Tim Carpenter: Tribute to a Fine Opponent
I was saddened to learn of the recent death from melanoma, of Massachusetts activist Tim Carpenter.
While I have opposed Tim Carpenter’s agenda for years and feature him heavily in my latest book The Enemies Within: Communists, Socialists and Progressives in the US Congress, I couldn’t help but admire his tremendous energy and commitment to his cause.
Tim Carpenter devoted his life to moving the Democratic Party left. He has changed America far more than most activists of this generation and he did it with energy, courage and a sincere desire to improve his country in accordance with his values.
Those values were not my values, but there is no doubting Tim Carpenter’s commitment to them.
Tim Carpenter founded and led one of the most effective grassroots pressure groups in the country – Progressive Democrats of America. Pursuing an inside-outside strategy, Carpenter’s nationwide organization has pressured the Democrats from the outside to move left on many issues, while helping at the same time to elect several leading socialists to the House and the Senate.
Raised in Southern California, Tim Carpenter was in his mid-teens when he worked on the first unsuccessful effort to get an Orange County socialist, Vivian Hall, elected to Congress. He played vital parts in nearly every progressive cause in Orange County, beginning with George McGovern‘s 1972 presidential race against Richard Nixon. He was active in the Catholic Worker Movement throughout the 1980s and in the 1990s, he helped organize the Orange County chapter of Families Against Three Strikes. He has been locked up for protesting, spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 1992 and counts Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Jerry Brown among his friends.
In 1982, Tim Carpenter was a member of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee in Orange County, California. That organization became Orange County Democratic Socialists of America and Carpenter remained a DSA supporter until his death.
Tim Carpenter, whose untimely death this week leaves us bereft of a tireless champion of social and economic justice. We in DSA mourn the loss of a brother whose politics of radical inclusion made us part of his extended family and of his “team.” As Nichols points out, Tim and his colleagues saw the strategic value of DSA Founding Chair Michael Harrington’s Democratic Agenda project and passionately pursued it. Tim committed his life to advancing the vision of a transformed Democratic Party by integrating progressive electoral campaigns with social movement politics. His unflagging efforts strengthened the Congressional Progressive Caucus in Washington and built a national PDA organization that will carry on his vital work.
Just as many members of DSA have joined PDA and taken part in its campaigns, Tim Carpenter joined DSA out of solidarity. We worked together on compatible goals and out of a common heritage. We have welcomed and supported PDA’s project of petitioning Bernie Sanders to run for president. We in DSA are committed to help PDA — as the concrete organizational embodiment of Tim’s vision — survive and prosper, in pursuit of our common dreams of political and social transformation.
Tim Carpenter worked in Tom Hayden‘s 1976 US Senate bid, he was a trusted aide to Jesse Jackson‘s 1988 “Rainbow Coalition” run for the presidency, an inner-circle strategist for Jerry Brown‘s 1992 presidential run and a key figure in Dennis Kucinich‘s antiwar presidential campaign of 2004.
Even the President admired Tim Carpenter.
Around December 2013, while coping with his cancer, Carpenter’s daughter ran up to him with an envelope from the White House that had arrived in the mailbox of the family’s Massachusetts home. When they opened it, there was a note from President Barack Obama, wishing Tim well while celebrating his resilience.
Politics is a brutal game, but one should never lose sight of the fact that one’s opponents are mostly sincere people trying to do what they see is right. By all accounts Tim Carpenter was an enthusiastic, sincere, loyal, generous and decent man.
Losing Tim Carpenter will be a blow to the left comparable to our loss of Andrew Breitbart.
We all know how much that hurt.
I wish Tim Carpenter’s wife, daughters, friends and colleagues my sincerest condolences for their loss.