A Rag Blogger Conversation about the Democratic Party and Radical Change

Posted May 9, 2008 / The Rag Blog
Updated May 10, 2008

[The following is a conversation among Ragbloggers from a left point of view: about the viability of the Democratic Party and the two-party system, about the corporate influence in today’s electoral politics, about the tactic of working for impeachment of George W. Bush, and about Barack Obama and the option of supporting third party candidates. We invite you to add your comments to this discussion at the end of this post.]

The first comment comes from Doug Zachary:

What the Democrats are indicating by their lack of interest in impeaching Bush or in ending the Occupation of Iraq is not only that they have been committed to the war against the Arab world from the beginning, they are also revealing their approval of and commitment to neoliberal economics. They, too, are completely behind the real purpose of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They, too support the preservation of Bremer’s 100 Laws, the “laws” intended to ensure the domination of the region by US capital. (OK Mariann, International Capital … but with a definite bias, in this particular instance, for US corporations).

Don’t we recall when Bill Clinton turned out the new Robber Barons on Latin America? My view of that regime was from the perspective of the Zapatistas, the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras (Border Commitee of Working Women) and other elements of the proto-union movement in the Maquiladora industries along the US-Mexico border. Has Mr. Obama ever been heard to mention a possible rollback of the WTO/IMF structures that are squeezing the life out of the underdeveloped world? Hell NO, because Globalism is a Repugnican/Demokratic agenda.

Given the corporate ownership of both major political parties and their domination of the US electoral process, it is hard to get out to vote in any case, but I think I will again cast my vote for the Green this year. I heard Bob Jensen say the other night that our best strategy for the near future is to work for the collapse of the Democratic Party, so that political space is created for an honest progressive party. I must agree. If someone can persuade me that we can get there by voting for one of these “democratic” candidates, then I would do so.

Doug Zachery

Brother Doug Zachery et al,

What you are saying is exactly what I said for decades. To quote myself, we have the best democracy that money can buy. We have a system of legal bribery called “campaign contributions”. The basic argument was that the cost of running such an extended campaign nationwide was so great that candidates had to become beholden to capitalist ruling class sources in order to run.

Campaign reforms have somewhat modified this picture. The internet changed it more. Now, individuals are restricted to giving no more than $2300 per candidate per election cycle. Corporations are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates. Hence, “bundlers” within corporations hit up lots of the upper level management for the maximum. The following are Barack Obama’s 20 largest contributors in order:

Goldman Sachs, University of California, UBS Ag, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc., National Amusements Inc., Lehman Bros., Google, Harvard University, Sidney Austin LLP, Skadden Arps et al, Morgan Stanley, Jones Day, Time Warner, Exelon Corp, Wilmerhale LLP, University of Chicago, Latham & Watkins, Microsoft, and Kirkland & Ellis. None of these institutions gave any money to Obama as that is against the law. The money came from individuals who work for these institutions. (opensecrets.org) 12 of them are also among Clinton’s top contributors and 7 of them are among McCain’s.

In the first place, 3 of these 20 institutions that bundled money for Obama are prestigious universities, not corporations. But the combined total that has been donated by all of them is only $6,039,499. This amount is just under 2.6% of the total of $234,745,081 that Barack Obama has raised from over 1.4 million contributors, a record by far for the largest number of contributors to a presidential campaign. According to an Obama campaign source, “90% of what we raised came over the Internet. 50% were for $50 or less. Our average donation is less than $100.” Given that $234 million divided by 1.4 million is more like $167, I think they must mean that the median contribution is under $100. Obama could toss the money he received from his 20 biggest contributors out the window and still have outraised McCain by almost 3 to 1. Both Clinton and McCain remain much more dependent on big money donors, but the rules of the game have changed and no one can run for president henceforth relying largely on ruling class money.

So our analysis of the past has to change. Barack Obama’s campaign is the closest thing to public financing we’ve ever seen in a US presidential election. Does this mean that Barack Obama will be less beholden to ruling class interests? I believe that it means exactly that, although it is a matter of degrees, not absolutes. You can’t base your critique on follow the money and then maintain your critique unchanged when the money is coming from different sources.

Those, such as the Green Party, who have a vested interest in saying that Barack is just another capitalist politician are arguing against the most left wing candidate to ever run for president of the US. In all likelihood they will become totally irrelevant as a result. If Robert Jensen said what you say, he too is living in the past. The hope of progressives in the US now, given the significant changes in campaign financing, is to capture the Democratic Party from the corporate types who have so long controlled it. I believe Barack Obama is very likely to take us quite a distance in that direction.

