This year's Take Back America (TBA) conference, which concluded yesterday, had a distinctly different feel to it than in years past. Last year, of course, there was the thrill of having each of the major Democratic presidential contenders come to woo the conference-goers. The timing of this year's confab was presumably based on the notion that a nominee would have been apparent by now, and held to account by TBA's progressive attendees.
Best-laid plans notwithstanding, another difference this time -- one quite heartening, if not exactly bracing -- was the emphasis on structural dynamics and governance. (Aren't you excited?) At a panel on the 2008 electoral map, Matt Stoller of OpenLeft.com spoke of the use of primary challenges to Democratic incumbents, such as that recently won by Maryland's Donna Edwards against incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Wynn, in order to take the existing structure and turn it more progressive. (When I told Stoller that he's the progressives' Richard Viguerie, he called the comparison "imprecise." Okay, so maybe he's our Paul Weyrich.)
David Sirota, at a great panel on the global economy that also featured The Nation's Naomi Klein, discussed fissures in both the Republican and Democratic coalitions, while Klein reminded the audience that "the New Deal was a compromise forced on Roosevelt by the power of the left." And most fascinating, perhaps, was a glimpse of electoral shifts on the religious landscapes, as discussed at a panel on religious activism. There Katie Barge of Faith in Public Life noted that, in recent exit polls, only voters in Republican primaries were asked if they were evangelicals or "born-again Christians." But her organization's own numbers suggest that in Ohio, for example, 43 percent of voters in the Democratic primary described themselves that way.
So if you're wondering why nothing this election season is making sense, that's because there's a migration going on between the parties, and changing dynamics within those parties. Hold onto your seats.
--Adele M. Stan
Note: Our own Robert Kuttner and Ezra Klein were featured panelists, as well, at TBA, but it would be conceitedly rude of us to tell you how fabulous they were.