A key paradox for progressives of our national political life goes something like this: everybody complains about Congress, but nobody does anything about it.
Of course, it is far from true that nobody is doing anything about Congress. Lots of people are doing something about it. But if you hold the complaints of progressives about Congress in one hand, and the level of progressive activity to change who is in Congress and what they do when they get there in the other, there is a big mismatch. The level of complaint should provoke a much higher level of activity to do something about it.
Every four years it is revealed that at the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of progressive-minded people in the U.S. are pragmatic idealists. They are people who have one eye on the horizon, and the other eye on the next practical step that can help get us closer to the horizon – or stop us from being pushed further away, which amounts to the same thing. The overwhelming majority of progressive-minded people will vote in the fall Presidential election, and they will vote for Obama; not because they think that doing so is the beginning and end of political engagement, but because they think – correctly – that it is the political choice in the context that best serves the interests of pragmatic idealists.
It is within this overwhelming majority of progressives who will vote for Obama that the bulk of the problem concerning progressives and Congress lies. Whatever else may be true, Congress would not be as bad as it is from a progressive point of view if more progressives who are going to vote for Obama were more engaged in who goes to Congress and what they do when they get there.
At the end of the day, these progressives who are going to vote for Obama are willing and able to act as pragmatic idealists. But too many of them are not willing and able to act as pragmatic idealists earlier in the day, when they could have more decisive influence.
Even now, the national infrastructure for effective caring is too weak. If the Progressive Caucus and the groups that support it effectively exercised all the functions of a political party, the fact that Norman Solomon is a candidate for Congress with a serious possibility of winning would be foremost in the consciousness of every pragmatic peace advocate in the United States. Every pragmatic peace advocate would know that Norman is running, every pragmatic peace advocate would know that there is a primary on June 5 and that voting by mail is already underway, every pragmatic peace advocate would know that Norman will survive the primary if he places second, every pragmatic peace advocate would understand why it matters if Norman survives the primary, and every pragmatic peace advocate would be doing their bit to help ensure that Norman survives the primary.
But this is not where we are. We don't yet have the national infrastructure to effectively and reliably carry out these tasks. Again, there are a lot of people doing a lot of things. But when you sum it up, the existing infrastructure is not up to the task. Therefore, at the moment, we all have to pitch in as best we can amidst the chaos.
So here's how I'm going to try to pitch in: to try to explain, from the point of view of someone who cares about decisions made in Washington on war and peace, why it matters a lot to me whether Norman Solomon is elected to Congress.
I am looking forward to Norman going to Congress because if Norman goes to Congress he is going to be on TV a lot. When Norman is on TV, he will use the opportunity explain to the public current affairs from the point of view of people who want to end wars of choice. Of course it is not necessary for a progressive to be elected to Congress to be on TV. But it helps a great deal in getting on TV. And it changes significantly what the appearance means, if the person speaking is a Member of Congress.
Media make choices about what is an issue and who should speak about it. And a key cue that they use to determine this is what Members of Congress are saying and doing. To say this is not to say that that the media is a level playing field given who is elected. Of course it is not. But so what? Pragmatic idealists play on the field where the action is according to what the rules are at the time. They work to level the field, but they play on the field at the same time, because the outcome matters now. Getting a very articulate progressive elected to Congress will put another key player on the field.
I am looking forward to Norman going to Congress because I know he will hire effective, progressive Congressional staff. If you don't think about Congress a lot, maybe you only think of Congress in terms of votes. But if you are trying to move issues, votes are just one part of the story.
Every issue that progressives are trying to move in Congress has a particular office or offices that are the recognized leaders on that issue. The staff of those Congressional offices follow the issue closely, they meet with groups that are working on the issue to plan strategy, organize events, draft and circulate letters, bills, and resolutions. Every office can't follow every issue closely. There is a division of labor. And each office can only lead on so many issues.
Some issues don't have any office to lead on them. In that case, probably, nothing is going to happen to move that issue.
If Norman goes to Congress, then progressives who are working to move issues will have another office to work with, more issues will move, and they will move further.
I am looking forward to Norman going to Congress because I know that Norman will work to raise the profile of the Progressive Caucus and will work to help make the Progressive Caucus more effective. Right now progressives in Congress are fighting to end the wars, to prevent war with Iran, to curtail drone strikes, to cut the military budget and redirect the money to human needs. But too few progressives in the country even know these fights are taking place, still fewer are engaged in them. With Norman in the Progressive Caucus, with Norman on TV, more people would know about these fights and more people would be engaged in them.
Having Norman in Congress would do a lot to help build the progressive movement for political reform in this country. Check out his website. Think about what you could do to help move the ball forward.