David Hamilton

I was having a similar thought earlier, but it was about a broader spectrum, including most of Congress. When most Democrats in Congress refuse to even discuss impeachment or the crimes committed and/or authorized by this president, and when they lie about why by saying it is based mostly on a political decision to pursue other issues, that they “couldn’t get it through,” or that it would take too long, what they are really saying is that they understand and accept the Washington status quo, the way the game is played. That is, they accept that the military can be used for political purposes, and that sometimes you have to bend the rules to stay with the game plan. They are telling us that they would do, or at least like to reserve the ability to do, more or less the same things if they are ever in that position. I probably don’t need to name any names. I’m sure everybody can come up with a few.

Scott Trimble

Scott,

Of course it is completely cynical, but the reason Democrats don’t want to impeach Bush is that he is the strongest force leading to a Democratic Party landslide in November. They don’t want him gone, because they want to run against him. They will tie him around the neck of John McCain like an albatross and cruise to a historic victory.

Yes, many will die as a direct result of this strategy, but it will probably work.

David

David,

What you describe is certainly one motivation for Democrats not to work for impeachment of Bush, but it is one of many. Impeachment at this point would be an incredible long shot and would make little sense at the end of his term.

As you once mentioned, an international war crimes indictment would make more sense. And domestic charges for violation of numerous laws would seem in order, despite inevitable claims of executive immunity.

But to say that many will die as a result of this strategy is silly. That would only be true if impeachment were a realistic option. And it is beyond doubt that many, many more would die with a McCain victory.

Thorne Dreyer

Scott,

Obama was elected to the Senate on a platform of OPPOSING the invasion of Iraq. This at a time when the entire media considered opposition radical and unrealistic.

He has proposed regional discussions as part of US withdrawal, which seems eminently reasonable to me.

I think discussions of exactly how we would withdraw will only confuse the issue at this time.

Like in Austin, 80 percent favor a mass transit system, but come election time, 51 percent oppose any specific system.

We know he was entirely against the war, even to the apparent detriment of his campaign, and we have to trust how he will get us out..

Also don’t forget Obama spent years as a street organizer in Chicago. He is on the side of the people.

Janet Gilles

I certainly hope you are right. I would love to be wrong about him. I would love to find out that all the neo-liberal and pro-military things he has said and done up to now have been a front to get him into a position where he could make some real change.

But if he (or any president) stands too firmly for the people, then the people had better stand behind him even more firmly, or he will become more like JFK than he really wanted to be.

However, when he won’t even advocate for a single-payer universal health care plan, which is probably the most important single-issue change the people of this country need (I believe democracy is the most important change we need, but it really encompasses all issues), then I have a hard time believing he is really “on the side of the people.”

Scott Trimble

I’ve heard Robert Jensen say that the only hope was to destroy the Democratic Party.

I didn’t respond to him them, but I thought: been there and done that.

In 1968, I believe we took out our fury (as we had to) on the Democratic Party and it was years before it recovered as a viable entity.

I don’t see those advocating third party alternatives taking on the apparatus that makes third parties viable. By that I mean, take on the Electoral College and winner take all electoral system, advocate for proportional voting systems as well as campaign reform that gives third parties access to the media and financing. Even the way the Democrats have structured primaries (with proportional voting) can be instructive in that regard. One thing I do not like about Hillary is her message: “If we had primaries like the Republicans, I’d be the winner.” That is patently undemocratic.

Take a page from the book of countries with viable third parties and coalition governments. Absent that, we will continue to have two centrist major parties and third parties will only detract from the party most similar to them. Absent taking on the apparatus, put energy into political movements that can be viable alternatives and put pressure on the Democratic Party. And maintain a healthy skepticism about even the best of the major party candidates.

Alice Embree

In 1968, were there any “third” parties to speak of? I know there was no Green Party at the time. It was the middle of the Cold War, so no “socialist” party could have offered a realistic alternative. The Black Panther Party was not ready to represent a broad swath of America (and I don’t think they ran candidates for office, but I could certainly be wrong on that).

And while you say “it was years before it recovered as a viable entity,” in reality, it maintained its majority in both houses of Congress until 1981 (elections of 1980), in the House of Representatives until 1994, regained the majority in the Senate in 1987, and won the presidency in 1976 (and 92, 96 and 2000- although that’s another story, of course).

