How Big Is Our Tent?

The posts below raise a number of interesting questions: questions about winning, governing, and our values.

Should we welcome everyone into the tent that is the Clackamas County Democratic Party? Or just those who are willing to work to achieve our values? Do we use our resources, both monies and volunteers for those who oppose gun control? Or abortions? Or workers rights?

Do we help to elect candidates who not only ignore our platform but who work and or vote against it?

If the answer to any of the above is “yes,” then how do we decide who to endorse and who to oppose?

Clearly, the party of Roosevelt has room for many points of view. It had in it southern segregationists, and northern workers of all colors. It had old money and those ideologically opposed to “economic royalists,” the one-percent phrase of its day.
Was that the party’s strength or was it’s weakness?

LBJ, upon signing the Voting Rights Act, commented that the Democrats wouldn’t win the South for a generation. He was right in his analysis, yet he signed the act anyway.
Today many of the provisions of that act are gone. Some undermined by conservative court appointees, others by Republican majorities provided by the South.

Is our mission to elect Democrats, period? Is our mission to elect Democrats who support and advocate for Democratic values?

Can we oppose a women’s right to choose, to be safe and still be a Democrat?

Can we support the use of natural resources including harvesting trees and still be a Democrat?

Can we support and give preference to Wall St. over Main St. or Wall St. over workers and still be a Democrat?

The two articles below give you two different points of view on this. We would like to have your comments.

Pobody is Nerfect

Opinion by Norm Tarowsky

When I was a kid growing up, everything was very simple; it was either yes or no, do or don’t, good or bad, it was basically a black-and-white world with nothing in between (when you think about it, it was a digital world either a one or a zero). We knew who the good guys were, in the movies: the good cowboys wore white hats and road horses named Silver or Trigger or Champion. When we played cops and robbers the cops were the good guys and the robbers were the bad guys. In the war movies the bad guys had heavy accents, goose-stepped as they marched and committed atrocities against our pure American soldiers.

As I got older the world began to have shades of gray, nothing was really an absolute. We found out that even the good guys sometimes do bad things and the bad guys sometimes do good things. The operative word in that last sentence is “sometimes”; not often or frequently but seldom. Because if it was more frequent the good guys became the bad guys and you couldn’t tell the difference. During my years in the Army,

I had the chance to travel quite a bit and to associate with people from all over the country and the world; many had foreign accents, different viewpoints and often vastly different life experiences.

Later when I went back to school at NYU and received a degree in Engineering Physics (those two words are really oxymoronic), I found I was living in two worlds. The world of physics is one where you strive for perfection; something does not become a law of physics unless it is shown that in every circumstance the equation is correct and holds true; if at any time there is an exception, the law can no longer be considered a law. In physics everything has to be exactly right. Physics itself is like mathematics (with a lot of philosophy and poetry thrown in).

Engineering on the other hand is a world of approximations, the equations do not have to be perfect but they must be good enough to get the job done and there are always compensating factors and boundary conditions to consider. For example if you’re building a bridge and you know the maximum load it will carry is say 1 million tons, then you build the bridge to be able to carry that load plus some safety factor or margin perhaps two or three times that number; anything greater than that is a waste of time and money. Even though it might make the bridge infinitely stronger the engineers are finished with the job when they reach the limits and goals they set.

In my first 15 years in Silicon Valley I worked on many new product development programs; what we discovered was that the important thing was to understand what the customer needed and wanted (these were not necessarily the same thing) but if we develop the product with many more “bells and whistles” what happened is that the product cost more and took longer to get to the market, in those cases we missed the sweet spot because the first to market with the right product is generally the winner.
So what I really learned in that was that we “can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Sometimes things need to be good enough to get the job done and to strive for perfection is often counterproductive. This drove the physicist in me crazy but the engineer cheered.

So what does this have to do with anything? As I look forward to the 2018 election which without question will be a critical turning point in American history, I hope that the Democratic Party understands that in the big tent we care about, we need to allow for not only differences in culture, race, religion and all the things we hold dear; that there needs to be room for different opinions, concepts and points of view. If we hold out for that perfect candidates, (the ideologically pure) we will divide the party and once again allow the far right Republicans to stay in power.

We need to keep the end goal in mind, strive to achieve the goals we put in our party platform but do this in a long-range view so that we may eventually be able to achieve them. We lost the last election by less than 100,000 votes in three states (with over 120 million votes cast) and the outcome would have been very different had we been able to focus on what was important to us, get out the vote and not be divided by ideological differences . We would not be faced with the government run by a far right Congress and an unhinged, narcissist, white nationalist, completely incompetent, pathological liar who is a xenophobic, misogynist con man with dictatorial tendencies.

This nightmare needs to end, we must return to decency, normalcy, compassion, competence, the rule of law, belief in science and reasoning and most of all the facts and TRUTH.

Norm Tarowsky is a resident of Happy Valley, a PCP in House District 51 and has been active in Democratic politics for over 40 years.


A Mar-a-Lago Membership Can’t Be the Goal

By William Street

Like my Democratic colleague Norm Tarowsky in Happy Valley, I also grew up in a black and white world. Whites were allowed to live in the borough and African Americans were not. The day I left for college in 1969, African Americans still owned no property in the borough. TRUTH in the borough was not color blind.The largest employer was unionized and had over 2,000 members in a place with a population of 7,000. Today there is vacant land where that plant once stood, and the borough is solid red, even voted for Trump.

