Hint: If you give them the rope, you'll lose.
There's a fundamental distinction between progressives and groups that wield actual power in Washington: namely, the latter are willing (by definition) to use their resources and energies to punish politicians who do not accommodate their views, while the former unconditionally support the Democratic Party and their leaders no matter what they do. The groups which Obama cares about pleasing -- Wall Street, corporate interests, conservative Democrats, the establishment media, independent voters -- all have one thing in common: they will support only those politicians who advance their agenda, but will vigorously oppose those who do not.
Progressives keep forgetting that a win for the Democratic Party is not a win for progressives. We are the bastards at the family picnic and will only be tolerated as long as we don't draw attention to ourselves. We have no power at all and our non-stop string of losses proves it. Even when we win we lose. John Caruso:
What I like best about the the health care drama in the US right now is how nearly everyone is fighting on the other side, unwittingly or otherwise. We've got Democrats working to save Obama's nationalized version of Romneycare, while Republicans are doing everything possible to defeat insurance-purchasing mandates that would give even greater power and wealth to their corporate patrons in the health insurance industry.
Back to Greenwald:
Similarly, the GOP began caring about the Tea Party only once that movement proved it will bring down GOP incumbents even if it means losing a few elections to Democrats. [my bold]
What is the goal--to win elections, or to increase progressives' power so winning an election means progressive policies are enacted? Winning elections is not achieving our goal. It is utterly illogical to devote time and money if we don't benefit from those actions. If all you want is to say "We're Number 1!" then you've achieved your goal, but if your goal is to gain power, you've wasted your money and time.
When your methods don't work, use different methods. Don't keep using the same methods and insist that you've won when it's perfect obvious that you haven't achieved your goal.
The far right doesn't mind losing some elections as long as they increase their power. You cannot win over powerful forces if you are not willing to fight them. The tea baggers would rather lose than elect someone they don't want in office. The Republican power structure needs their votes. The tea baggers are withholding those votes until they get something back. That gives them power.
Of course they are fooling themselves as well; they are advancing the goals of their corporate leaders, not tax-payers, but if they were smart they wouldn't be tea baggers. They are achieving their goal--putting people in office who say they will shrink the size of the government.
That is exactly what progressives will never do. They do the opposite; they proudly announce: we'll probably be angry a lot, and we'll be over here doing a lot complaining, but don't worry: no matter what, when you need us to stay in power (or to acquire it), we're going to be there to give you our full and cheering support. That is the message conveyed over and over again by progressives, no more so than when much of the House Progressive Caucus vowed that they would never, ever support a health care bill that had no robust public option, only to turn around at the end and abandon that vow by dutifully voting for Obama's public-option-free health care bill. That's just a microcosm of what happens in the more general sense: progressives constantly object when their values and priorities are trampled upon, only to make clear that they will not only vote for, but work hard on behalf of and give their money to, the Democratic Party when election time comes around.
I'm not arguing here with that decision. Progressives who do this will tell you that this unconditional Party support is necessary and justifiable because no matter how bad Democrats are, the GOP is worse. That's a different debate.
We take crumbs and pretend we've been given the entire loaf of bread. Congress doesn't care about anything but money, and right now they're chowing down on a great big ole Screw You sandwich.
The point here is that -- whether justified or not -- telling politicians that you will do everything possible to work for their re-election no matter how much they scorn you, ignore your political priorities, and trample on your political values is a guaranteed ticket to irrelevance and impotence. Any self-interested, rational politician -- meaning one motivated by a desire to maintain power rather than by ideology or principle -- will ignore those who behave this way every time and instead care only about those whose support is conditional. And they're well-advised to do exactly that.
Power is given, not taken. If you are willing to fight to keep and/or gain power, you have to refrain from giving your power-your vote-to someone who will give almost nothing in return, even if it will hurt you in the short term. Giving away your vote and getting nothing in return will guarantee that we remain powerless.
Correction added to comments.