Whatever “damage” was done to the Democratic Party in 1968 was apparently enough to give Nixon the White House, but had no effect on their control of Congress. I’ve looked at the history of governors of several states, and see no evidence that the Democratic Party was hurt there either. Of the 34 states I looked at half had Democratic governors and half had Republican governors in 1968. Indeed in the elections that year five of them who had Democratic governors elected Republicans, while only two that had Republican governors switched to Democrats in that election. Nevertheless, two of those five elected Democrats again in 1972. I will grant that many of these Democrats were likely actually Dixiecrats, but I don’t know if that matters in this discussion, except that what happened in 1968 may have signaled to many of those Dixiecrats that it was time to get out, and that can’t be a bad thing.

As for third parties taking on the apparatus that prevent their viability, I know that the Green Party is as vocal a proponent as we can be for changing the winner-take-all system and replacing it with proportional representation and IRV, as well as public financing. As most of us (Greens) see it, the problem is that too many progressives who ought to be helping us take on the apparatus continually buy into the Democratic Party’s illusion, or succumb to the fear that the current Republican bogeyman is so nasty that we have to settle for the “electable” Democrat.

Scott Trimble

Thank you, Alice. I’ve been hoping someone would say this.

There’s an awful lot of pie-in-the sky out there, but life is short and opportunities limited. I don’t expect much from Obama and maybe less from Hillary, but I will enthusiastically support the nominee. There is too much at stake to do otherwise.

Julie Howell

Hi Alice:

I really agree with your assessment of how to proceed into the future with our “been there done that” perspective on history. In San Francisco, where there is a major Green Party presence, the distinction between the Demos and the Greens is frequently blurred. Matt Gonzales got 49% of the City’s vote when he ran for mayor in 2003, but that does not mean most of those voters will vote for him this November.

The Green Party leaders around here are pragmatic and smart; they have three votes out of 11 on the Board of Supervisors, but they control it because they are 3 of the 6 needed for a majority. These six people rarely disagree: 3 are Demos and 3 are Greens. In the last Governor’s race, the Green Party candidate was Peter Camejo–formerly of SWP fame.

But to return to your point: if the goal is to prevent the Demo. party from being centrist, then maybe the best approach is to build independent coalitions that are cross-cultural and still participate in Demo Party politics when it matters–for example, like the current presidential campaign.

The demographic change taking place in Texas is the same that has already taken place in CA– the Latino leadership in LA, which is for the most part progressive, runs the state government–the white Democrats cant win without them. Look down the road ten years from now: if progressives, blacks and Latinos in Texas form alliances, they will control the Demo party and state government–and the changing demographics of TX will take care of the rest.

Actually, the Republican Party was the greatest change agent in CA and the same will probably be true in TX: in the mid and late nineties, they annually ran a racist anti-Latino state referendum. One year the Republican majority voted to declare English the state’s official language; next year they passed a referendum preventing undocumented workers from receiving social services–like emergency room medical services; then they tried declaring CA committed to a “color-blind society.” The net result was to drive 75% of the entire Latino population into the Democratic Party.

Hillary’s victory over Obama–both in TX and CA was purely a function of the Latino vote. You are lucky in Texas to have a precinct level caucus system. In CA the party is completely controlled by local Demo. party hacks and there are no precinct level organizations–at least you have a ready-made participatory Democratic Party that encourages everyone to get involved. I’m a registered Democrat so I can vote in the primary; but in November I almost always vote Green- because the Democrat always wins in the County I live in.

Jeff Jones
San Francisco

Hey Folks,

Can I not agree with Bob Jensen and still vote for Mr. Obama? David Hamilton’s arguments that Obama is the most left-wing feminist candidate in history and his precise accounting for the man’s money has moved me back toward voting for him.

If elected, however, I believe that Obama will be an impotent President, as Congress and the Senate will still be the property of the corporations. Unless an extraordinarily high percentage of our legislators dump their financial support and attempt to go to the people for funding, they will continue to serve their Masters. Perhaps the public might then move to make Jensen’s dream real.

Political parties do come and go; they are born and they die.

Doug Zachary

Doug,

If we want to be effective it would behoove us to avoid over-simplification: there are differences between the nature of the two parties and the interests they represent. But the most hopeful (sorry for the choice of words!) thing about Obama is that he has built an energetic and, from my expeience, surprisingly radical movement of independent and enthusiastic people – primarily young – who come from outside the party system.

I believe that that movement will provide him with a unique base of support, as will the African-American community. And they will also serve him as a conscience, staying on his ass should he stray.

And I totally agree with Alice. Working exclusively for third party candidates – at this point in history – dooms us to irrelevance. If we are secure in our world view and remain conscious of the limitations of electoral politics, and if we want to be effective and not just pure, working within the two-party system will not leave us somehow vaguely tainted.

In my view, to be relevant, we must relate to the Obama phenomenon. And we must always continue to work outside the system as well as within.

