What We Really Need Are Progressive Politicians

There are many lessons to be learned from the Ohio, Maine, Mississippi victories. Organization and money still matter; The Republicans overreached; People are persuadable; Obama can win.

From my own perspective and experience, there's one shining message here that we should jump on. For progressives, ideas matter, a lot, and that's as it should be. The history and present state of progressive politics is a story of people with shared values about the human condition coming up with ways to make life better for peoples' everyday lives.

But we're part of a system that requires all such ideas to be translated into political activity. Right in between Ideas and Organization sit Strategy and Tactics. Yesterday’s victories remind us what the important Strategic and Tactical questions are: When do we move, what words do we use, what constituencies outside our coalition can we sign up, who is the opposition, what do we give up on and we do we insist on, are we loud and demanding or dignified and persuasive? Strategies and Tactics have been sort of a lost art recently, and we need to nourish that crucial part of our efforts.

Not that there is one set of strategy and tactics that apply to all the progressive battles we're in. What works in Ohio about collective bargaining may not apply to Mississippi or California. And not that progressives will ever speak with one voice. There's plenty of room for experiment and diverse approaches.

But there's a strong current in reformist circles that devalues politics, even using the phrase as a pejorative. That needs to be reconsidered. Politics and partisanship are not an inherent problem and in a democracy are the traditional and honorable way of resolving conflicts. Elected officials should be encouraged to politicize, in the best sense, the battles over collective bargaining, reproductive freedom, fair taxation and the entire progressive agenda. Election Day 2011 stands for the virtue of politics, politicians and the American system, and we need to remember that.