Repost: A Sellout’s Manifesto Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Democratic Party

This post from July 2011  feels relevant once again.

Let me begin by positing a radical thesis: the act of supporting a Democratic candidate, even one who occasionally disappoints, or the act of questioning an element of progressive orthodoxy (a fascinating concept) does not make a person a corporate tool or party shill. In fact, today, choosing to support the Democratic Party is the best way to protect our tenuous hold on many of the progressive values and policies we hold dear.

Personally, my political consciousness was developed by reading people like Michael Harrington, Norman Thomas, and Eugene Debs. The pretentious sounding former name of this site (Intelligent Discontent), comes, of course, from one of Debs’s speeches. The world these three and others passionately advocated for—a world with improved economic, social, and environmental justice—shaped my worldview about politics and human obligation. I still turn to them for inspiration in a time when many of the policies they fought for are under sustained attack.

 We progressives often talk about the importance of confronting privilege. Many of us on the left have the privilege of taking all or nothing positions on political questions because we will survive the fallout: our jobs, our rights, and our positions will be secure no matter which party takes power. In fact, perversely, some of us will even see our prestige and status increased the worse our government behaves. 

In short, I am deeply committed to economic justice and believe that we should stop pathologizing poverty and start solving it. I believe in civil rights for all humans, regardless of sexual orientation, sex, or place of birth. I believe that we should live in a country that should use diplomacy rather than violence to solve international crises. I believe that we need to make serious personal and policy changes to better protect our environment.

And the Democratic Party often lets me down on these beliefs.

Why then do I support Democrats who occasionally disappoint, even on critically important issues? Why do I generally support a party that is often far to the right of my own positions? Because in today’s political climate, on many important national and local questions, they represent the last bulwark to protect rights gained and advances made in the past 100 years. Because real human beings will suffer greatly if we further empower a Republican Party so divorced from rationality and human ethics that it would destroy a program which provides economic and health security for our elderly, legally define our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as second class citizens, and accelerate the damage being done to our environment.

We progressives often talk about the importance of confronting privilege. Many of us on the left have the privilege of taking all or nothing positions on political questions because we will survive the fallout: our jobs, our rights, and our positions will be secure no matter which party takes power. In fact, perversely, some of us will even see our prestige and status increased the worse our government behaves.

I’m not so certain that the truly voiceless, the powerless, and the poor have that privilege. While I may have a position privileged enough to endure Republican rule, I believe that the truly powerless are much better served by a Democratic Party who will, co-opted as they may be, fight for them and the programs which offer them a decent standard of living.

Just ask poor students who rely on free and reduced lunch how important the Democratic Party is. Or young people who need loans to attend college. Or women who need access to basic healthcare services. Or the elderly who need to see a doctor. Or the 100,000 Montanans who now have access to healthcare because of the flawed, centrist Affordable Care Act.

Does the Democratic Party move too slowly and too cautiously in the defense of progressive values? Does it even occasionally move against those goals? Certainly—and it’s frustrating when they do it. Should progressives fight tooth and nail to drive the party back to its roots of protecting the worker, the Constitution, and a sense of economic justice? Absolutely.

But that progressives are seriously discussing working against, or even voting against Democrats, at a time when basic economic rights and the future of the country are at stake, absolutely baffles me.

Ideological purity may feel great to some, but it won’t feed a child who needs better nutrition to learn.

After a long and circuitous political road (one perhaps as long as this post), I’ve come to realize that I am proud to be a Democrat. I’m proud of a Party that saved the United States during the Depression, which gave economic security to the elderly and poor, which made the dream of civil rights for all much closer to being realized, and which not only put the environment on the table for discussion but took concrete steps to protect it.

Given the realities of our political system, my choice is pretty clear: to simultaneously support the party that best protects progressive values while working to improve it. For some, unencumbered by political reality or real concern about programs that matter daily to millions of people, making that choice might be the choice of a “sellout,” but the truth is,  I’m proud to make that choice–no matter what labels some might choose to hurl in my direction.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

14 Comments

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  • This article is catnip for boomer Democrats who clutch their purse when they see a black man walk down the street. Except for Obama. The love Obama. They voted for him twice. They’d vote for him a third time if they could.