Thorne Dreyer

Thorne,

I do not believe that there is no difference between these two capitalist parties; neither will I ignore the similarities. I am absolutely certain that the New Democrats, or even the New New Democrats, do not see the world the way that I do or the way that increasing numbers of people, young people especially, do.

Obama might, in fact, be sincere; that is impossible to judge at this point. My guess is that for all his theatrical, tent-revival “Hope” sermonizing, he will be able to make no significant changes in the behavior of capital, domestically or globally. Nor am I convinced that he intends to. He could certainly, as my 85 year old aunt in Dallas said to me yesterday, have baptized people by the thousands in this “Hope” crusade of his. So go on and “rededicate your life” to the Democratic Party, if you are so “moved” by this bogus Revival scheme. I have had all that Elmer Gantry “Great Awakening” jive I need for a lifetime. It is my guess that y’all gonna end up in some metaphorical place similar to that occupied by my dear Aunt (name redacted) when, following an especially rousing tent revival in 1951 in Leonard, Texas, she wound up in love with a missing evangelist preacher, pregnant and incarcerated in Gainesville.

I can assure that the women with whom I have worked in the Maquiladoras, the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras, barely recognize any difference in the United States political parties, with respect to the effects on their lives. Their families and towns have been destroyed by decisions made, by Democrats and Republicans alike, to refuse Mexico (and all of Latin America) the right to employ protectionist policies similar to those used by the US and Britain to good effect for a couple of hundred years. Families in Veracruz, who had lived in their Mothers’ Mothers’ Mothers’ houses for many generations were dispossessed by US Democrats like Bill Clinton who forced NAFTA down their throats on January 1, 1994. Within weeks , the Vera Cruz tire industry was destroyed and the people found themselves moving by the thousands into cardboard houses in Ciudad Acuna. They suddenly found themselves competing for jobs in the maquiladoras that paid inadequate wages, stripped them of dignity, and poisoned their bodies. I know many of these folks by name and I share their distrust of US politics, Democratic or Republican.

The New Democrats have been all about US hegemony and economic Neoliberalism. The “Liberal” era of capitalism was that period in the last two decades of the 19th century when the apologia for the domination of the planet by capital was excused by the Big Lie, the lie that such domination would lead to “development” of all societies. That, the existence of “liberal capitalism” is the myth that distinguished it from previous theories of capital that had said that capital looked after its own interests, and damn the workers. Neoliberal capitalist theory now holds sway, and it is the Democrats as much as the Republicans, maybe more for that matter, who have enforced the structures of the IMF and the WTO and thereby forced the less powerful countries to succumb, selling their public sectors, their resources, and their people to international capital. Back then it was the Filipinos, among others, who paid the price for capitalist domination. Today it is the Iraqis. Tomorrow …?

This eighteen year old war is and was a Democratic party war as well as a Republican war. The New Democrats bombed Iraq and destroyed a modern infrasturcture. They imposed sanctions on the Iraqi people that caused hundreds of thousands of children to die. They then voted almost unanimously for this invasion and continued to fund this war after they gained control of Congress. They have refused to hold this criminal regime accountable. They are also complicit in the destruction of the US Constitution.

In the Summer of 1996 I spent seven days and nights in the jungle in the Zapatista village of Realidad, a few miles from the Guatemalan border. We were 600 leftist political activists and scholars from every nation in this hemisphere hosted by 600 indigeous revolutionaries, surrounded by 60,000 Mexican troops. I listened as delegation after delegation told us the horrors visited upon their villages, towns and cities by neoliberal Democratic and Republican politicians in the north since 1972. I camped with a small group of young people whose parents had been in Allende’s cabinet, and sang that “Commandante, Che Guevara” (literally, y’all) under a Full Moon. Spooky and life-changing. For me there has been not turning back to the illusion that either of the capitalist parties will look after my interests or those of the people i love, here or abroad. I have seen Reality and, unlike neoliberal Bill Clinton, I felt the pain. There has been no turning back. I vote Socialist and I vote Green.

Should we elect Obama, which, given all these “born again” believers, I imagine we will, the New Democratic legislators and their lobbyist bosses will castrate him and toss him aside. I will be very interested to revisit this conversation two years after Obama takes office.

You believe that “that movement will provide him with a unique base of support”. I believe that this so-called movement will melt away when the “:citizens” who make it up disappear into their individual struggles to get by and to satisfy their Madison Avenue-inspired appetites. You have a lot more faith in the US citizenry than I do. my belief is that they are sunk into the Matrix, and that the “Obama movement” is just another illusion passing over their closed eyelids. They will sleep till the day comes when the “Other” 94% of this planets population finds a way to hold us all accountable for the excesses, not only of our political classes, but of the citizenry at large. Thankfully, that day may be just around the corner.

