Ben Boyce


The new terms of engagement

Posted on May 26, 2019 by Ben Boyce

Civic life is alive and well in the city of Sonoma. The first public event in the Valley for the upcoming presidential campaign went down at the Pueblo Serena Clubhouse with the “Bernie Sanders for 2020” Kickoff.

Then, in early May, the Sonoma City Council meeting, which was a packed house, featured a discussion and a vote on the city accelerated minimum wage proposal.

This was my first live council meeting since the 2016  election, and I was favorably impressed by the new council. Mayor Harrington runs a tight ship. The meeting moved along at the pace of business and then arrived at a conclusion. She gets my vote for being willing to hear the case out, clearly articulate her position, and then hold a vote.

One key stylistic difference between progressives and liberals is the attitude towards public process.  Progressives are much less likely to take the bait of delay for the sake of keeping the peace with conservatives,  and they have the keen sense that the political process should result in real money decisions, not in more seemingly unending process for the sake of an imaginary civic propriety.  

The new progressive majority on the council is not afraid to commit to a course of action, backed by facts and logic. I like their style so far. I was smitten when Amy Harrington went FDR on the opponents of the living wage increase and swore to bear their hatred with equanimity. That’s the kind of tough talk we like on the left.   

The case for the accelerated schedule from the statewide march to $15 (which has been state law since 2018), summarized in the slogan “$15 by 20,” was clearly made by the local members of the North Bay Jobs with Justice and other community supporters. The city of Sonoma has the highest cost-of-living of any city in the county, which is itself one of the more expensive counties in the state.  

It makes sense to accelerate the statewide schedule in the areas where the material gap is so great that workers are unable to find affordable housing within an hour’s drive of their job. That is an unsustainable arrangement that is frankly far more serious in its economic and social ramifications than any inconveniences at the margins of the existing unjust labor market.

Maybe the secretive, crazy ‘dirty tricks’ operatives will finally give it up and stop sending out anonymous fake hit letters knocking the progressive council members when they finally realize that the public is on to their game. It’s not working, guys. Trolls will not silence us. The worst specimens are the locals who are willing to attach their formerly good name to these bogus letters to demand that action be taken on the false charges in aforesaid letters! Some of these characters have no shame. Sad.

A recent quote, from centrist pundit Brad Delong in New York Magazine, says, “Hand the DNC keys to the progressives. They hold the hot hand electorally.  Our job as centrist technocrats is to help them write better legislation.” Another call for a new approach for Democrats came from Andrew Levison in Washington Monthly.

Levison is preaching the same mantra I’ve been at for years:

Let’s get real and recognize that the Democratic Party is a coalition of centrists, liberals, progressives, and democratic socialists. In a European parliamentary system, each faction would be a different party, and we would form a coalition government. Due to the Electoral College and the weight of history, we have a two-party system, like it or not. We have to learn to tolerate each other and frankly recognize that there is a spectrum of political agendas within the Democratic Party. We need to hang together or we will assuredly hang separately.

Imagine what might happen if the Democratic Party abandoned its identity as an amorphous ‘big tent,’ and instead became a more formal political coalition between two groups. One group, for example, would comprise Progressive Democrats. That would include the supporters of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the current Congressional Progressive Caucus. The other group would comprise Heartland Democrats. Those would be the more moderate Democrats, including members of the New Democrat Coalition, a Congressional member organization made up of centrist, capitalist Democrats.

We can speak more honestly about our positions, rather than seeking the most innocuous middle ground. That’s the path to genuine party unity.

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