It’s high time for six political lessons relearned this year.
1) Progressives usually lose when process fights are divorced from a compelling agenda.
Nobody sincerely believed we needed a caretaker interim mayor to honor the fictional virtue of elections without incumbents. If the tables were turned, everybody would have made the opposite argument. See also Breed resigning her Board presidency to block a progressive Board president, her galler baller maneuver. See also contemplating a special election for the District 5 supervisors race. Process fights are easy to attack and voters rarely care. Process is how to win the platform, not the platform itself. Process matters, kinda, sometimes, depends on the circumstances.
2) We can retire future arguments about the insurmountable electoral advantage of incumbency.
Ask Jeff Sheehy, Julie Christensen, Christina Olague, Ross Mirkarimi, Joe Crowley, Chevron Cheryl Brown. When incumbents are the weaker candidates, they can be beaten. Incumbency matters kinda, sometimes, depends on the circumstances.
3) Money doesn’t decide elections.
You can have money and still lose. Exhibits: flavored tobacco and Hillary Clinton and John Chiang. And the pro-school privatization independent expenditure for Villaraigosa. And Joe Crowley. Money influences elections kinda, sometimes, depends on the circumstances.
4) Exposing sinister campaign contributions is a losing tactic for progressives.
Time and again big money pours into the race, we try to stir up outrage, and it DOES NOT WIN. Voters don’t care, unless we show actual corruption or connect it to a policy people do care about. Otherwise, messages about big tech or Thomas Coates or real estate aren’t working. It ends up sounding like shorthand for something else we’re not saying to distinguish the candidates. Corporate campaign spending, as Joe O’Donoghue recently told Mission Local, buys access. Ron Conway would be just another white guy blowhard with uninteresting opinions but he moves cash, so politicians listen attentively. We’re too attached to our own propaganda and the public isn’t feeling it.
5) We keep hocking new revenue tied to sexy new programs.
I support all of them, but the general fund needs love too. Revenue measures that raise general fund money get attacked politically, so we do set-asides. Set-asides reinforce cynicism that politicians are inept or corrupt (which sometimes they are) so we can’t trust them with a budget. We have a lot of underfunded unsexy public services that also need more kopeks. How about we raise money for stuff we already have? Improving our sexy streets, sexy health clinics, sexy libraries, sexy parks, sexy buses, sexy homeless shelters, sexy water supply, and sexy emergency management.
6) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the 28-year old democratic socialist who toppled a veteran Democrat in a congressional primary in New York, and scrambled national politics.
Of course, America’s favorite killjoy Nancy Pelosi immediately dissed Ocasio-Cortez and socialism, sparking hot debate about whether the American electorate is #readyforsocialism. The left argues that Democrats should embrace more radical politics to win. However, Ocaso-Cortez won not just on her politics and also because she was a better candidate than her adversary and ran a better campaign. I believe it is possible to win a majority of the American electorate to radical politics, but it hasn’t happened yet. Even though Medicare for All is objectively the best health policy, we still need to do the work. We just had a mayor’s race where the most radical candidate lost.
If San Francisco isn’t #readyforsocialism, I don’t know why the DNC would be. Well-financed centrist Democrats will always fight radical candidates. The rich put class over party. They need to be out-organized, not persuaded. The radical platform is the easy part. The work is recruiting better candidates, for movements to make them viable with less money, and run better campaigns. If the left does all that, we can win. Radical platforms won’t compensate for deficient organizing. The Democrats should move to the left is another resounding kinda, sometimes, depends on conditions.
Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and writer. “The Whiteness Album” is out now wherever comedy audio can be streamed or downloaded.