Now that it's almost too late to take a book to the beach I have finally read one that you might want to take to beach. It's Start Making Sense. Turning the Lessons of Election 2004 Into Winning Progressive Politics, edited by Don Hazen and Lakshmi Chaudhry and published by AlterNet.
The book resembles life by starting with the past, sweeping through the present and leaving you looking into the future. In this case it means beginning with the 2004 presidential elections and the analysis of the wingnuts's success story, and then going on by looking at future progressive strategies on the Iraq war, the culture war and on economic populism. It also has a section on how to get politically active, if you already haven't figured that one out.
I liked quite a few parts of the book, even the ones where I was reading and yelling back at the author, because at least these people are talking about what the progressive movement should do. It is not what the beltway Democrats are doing, clearly, though the book doesn't agree on any one alternative, either. Still, to read what people like George Lakoff, Amy Goodman, Barbara Ehrenreich and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and many others have to say about the progressive movement is useful or at least most entertaining. So many voices! (And most of them arguing with each other, which is both our strength and our weakness.)
Consider this quote from David Morris, about understanding the right wing:
Conservatives view politics as war. In war, one tries to demoralize and destroy the enemy, seize his (sic) territory and gain unconditional surrender. Liberals engage in politics as a contact sport. Rule breakers receive penalties, including being thrown out of the game. And when the game ends, people shake hands and the differences are set aside.
I'd formulate that a little differently, as indicating the idea that liberals accept conservatives as co-citizens whereas conservatives view the liberals as illegal aliens, but the point Morris makes is a good one.
Lakshmi Chaudhry makes an equally interesting and relevant point in the section about the culture wars:
The Democratic Party's strategy of moving to the right on the economy has clearly worked against its own interests. Yet it's not surprising that many of the party leaders have responded to the latest electoral debacle with calls to do the same on social issues. Within weeks of the election, the Senate Democrats had selected pro-life Harry Reid as their leader, even as California Senator Dianne Feinstein blamed San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom's decision to legalize gay marriages for the party's defeat. No policy is indispensable in a party that substitutes strategy for vision.
The only real reservations about the book I have are tinfoil ones: it assumes that Kerry lost the election, and that has not been proved to my satisfaction. Or to that of the goddess of statistics, either. But whatever happened happened, and all we can do right now is to plan the future battles. Start Making Sense gives you some ammunition for those.