Friday, December 26, 2014

An independent progressive movement

Like most people, I tend to seek out sources of information that reinforce my existing point of view.  This is a habit of Fox viewers and Limbaugh listeners just as it those who are mad about Maddow, wild about Jon Stewart, and still mourning the recently deceased "Steven Colbert".  

I have found a lot of reinforcement lately and thought it was time to share it.  First, this from the publisher of Harper's, under the header "The Left Must Derail Hillary Clinton in the Primaries".

As a presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush in 2016 appears ever more likely, it’s a good moment to ask what alternative exists to lying down and letting such a campaign drown the body politic.

Time is short. The queen of cynics, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, already has pronounced her gorgon’s judgment on the inevitability of Hillary versus Jeb. “The looming prospect of another Clinton–Bush race makes us feel fatigued,” yawns the perpetually bored Dowd, who, on the contrary, relishes a future of easy columns mocking America’s two leading political dynasties.

What about the rest of us? Is it inevitable that we swallow the nomination of the neo-liberal Clinton, whose support of Bush’s Iraq madness (not to mention Obama’s Afghan and Libyan stupidity) and her husband’s recklessly pro-“free trade,” pro-banker, pro-deregulation politics ought to send reasonable liberals fleeing? Is it predestined that principled conservatives accept the anointment of the thoroughly fraudulent Jeb, whose support of his brother’s interventionist folly, along with his own outrageous meddling as governor of Florida to “rescue” brain-dead Terri Schiavo, should give pause to even the greediest oil baron seeking patronage from a Republican administration?


Nevertheless, a straightforward, nationwide electoral strategy is required if the left wants to reverse the rightward trend of both parties over the past three decades. The tea party has had much success moving the Republican Party to the right through primary challenges that should be the envy of frustrated Democrats...

Stop right there.  That's the best expression of a point I have been emphasizing for a long, long, time: before there was a Tea Party, there was a Progressive Populist Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party, and it was the largest one in the party.  That was less than ten years ago, and it does not exist at all today.  The Tea Party not only co-opted populism; more importantly they have constructed a successful model for establishment political party revolution, working inside and outside the GOP to do so.

Let's read this now from Bill Curry, a former White House counselor to Bill Clinton (and a twice-nominated Connecticut Democratic gubernatorial candidate).  Its title? "Let’s abandon the Democrats: Stop blaming Fox News and stop hoping Elizabeth Warren will save us":

The Democrats’ conduct since the midterm debacle is as sad and sorry as the campaign that caused it. The party’s leaders are a big problem. A bigger one is the closed system of high-dollar fundraising, reductionist polling and vapid messaging in which it is seemingly trapped. Some say a more populist Democratic Party will soon emerge. It won’t happen as long as these leaders and this system are in place.

Nancy Pelosi says it wasn’t a wave election. She’s right. It was the Johnstown Flood; as catastrophic and just as preventable. One year after the shutdown Republicans scored their biggest Senate win since 1980 and their biggest House win since 1928. Turnout was the lowest since 1942, when millions of GIs had the excellent excuse of being overseas fighting for their country.

Every Democratic alibi — midterm lull, sixth-year curse, red Senate map, vote suppression, gerrymandering, money — rings true, but all of them together can’t explain being swept by the most extreme major party in American history. Citing other statistics — demography, presidential turnout, Hillary’s polls — they assure us that in 2016 happy days will be here again. Don’t bet on it.

It took more than the usual civic sloth to produce the lowest turnout in 72 years. It took alienating vast voting blocs, including the young and the working class of both genders and all races. The young now trend Republican. Voters of all ages migrate to third parties or abandon politics altogether. It’s the biggest Democratic defection since the South switched parties in the 1960s. If Democrats don’t change their ways, their 2016 turnout will be a lot harder to gin up than they think.

So many sharp points that my fingers are bleeding.

The vital task for progressives isn’t reelecting Democrats but rebuilding a strong, independent progressive movement. Our history makes clear that without one, social progress in America is next to impossible. For 100 years progressive social change movements transformed relations between labor and capital, buyers and sellers, blacks and whites, men and women, our species and our planet. But in the 1970s progressives began to be coopted and progress ceased. Their virtual disappearance into the Democratic Party led to political stultification and a rollback of many of their greatest achievements.

There's much more, but let's skip to the end.

Some progressives will spend 2015 trying to lure Elizabeth Warren or some second or third choice into a run for president. Some will make their peace with Hillary. Some will take other paths. A public debate among progressives will unearth some disagreements on policy and a more fundamental divisions over strategy.

Some say the Democratic Party is beyond saving. Others say it’s our last hope. I see progressives taking leave of Democrats not as abandonment but more like tough love. In the end it may be the only thing that can save Democrats or for that matter progressives, whose reputation has been tarnished by the party that betrayed them. In any event it’s better for both parties for all future business to be conducted on an arms’ length, cash-for-carry basis.

Nails it.  This next, however, is the hammer hitting the thumb.

My guess is that if you can’t take over the Democratic Party, you can’t take over the country — and that a declaration of independence should be followed by an actual rebellion. The Tea Party has shown you can work within a party and yet be highly independent. But whether to work within, against or apart from the Democrats is a call for later. Building a strong progressive movement is work we must do now.

That went right off the rails for me.  The author built up all of that inspirational momentum only to cultivate a popcorn fart.  I think it's pretty obvious that progressives have abandoned the Democratic Party -- most certainly in midterm elections -- for the comfort and convenience of apathy.  The result shows up as capitulation, or if you prefer, utter domination by those who do vote: old, white conservatives.  (Please note that these are the same people who predominantly serve on grand juries.)  And I gravely doubt whether progressives are going to be lured back to the Democratic Party in sufficient numbers, and I include the 0% probability premise of Elizabeth Warren running for and winning the party's nomination in 2016 in that assessment.

