Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Revolution Deferred

This was supposed to be the Year of the Activitst. The progressives and liberals were finally going to take back the lead. What happened? Farhad Manjoo takes a look at groups like ACT, Emily’s List, and MoveOn to see where things went wrong – and where they went right – and what the future may hold.

Yes, John Kerry lost. But an amazing thing happened this year — grass-roots activism, online and in the real world, invaded the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. Ordinary people, folks who’d never before expressed the slightest interest in politics, suddenly developed an abiding enthusiasm for the game. And personal contact, the online connections and the doorstep conversations of millions of citizens, became a primary method of campaigning.

There were, to be sure, many logistical snafus in the get-out-the-vote operations mounted by the various third-party groups — some major, most relatively minor. The most serious limitation seems to have been built into the design of the campaign: Because the third-party groups were barred under campaign finance regulations from coordinating their efforts with John Kerry’s official campaign, the entire liberal get-out-the-vote operation could never have proceeded as a coherent whole. Unlike the GOP effort, the Democratic campaign was intrinsically divided, split between two sides who weren’t allowed to speak to each other.

Despite those limitations, though, the core gambit worked: Hard as it may be to believe (and it is hard), the numbers prove that that San Franciscans and New Yorkers met with some success in their attempts to persuade Clevelanders and Miamians to go to the polls for Kerry. As Democrats remake their party, it would be a shame for them to discount the work of the activists, or to fail to keep the activist spirit kindled. Glitches can be fixed, and logistical failures can be addressed. Imagine what might have been had these groups not become involved in this political cycle. []

There’s always a scene in a movie – especially something like Rocky or The Karate Kid – where the hero gets his ass kicked and everything looks like a disaster waiting to happen. But through perserverance, hard work, and sheer will (not to mention stirring theme music and a girlfriend), the hero wins a glorious victory. Well, politics ain’t Hollywood, but it is the pattern of trial and error and hard work that wins out in the end. The one thing that is for certain is that while the methods may be new and the logistics untested, the message is right and powerful and it will not be denied.