When I was a junior in college I worked at a union TV picture tube factory, and with overtime and double time I earned enough to pay for college my senior year. That plant moved to Brazil a few years later, laying off my dad who was never able to recover from that loss either economically or emotionally.

The plant was profitable the year it moved, and it’s more profitable today because owners avoid paying for the social costs they create along with the environmental ones. The union didn’t drive that plant away. The plant ran away from its social obligation because it could. The only competition they faced was in the eyes of their shareholders and their CEOs seeing Lear Jets and Mar-a-Lago memberships.

After the Kent State shootings in 1970, as we were shutting down our college, we were told not to be so extreme; that we had to consider everyone’s point of view. The campus was a Big Tent and had to have room for everyone. We rejected that argument. Too many of us were dying in Vietnam and on the streets of Selma, in Philadelphia, Mississippi and in Bed-Stuy.

The choice then as now hasn’t changed: “The left of the possible or what’s possibly left.”

I agree with Norm when he says we need solidarity. I agree with Norm when he notes that divided we lose elections and united we win. The problem for me is I supported Bobby rather than LBJ in ’68 and Teddy rather than Carter in ’79. Even voted third party in ’92 rather than for the former Governor of Arkansas. As a result I helped put into office Nixon, Reagan, and almost Bush 1.

If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing. There are times when the tent must be moved to the left. When too much is at stake for politics as usual. A time when Wall Street hedge fund managers, union busting consultants, and the Koch Bros (even the one who donates to the arts) aren’t welcome inside the tent.

The Tent may be Big but our values must be the same. We cannot as a party stand for cutting taxes for economic royalists while cutting food stamps for the hungry. We cannot promote “free” trade while watching our jobs be exported overseas. We must force those who put carbon into the atmosphere to pay the cost to us and the rest of the world for their actions. And there can never be any room inside the tent for cross burning racists, homophobes, or misogynists.

As a country we are almost as divided now as we were in 1968. The path forward isn’t to dilute or compromise our values in order to win elections and then be unable to govern because of Dixiecrats or fat cats. But rather to organize the 40 percent of Oregonians who don’t vote or the 20 percent who vote but don’t vote down ballot. We need to find a way to reach and educate new motor voters.

They will not be engaged by promises of moderation and compromise. As in 1968 they will be motivated by high ideals, commitment to a cause, and the willingness to put our bodies on the line to make them happen.

As a lifelong union organizer, I know that workers will forgive a union for fighting and losing. But they will never forgive their union for not fighting. Fighting for Dreamers and then giving up isn’t the solution. Allowing ultra right Supreme Court nominees to be appointed is not the solution. Being reasonable at times is, well, just not reasonable.

We remember, “She Persisted.” We celebrate Rosa Parks for not giving up her seat. History will remember the Lakota water protectors in North Dakota, too. In each one of these I’m positive someone, somewhere, counseled against getting involved because we need a Big Tent.

It is long past time for business-as-usual politics and policies, since business-as-usual, especially the monopoly kind, is the problem and not any part of the solution.

(The writer lives in Gladstone and is a long-time labor organizer and consultant.)

3 thoughts on “How Big Is Our Tent?

  1. Tom Civiletti

    Bill Clinton’s sale of the Democratic Party to Wall Street in the 1990’s helped to complete the Reagan Revolution [see ]. It has been an unmitigated disaster for poor and middle class Americans. Young Americans have clearly rejected Clinton’s neoliberalism [see ]. In order to attract millennials and younger Americans to Democratic politics requires that the party and Democratic politicians reject the hegemony of corporate money in our politics. that choice will not be easy to make, but it is necessary if the party is to prosper in coming election cycles. The Democratic tent can be large enough for Wall Street or large enough for young, senior, and working Americans of all ages. It cannot attract the votes of the latter while depending on the financial support of the former.

  2. Scott Hays

    The proposed Platform of the Democratic Party of Oregon is now available on-line for reference, and in just a few short weeks we will complete a somewhat democratic process that will clearly state what we value and what we seek to do to enact our vision. Anyone who is a Democrat and wants to have a say in what that vision will be is able to attend the convention in Salem, taking part in defining the size and shape of our tent. Having worked on a part of it, I am proud to say that on cursory examination, it looks like this document … at least in its current form … is far more progressive than the one we adopted in 2016 and which, at the time, was named by some as one of the most progressive platforms in the country. This one is broader and longer than the last one … it will not lend itself to easy use as a benchmark for evaluating and assessing the candidacy of those seeking public office as a Democrat … but I would argue that we have enough time to turn it into just that type of a tool. There is so much talent and big brains in our Party that it will not take too much effort to synthesize the complete document into a simpler checklist of big ideas and important concepts. We need to carry that checklist with us to every townhall meeting, rally, or luncheon and use it to hold candidates’ feet to the fire. We need to constantly reference it in the letters we write the editors of neighborhood papers, in the op-ed pieces we submit for publication, and in our daily interaction with fellow voters.

  3. Thomas Hartman

    I notice that all of your given examples of expanding your tent only include more outreach to conservatives. This is not only politically a loser, as it will alienate Millennial voters, but also actually just a bad idea all around. Remember, that was the strategy that the Democratic party played in the general election in 2016, and it proved disastrous. The Pennsylvania suburbs voted Republican, and all the moderate Republicans the Democratic party tried to woo voted R as well. They won’t vote for you. Please don’t waste resources chasing them, when it A) won’t work, and B) will just anger your left wing.

    Instead, maybe talk about expanding your big tent to include MFA (Medicare-For-All) Advocates, people who won’t bend on reproductive health, the Dreamers, or the working class.

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