      • It’s easy. Take all the energy you spend celebrating a brand (“Democrats”) that resonates with absolutely no one who isn’t already voting D, and use it to push for issues that grow the brand (Medicare for all, legal weed, LGBT equality, $15 min wage, abortion rights).

        And take a moment to think about why certain elements within the party oppose and delay these popular reforms, as you concede they do, and then go a step further and think about how we can stop them in the future. That isn’t an “ideological purity test” (barf), that’s called expanding the party.

        • You’re absolutely right. Wishing those things into being will absolutely overcome the structural barriers to reform in this country.

          And the real champions of progress will let their fellow human beings suffer until they smugly condescend them into action!

          Heroic.

          • What is your repost except a “sumgly condescending” attempt to “wish” progressive Democrats into shutting up about actual issues?

            Thank God for people like Marie Newman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jessica Cisneros, and (closer to home) Rob Farris-Olsen, Brian Close, etc, who are willing to challenge lame ass Dems when everyone’s imploring them to go along to get along.

            • You’re right. I forgot that it’s your prerogative to tell us know what “actual issues” are. Since this piece mentions them, which of these is not an actual issue?

              In short, I am deeply committed to economic justice and believe that we should stop pathologizing poverty and start solving it. I believe in civil rights for all humans, regardless of sexual orientation, sex, or place of birth. I believe that we should live in a country that should use diplomacy rather than violence to solve international crises. I believe that we need to make serious personal and policy changes to better protect our environment.

              Access to health care quality public education

              Thanks for letting us know!

              • This post hasn’t improved with age.

                It lays out the reasons that the Dems are a permanent minority party in Montana now.

                Please keep this faith going!

                • Thought you were pulling the plug on Montana, EC. How about sending us all a line from your new home. But remember, try to be on your best behavior where you land. Then you won’t reflect badly on your Montana
                  friends. We’re all happy you’re making the move, just hoping it proves safe and rewarding.
                  Ps If it’s ‘Bama or Texas, please help
                  correct the ills there. They’ve got their share.

  • Over the past X amount of years – I have followed your page and read the comments. What I have learned is this – there is a reason that Missoula Loyola wins the Speech/Debate competition every year and the school you coach doesnt!!! (Enter Smug derogatory comment here). Montana values!!!
    Montana way of life (seen from your little myopic view of Helena right around…)

  • “In short, I am deeply committed to economic justice and believe that we should stop pathologizing poverty and start solving it.”

    And how’s your parties record on improving the economically challenged? Pretty poor. Since Johnson enacted the “War on Poverty” we’ve thrown 22 Trillion down the rat hole. Now you want even more.

    The dirty little secret is the more intelligent leaders of the Democrat Party knows in order to retain and increase power is not to incentify work or self worth but to expand the reservation/plantation.

    Are you one of these smarter leaders Don?

    • This is a good example of the thoughts generated by the right these more recent days. Empty attacks on Democrats because the GOP is no longer “Grand” and His Nibs in the Oval has forsaken even the most strenuous fiscal hawks. Trillions in new debt. Trillions, Swede, trillions and trillions. Even before the Covid Crisis, which could have been softened in impact with some planning and simple foresight. And we should know by now, dead people don’t mean that much to right wingers. How do I know? Richard Nixon and George W. Bush to name two
      Republicans. Anyway, Swede. Keep beating the dead horse. You and your fellow travelers look slightly more insane each day. And the Gospel of Trump is fetid,
      as are his followers. Trillions and Trillions and trillions of new DEBT. Which could have been avoided or even blocked by Doctor DeMento with a veto (not to mention Motherlode Mitch’s power of the purse). The horse is drawing flies, Swede. Get a longer stick.

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