Also note that the article does not mention Bernie Sanders or the Green Party even once.  It references, as emphasized, an "independent progressive movement", whatever the hell Curry thinks that means.  But I don't know what that looks like and apparently neither does he.  I call myself an independent progressive but can tell you straightforwardly there is no such movement I am aware of.  Not nascent, not latent.  I can at least agree with Curry that there needs to be one, however, and to be fair he points out the hurdles for independent candidates and parties like ballot access (which Greens have much of) and -- short of a Citizens United repeal -- competitive financing of campaigns (which Greens have nearly none of).  So any movement he envisions has a tall, rocky mountain to climb without so much as the bare bones infrastructure of the Green Party.  My question is: why re-invent the wheel?

The good news for those Democrats who can't go Green is that there are plenty of places to start a revolution within the Democratic Party if you think that's your only option.  And the Tea Party has demonstrated how it can be done, quickly.  Candidly (pathetically, maybe?), theirs is the model: electoral revolution inside AND out.  Simultaneously.  Turn out the vote in the primary.  Find yourself some kindred spirits and get going.

Let's start wrapping this up with news today about Bernie Sanders

Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders says he'll decide by March whether to launch a 2016 presidential campaign and, if so, whether he'll seek the Democratic nomination. Either way, Sanders says he wouldn't run just to nudge the debate to the left.

"I don't want to do it unless I can do it well," he told The Associated Press. "I don't want to do it unless we can win this thing."

That's as far as we need to go.  Bernie Sanders is not going to run as either a Democrat, a Green, or a progressive independent.  He just said as much.  What he isn't saying -- his nonverbal communication -- is saying the same thing.

So where does that leave an independent progressive movement?  Same place it's been for awhile: sitting at a standstill.  So what options remain for a progressive revolution?  Let's begin at the beginning: progressives must vote.  Period, full stop.  They also have to cast ballots in the Democratic Party primary occasionally, for the kind of candidates they want to see nominated by that party.  And when the Democrats fail to nominate those candidates, then independent progressives have to vote for Greens -- or Socialists, or independents who are aligned with the left -- on every single ballot line they appear.  That's the only way that there will ever be a progressive revolution in the Democratic Party.   There will be no change made otherwise.

Let me say clearly that if there are Democrats who rationalize voting in the Republican Party primary as the best way to get the least worst option, there ought to be a lot more Dems that can vote for Greens in a general.  Unless you're just the Bluest goddamned Dog imaginable.  But more to the point, Democrats can't take your vote for granted if you're not casting one at all.  They will start paying attention, however, as their electoral share goes down and the Greens' goes up.

I am perilously close to not caring whether a progressive revolution ever happens for the Democratic Party, national or state.  If they continue to devolve into some transmogrification of moderate/socially liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, I can let that go like a hot potato.  I would, hand to heart, rather see the renaissance of a global political party with clearly stated goals which represents what Democrats in the 1940s and 50s came closest to being: Democratic Socialists.  (But Harry Truman's and even John Kennedy's belligerent Cold War neoliberalism would have to be excepted.  The party, and the country, could have had Henry Wallace in 1944, after all.  And the nation had two chances to elect Adlai Stevenson instead... his overt cautiousness on civil rights notwithstanding.  Alas, the Red Scare was just too much for Americans to overcome.  Historical precedent that The Home of the Brave really isn't).

The strongest argument for a progressive movement, independent or third-party, remains that the two corporate political parties are still essentially one; half of the duopoly is just meaner and more cruel than the other.  Do ya really think the disparity between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush makes up enough of a difference to motivate the 2/3rds of Americans who did not vote in 2014 to storm the ramparts supporting one or the other?  Is the Democratic slogan going to again consist of  "we're not perfect but they're nuts" ?  I can already hear the complaining from low information voters about their 2016 choices.  We can either stand around and look at those people as they sit out yet another election, or give them some real options.  Whether they decide to choose is still up to them, of course; many won't.  Some folks will watch teevee no matter what gets televised, even if it happens to be a revolution.  But there are still many left-leaning, working-class Americans waiting to be motivated again, as they were by Occupy, as they were at the Texas Capitol in the summer of 2013, as there are now against the worst and continuing examples of racialized police abuse and criminal justice applied as an elitist commodity.

I'm a big fan of anarchists personally, but not as big a fan of anarchy itself, and I'm no longer healthy enough to fight in an actual revolution -- you know, with guillotines and things like that-- so I'm left agitating for one at the ballot box.  But what's it going to take, exactly?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing: working inside and outside the system.

Update: Eye on Williamson adds some thoughts.


Gadfly said...

John MacArthur is a good writer ... and a good publisher.

I heard him on NPR this summer talking about keeping up paywalls, actual stories versus "content," and other things that today's media generally get wrong.

I loved Ken Silverstein when he did his Babylon column there.

Gadfly said...

Oh, and remember how the Dem establishment supported Joementum as an Independent after Ned Lamont defeated him in the Dem primary in 2006? Well, fuck 'em, per your Curry link. This slouching toward Gomorrah's been happening for a while.

Gadfly said...

Finally, a good piece here about the 40-year mark of increasing earnings gap.

PDiddie said...

I don't say thank you enough -- or return the favor at your shop often enough -- for the contributions you make here. Thanks.