What is your notion of effectiveness? From time to time, political parties die. If and when the racist and sexists working class voters get a clue that the Repugnicans do not in fact represent their interests, maybe that party also will suffer huge losses. Maybe some day it too will die. Why is it that all you “Progressives” seem to assume that these two parties are here to stay, when history shows that no political party, indeed no political system, is immortal? Only Brother Trimble seems to have the righteous indignation and the courage to imagine a better system.

Please pardon the preaching tone here, but I am “hopeful” that I might bring, maybe just one of you lost lambs, out of that tent before it is too late, and back to the Left.

Praise the Lord and pass the mescaline!
Great Jehova, you’ll come over …

Doug

Doug et al,

In regards to participation in the Democratic Party, I’m just encouraging pragmatism. This is what Jeff Jones is saying in his post on this subject. Sometimes, conditions will lead us to support the Green Party and sometimes opportunities present themselves that indicate the correct strategy is involvement in the Democratic Party, especially when we can take over major parts of it.

For decades, I have been among those who chose the former path, supporting third party candidates in general elections, not having voted for a Democrat for president since McGovern. I participated in Jesse Jackson’s presidential effort in 1988. Otherwise, it was Dr. Spock and Eldridge Cleaver and Ralph Nader for me. But this time is different. This time, thanks largely to the overarching stupidity, hubris and abject failure of the Bush regime, the pendulum is swinging powerfully to the left like never before in my lifetime.

Objective analysis points to a Democratic Party landslide in November. Krugman in the NYTimes listed the major factors determining presidential elections: the state of the economy and the popularity of the sitting president. The Republicans are deep in the toilet on both counts with no help in sight.

Current polls show both Obama and Clinton are, on average, beating McCain narrowly in national head-to-head matchups. But, these polls are not to be trusted. At this point 8 years ago, many said Ross Perot was leading.

So, how is it going to go when it is just Obama vs McCain, especially if it is Obama/Clinton vs McCain/whoever (Lieberman)? My prediction is an Obama/Clinton slam dunk. Many polls of political opionions have shown the general population relatively favoring Democratic positions, e.g., on the war in Iraq and universal health care. Hatred of Bush is deep. The economy sucks. Gas and food prices are through the roof. Besides the telegenic qualities of Obama vs McCain are striking to say the least – 21st century multi-ethnic young rock star of hope vs another old white guy telling his war stories from Vietnam. McCain will play the patriotism card and his underlings will play the race card. It won’t matter. It’s going to be a massacre. And the Democrats will win big majorities in the House (50+ majority) and Senate (10+ majority) too.

Hence, it’s time to get on board with Obama. Of course, to us, he will be a flawed messenger, especially in the upcoming general election where there will be little pressure for him to run further left. But an Obama administration will be a profound change. I suggest that you consult that other 94% you mention who aren’t US citizens about who they would like to see be the next US president. Celebrations of an Obama
victory with resonate around the globe, from Kenya to Paris, from the Gaza to Caracas. The US will not fully deserve the reputational make-over Obama is going to provide.

My own expectations for Obama include: Very near complete withdrawal from Iraq by 2010. He will initially enhance the US military effort in Afghanistan and then find a negotiated settlement. He’ll talk directly with Tehran, Havana and Caracas and the Cuban embargo will end along with the threats against Iran. He will press Israel harder than any previous president to reach a just solution with the Palestinians. He
will talk to Hamas and Hezbollah. He won’t hold hands with the Saudi king. In short, he’ll significantly reign in American militarism. He’ll pass some form of universal health care that will be a positive reform, but less than single payer. He’ll rebalance leftward the Supreme Court. He’ll exponentially increase use of alternative energy.

The most far reaching policy changes of the Obama administration will be shaped as much by the force of events as the ideology of the president. Many potential disasters have been exacerbated by Bush and will await Obama. No president since Roosevelt in 1932 will have a plate so full. He will be pushed by deteriorating conditions to take more profound steps.

But why not support the Green Party in Texas in 2008 where McCain will likely win anyway? Because even Texas might be “in play” this November. And besides, the main point of voting for the Green Party is so that they reach the 5% threshold needed for continuous ballot status. They can do that more likely in some down ticket race. So stay with Obama in solidarity, even if he is going to lose Texas.

This train’s a comin’ and you better get on board. On the presidential level the third party alternative this time will mean minuscule support and irrelevance. Progressives for Obama will dwarf them.

David H.

For additional comments by Scott Trimble, go here.

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