president, someone who will clearly be a Blue Dog, clearly be against us on most major issues of the day. So, what a great contrast between a progressive and a Blue Dog. And, you know, progressives out there can really make a difference by learning about these campaigns, contributing, volunteering, stuff like that.

AMY GOODMAN: It’ll be interesting to compare what happens with Kuster to what happens with Blanche Lincoln.

ADAM GREEN: Yeah. There’s a multitude of things like this. Another great comparison is Elaine Marshall in North Carolina. Elaine Marshall is a progressive running for Senate. She beat the more conservative candidate. And a new poll came out yesterday showing that she is now ahead of her Republican incumbent opponent. Meanwhile, Blanche Lincoln is the incumbent, and she’s looking like she’s about to lose. So progressive — a progressive message is a winning message in 2010.

ILYSE HOGUE: And it’s interesting, because if you look at what happened on the Tuesday that Bill Halter unfortunately lost, two progressives won: Conway in Kentucky and Specter — sorry, Sestak beat Specter in Pennsylvania. And so, one thing is, this is a marathon, not a sprint. If we’re really going to reclaim the soul of the party for the people, it’s going to take a bunch of races. But the other thing is, if you look at Sestak in Pennsylvania, the powers that be, the people who are most invested in the status quo, have gone all out. We’ve seen AIPAC attack him. We’ve seen the Chamber of Commerce attack him. They see him as the harbinger of what’s to come, if the American people on the progressive base get their way.

AMY GOODMAN: Adam Green, you worked for Bill Clinton in the White House?

ADAM GREEN: I was an intern in college.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the role of Bill Clinton in coming back to Arkansas to support Blanche Lincoln against Bill Halter.

ADAM GREEN: Yeah. Most people on the ground, going into the runoff election in Arkansas, thought that Bill Halter would win. He really had the wind at his back. He really had a great people-powered campaign. But in the final days, Bill Clinton came to town and held a rally for Blanche Lincoln. And that footage was used in a TV ad, and he also was used for get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of Blanche Lincoln. And it was really tough for those of us who once really believed in Bill Clinton to see him really go against the entire progressive movement and, likely, make a pretty decisive impact on that race.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up our coverage from Las Vegas, from Netroots Nation this week, there’s been a lot of talk about how quickly the Obama administration, the Department of Agriculture, responded to a right-wing blogger — right? — to Andrew Breitbart, who had a history of deceptively editing videotape, and ultimately fired this longtime civil rights activist — right? — Shirley Sherrod. Now, of course, she’s been offered a job back, egg on the face of the White House, the Department of Agriculture. Do you see President Obama responding in the same way to progressives, to progressive bloggers, Ilyse?

ILYSE HOGUE: No. No. However, we do hope that this week has been a watershed moment, not just for how the White House responds the radical right, who has shown no propensity for the truth whatsoever when attacking progressives, but also for the corporate-owned mainstream media, who was falling all over themselves to cater to Breitbart’s version of the story. Even after Sherrod had been exonerated, they continued to invite Breitbart on, as though he’s a credible source. And this has got to stop. We hope this — we sincerely hope this week is a turning point in that.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s not much discussion of war here, not a lot of sessions on it. You know, I remember when MoveOn led this amazing campaign “Petraeus or Betray Us.” Now that’s been removed entirely from the internet, because Bush’s Petraeus has become Obama’s Petraeus. He’s heading the war in Afghanistan. What is MoveOn doing about the issue of war?

ILYSE HOGUE: We certainly have come out against the escalation in Afghanistan months ago, when President Obama announced it. And we have supported McGovern’s efforts for an exit strategy. But our truth is the same truth as the rest of the country. Unfortunately, our members have all been hit hard by the economic downturn, and their focus is much more on day-to-day issues like how they’re going to have their retirement, how they’re going to get their kids to college. We’re working very hard to make sure that the connection between the amount of money that we’re spending in the war in Afghanistan, without an exit strategy, without a plan, is related to the economic needs.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, Ilyse Hogue of MoveOn and Adam Green of

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