| When I tweeted that yesterday, one of my more political friends asked why I was even bothering. Markos, after all, was just a blogger. This may just be one blogger taking another one too seriously, but after seeing a lot of digital ink hit my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I wanted to offer a few meditations on the whole thing, while also noting (and emphasizing) my pleasure that both of our Senators voted to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell and further noting (and emphasizing) that Rep. Rehberg opposed both DADT repeal and the DREAM Act.
Let me just say on one level, I get all of it. This stuff sucks. I penned a fairly lengthy open letter to Jon when he was sworn in, highlighting some concerns I had just that Jon's early friends were being ignored during the transition. This, of course, is different. It is a breach of substance, not of process.
It also isn't a surprising one. I think I first criticized Jon's stance on immigration about a year after he took office. His vote on DREAM came as little surprise to me. He's been (in my view) wrong on immigration policy as long as I've known him and Montana's political environment has given him no incentive to rethink his stances.
That being said, the warpath mentality stemming from this bill bothers me, not because of what it might do to my friend Jon Tester but because of what it might do to progressives in Montana. Jim DeMint has been fighting hard to kick out anyone in the Republican Party who doesn't fit his worldview. Frankly, without hardliners like DeMint, Democrats might have lost the Senate. (Of course, without DeMint, we would have lost it to a less-crazy Republican Party).
I'm old enough to remember when Markos was against litmus tests. He actually sold me on not being a hard-liner on every policy matter that came up. His work (with some others) is a big part of why I'm so "flexible" today, so here are just a few things I'd encourage others frustrated with this stuff to keep in mind:
- Change Comes "Slow" Even When It is "Fast." We're in a period of rapid change. The last two years have been among Congress's most productive. That said -- it feels absolutely glacial when experiencing it in the 24-hour news cycle. When we consider historic periods of "rapid change," we gloss over the entire 1960s as though it didn't take 10 years.
- We've Had Some Huge Victories this Congress. The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the first comprehensive health care reform in history, ARRA, Lilly Ledbetter, etc., etc.
- Montana is Montana. There's an old joke about Missoula -- that it's nice and only 15 minutes from Montana. Missoula also stands out as the only historic Dem stronghold that held this legislative election. If you think that every Dem eyeing holding or winning statewide office isn't looking at an election where we lost House seats in 3 Reservation districts, Butte, and the heart of Helena, then you've misjudged how political actors behave.
- Jon Tester is Jon Tester. He's a great guy -- smart, genuine, honest, down-to-Earth. He's also not a Paul Wellstone, Barbara Boxer, or Sherrod Brown. He actually disagrees with them and me sometime. The only painful thing I see in the criticism of Jon is that he's entirely a calculating political machine. Jon's no naif, but he really gives a shit about this stuff.
- We Didn't Do Our Job. To be honest, I had read one news story in Montana about the DREAM Act (and seen virtually no tweets or Facebooks about it) prior to the vote. John Adams wrote a great piece about a UM student who would be affected. But here's the deal -- you can't fail to organize and build a campaign on an issue for something longer than a couple weeks if you genuinely want to move a U.S. Senate office. At the request of friends, I asked both Senators where they stood on this issue and got word early that they didn't see eye-to-eye with me. Springing vitriol after a vote is unfair -- especially to a friend.
Progressives who love Montana need to be thinking real hard about what they're doing to transform it. I've seen some incredibly smart, hard-working friends step up and run for office and win in 2010 -- in a very bad year for Democrats. There have also been some inspiring policy victories of late at the local level. But here's a secret: there's a lot of work to do in Montana to win public opinion on a bunch of things we care about. Immigration and the environment probably top that list. One of those movements has real resources in Montana; the other doesn't (I'll let you guess which is which).
As for my friend Markos, he (like me post-move) doesn't have a vote in Montana. My sense is that Jon Tester gets re-elected, in part because he sometimes angers us. We have a chance in the Governor's race, but whoever wins that will also sometimes disappoint us. But the difference will be night-and-day. Keep your eyes open during this next legislative session for the stuff that is happening.
A couple days after the 2010 election, I got an email from a friend asking whether I thought he should step up and run in 2012. What I know is that progressives need to be on the attack -- and not against our too-few allies in elected office in Montana. We need to go prove that our values and ideas can win elections. That's how change happens in a democracy.
I think this qualifies pretty well as a rant. And, I'm sure, I'll soon be told how wrong I am. What I know, though, is that politics is the slow boring of hard wood. Progress is hard. Once made, though, it is rarely turned back. So we keep working. Upwards, onwards.