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Opinion

Progressives split over Arizona convention

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Byron York,Immigration,Arizona,Phoenix

In the political world, immigration is generally seen as an issue that divides Republicans. But there are fissures inside the Democratic world as well. One example is emerging on the party's left wing.

A few days ago, Netroots Nation, the yearly gathering of progressives that grew out of the DailyKos website, announced that it will hold its 2015 convention in Phoenix. "We're choosing to go to Phoenix and make immigration a central issue to the progressive agenda," the group announced:

We haven't yet won on this legislatively and we haven't yet won with the Obama administration. We're mindful that we're about to launch into the 2016 presidential cycle and it's time to step up as a movement on this issue.

We want everyone aspiring for office in 2016 -- from the President to the Senate to Congress to local elected offices -- to know that if you don't support taking real action on immigration reform, then you won't win our community's support.

So next year, just as 2016 will be heating up, we're going to push the envelope further and head into the belly of the beast and send a powerful message with not only our voices but our presence. We, as a community, don't believe in sitting on the sidelines. We, as a community, believe in taking on the fight head on.

But not everyone in the Netroots Nation community is on board for going into the belly of the beast. In a posting early Saturday morning, DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas, whose organization gave birth to what was originally known as the YearlyKos convention, and later Netroots Nation, said he will not be going to Phoenix. "I wish the conference the best, but it will unfortunately take place without Daily Kos' attendance or assistance," Moulitsas wrote. "I made very clear in the wake of Arizona's passage of SB 1070 that I would not be setting foot in the state, nor spending a dime in it until the law was revoked. The law, however gutted by the courts, remains on the books, as does systemic harassment of Latinos, so my pledge still stands."

Moulitsas dismissed the take-the-fight-head-on argument, writing, "I doubt the conference would decide to host the event in, say, Apartheid South Africa, in order to 'take the fight to the enemy.'" Although Moulitsas conceded that his analogy was "absurd," he said the absurdity was "only in terms of degree, not intent in the county that has consistently elected Sheriff Joe Arpaio since 1992."

Moulitsas also argued that the very fact that some progressives wanted to go to Phoenix, while others did not, "should have been a hint that perhaps Netroots Nation should've tread more carefully. If they want a united netroots, they shouldn't make decisions that are inherently divisive." Finally, Moulitsas argued that the immigration fight, already raging, will continue no matter the location of the next conference.

The division inside the progressive world could have serious consequences. Netroots Nation attracts the leading lights in the Democratic Party -- this year's meeting in Detroit featured Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. In 2015 the party's presidential race will be fully under way. With some key elements boycotting the Phoenix convention, will top Democrats attend or stay away? Their decisions could lead to charges that one candidate or the other, or one faction or the other, is insufficiently pure on immigration, an issue that many Democrats count as one of the party's great strengths. The fight inside the progressive community could spill into Democratic politics at large, at just the wrong time.

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