Friday, June 11, 2010

OpenSourceDem on the Green challenge to Texas Democrats

A GOP operative in Arizona has rigged a reported $200,000 in-kind contribution to the Green Party in the form of sufficient signatures to get their candidates -- to be nominated this weekend -- on the statewide and select countywide ballots.

The Democratic Party perceives this as a short-term threat to Bill White’s campaign and is sensitive to a longer term threat to the status quo, particularly if the Green candidate for state comptroller gets enough votes to meet the statutory threshold (5%) for continued ballot access.

The GOP doubtless regards this as a “dirty trick” in the short term. They love such mischief almost as much as Democratic incumbents in Arkansas like vote suppression techniques such as reducing polling locations in a run-off.

GOP operatives such as the Club for Growth or intellectuals like the Federalist Society may see this ploy as a new wrinkle in their notion of a “Permanent Republican Majority”. That “majority” actually consists of money-driven pluralities in a mix of ratification elections and plebiscites wherein the lower the turnout, the better. Call this the “Citizens United” plutocracy.

In fact, both party establishments in Texas are plutocratic:

For the Democratic Party establishment (TDP), a “Way We’ve Always Done It!” sort of decrepit plutocracy is based on what was for a long time professional and more recently racial patronage, derived from bi-partisan concession-tending (“Jim Crow”). But, the GOP in Texas has long commanded more money, technology, and concessions. So, “Jim Crow” is just an epithet now, not really the regime here today. And TDP plutocracy is really just nostalgia -- Matt Angle’s wannabe plutocracy.

While profoundly reactionary, the GOP is conforming Texas government to radical privatization, deregulation, and economic discrimination using the state and federal Supreme courts. They now dominate the emerging police state it takes to levy and collect indirect and regressive taxes. But like East German Communists, they run as the anti-government, pseudo-populist party. Thus they innovate just enough in electoral politics and roll out sufficiently clever waves of earthy rhetoric to keep Texas a red state bastion despite its latent Democratic majority.

The GOP prevails by further dividing and demoralizing a Democratic Party already broken by professional patronage and further mediated by racial gerrymandering and quotas. A “green” party consisting of not so much anti-corporate as well-educated but chronically underemployed and mostly white environmental activists may do in the general election what the Tea Party has done in GOP primaries. (The Tea Party appears to be well-educated but chronically underemployed, property-rights and gun-rights-favoring, mostly white activists.)

If the jobless recovery continues, of course, there will be more and more well-educated but chronically underemployed (fill-in-the-blank), with increasingly non-white activists out there raging against both plutocracies.

Still, GOP operatives hope to focus the alienation in Texas right now on well-funded Democratic challengers who they can portray as “liberal” or in any case “corporate” establishment, while GOP incumbents portray themselves as moralistic, “small-government”, “cloth coat”, rubber wader”, libertarians or eat-what-you-catch-or-kill hunter/gatherers like Sarah and Todd Palin.

None of this theatrical politics was new even before Citizens United. The Green Party thing is just another wrinkle in a story now decades old.

It could backfire several different ways:

1. Techno-Legal

The Red-Green petition drive can probably be voided by invalidating individual signatures under the exclusive affiliation provisions of state law using the TEAM and VEMACS voter registration systems. But that will take a tech-savvy lawyer who understands those systems. The Green petitions are probably legal under the state exemption on corporate funding for “party-building” activities. In any case, the GOP Secretary of State cannot be trusted to do the signature validation competently or even disinterestedly. (Note: The SOS has approved the Greens' petition signatures, but the Greens and the Democrats have agreed to a two-week moratorium in order to authenticate the legality of the Greens' benefactor.)

2. Trust and Confidence: Try It For A Change!

The GOP noise machine has reached maximum volume very early and is getting very tiresome. By speaking intelligently and calmly, both Barack Obama and Bill White may well elicit the sort of confidence and trust that may be more important in this mid-term election than enthusiasm, especially fake Astroturf  “enthusiasm” or “rage”.

3. Take ‘Em Head On

While the Tea Party will fall in lockstep with the GOP or stay home and sulk, loyal Oil Patch and Texas Environmental Democrats can compete head on and outnumber Green Party activists in every venue, including the Democratic state convention, taking place in two weeks in Corpus Christi.

4. Hey Diddle Diddle, Straight Up The Middle

Even more importantly, Bill White and Jeff Weems can provide real leadership on environmental issues and energy policy ... provided they can break out from the lame Lone Star Project strategy of empty rhetoric in targeted races underwritten by the TDP.

5. Straight D Plus

Finally, if and only if a few of the big, urban county Democratic Parties can mobilize high-information “surge” voters -- a legacy of 2008 primary and general elections -- then Democrats can co-opt more voters from a would-be Green Party than the other way around. The key will be “straight D plus” voting instructions. It is true that a straight G vote is just another spoiler campaign. But a straight D plus a vote for the Green comptroller candidate (where the TDP left a void) would help Bill White (and Ann Harris Bennett in Harris County) and hurt the GOP. Of course, that assumes Democrats have tech-savvy political operatives, something more than just nostalgia to run on and run with.

The downside on Straight D Plus is that the Greens, having gotten on the ballot in service to the GOP in 2010, would be on the ballot in 2012 courtesy of Democrats. That poses a fundamental question for Democrats:

-- Do we want or expect to be the dominant one of two collaborating parties in a bi-partisan plutocracy (“Jim Crow”) ever again, or do we want or have any expectation of ever being a robustly competitive party in a multi-party democracy, not any sort of plutocracy?

That is the sort of historic challenge that a placeholder like Boyd Richie does not recognize and has not faced. It is one Bill White may have to overcome in addition to running his own race if he expects to win statewide, in effect with no more than half a party. If Democrats expect to win elections in Texas, they will have to embrace change as a party. We need to realize that parties which nominate by convention and take unlimited corporate contributions have a huge advantage over parties nominating by primary election and using small donations to leverage corporate contributions and other large donations. That is the way to perpetuate plutocracy without regard to colorful rhetoric or other aesthetic devices to distinguish our brand of plutocracy from the other one. The plutocrats with the most money cannot govern well, but they can win elections dominated by mercenary consultants and mass media.

So behind all the tricks of mercenary political operatives, theirs and ours, there really are some profound questions for Democrats to answer if we are ever to make anything out of our latent majority statewide, our transient one in Harris County, a fairly reliable one in Dallas County, and of course the potentially valuable one in Houston.

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