Rehab or New Construction?
The burning question of the day remains whether to try to reform the Democratic Party from within or to give up on them as a lost cause and build new from the ground up.
My current view of Democrats is that they provided an umbrella under which to huddle while I congratulated myself for belonging to the Party that most closely espoused my values and priorities. Of recent years, like say the last eight, I realized that while they espoused my values, they did next to nothing to further them when given the opportunity. So, do I, and others like me, continue to huddle under that umbrella, or do I risk the potential of temporarily becoming a soaking wet outsider under no umbrella while I busy myself with others in constructing a more permanent structure under which to shelter?
That is the basic question discussed in this article by Kim Moody from Jacobin
From Realignment to Reinforcement
In a nutshell, Moody posits that change from within the Party has always been difficult and never more so than now; he very effectively describes the transformation of the Party over time as one whose incumbents and power base are comprised of 1%ers or those who aspire to become 1% who are responsive to their big donors and paymasters and who have become, in his words, “Commercialized and Unaccountable”:
The growth of the Democratic Party’s business-funded bureaucracy over the past half century, the soaring role of money in elections, and the downgrading of grassroots organization in favor of purchased campaign methods has changed this capitalist party, as well as its rival, and the whole political process.
The party’s commercialized campaigning and unaccountable structure has allowed it to impose austerity while fending off the sorts of challenges mounted by the realigners of the 1970s, the Rainbow Coalition of the 1980s, and the Bernie Sanders campaign last year. Unfortunately, Bernie veterans looking to create the party anew will come up against the same roadblocks.
The article is ultimately a pessimistic outlook for the potential of liberal reformers for fomenting and creating real, actual, long term reconstruction within the Party when every single detail of its embedded top-down power structure, history, and current leadership argues against success.
Obviously, there are those who disagree with this view, most notably Bernie Sanders himself with his Our Revolution construct which chooses to work primarily under the Democratic umbrella as does Cenk Uygur’s new concept of Justice Democrats:
Progressives Launch 'Justice Democrats' to Counter Party's 'Corporate' Legislators
In reading that article we discover that the first immediate goal of the Justice Democrats will be to oust the 13 Democratic Senators who voted against the Bernie Sanders amendment that would have allowed drug re-importation from Canada.(As a reminder, the 13 Democratic Senators who voted against the amendment were: Booker (NJ), Bennet (CO), Cantwell (WA), Carper (DE), Casey (PA), Coons (DE), Donnelly (IN), Heinrich (NM), Heitkamp (ND), Menendez (NJ), Murray (WA), Tester (MT), Warner (VA))
While I admire and support Uygur’s and the Justice Democrats' goal of ousting these 13 Dem incumbent Senators, I would have to predict that at best it is likely to offer up Pyrrhic victories if any at all. The Party machinery will engage to protect the incumbent, a stated goal, and as past history has shown us, the incumbent will most likely prevail( Teachout v Cuomo, Wasserman-Schultz v Canova, etc). If the Justice Democrats are serious about getting rid of Blue Dogs, which I have no reason to doubt, some number of them will probably not show up at the polls and the seat may be lost to a Republican and then Justice Democrats will be blamed for the loss by "damaging" the candidate causing poor turnout.
If the incumbent does win, that win will be seen as yet another rejection of liberal Dems; the party bigwigs will see it as more justification for triangulation to obtain the always unobtainable, only-in-their-dreams, moderate Republican vote and to tack further right.
IF the long-shot Justice Democrat candidate should make it into the Senate, they will be whipped mercilessly by the control Democrats and the machine to fall into line with the majority status quo, incremental, pragmatic Democrats. In the article from the WP about Uygur’s effort, I found it ironic that he cited existing membership in the Progressive Caucus as being an inoculation against primarying when the Progressive Caucus, despite being the largest caucus, has been the most feckless in wielding its power, subjugating itself time and time again to “embracing the suck”, any evidence of rejecting neo-liberalism being far rarer than falling in line with it.
What liberal/progressives don’t seem to get is that half the Party and almost all of the leadership, have no desire to be more liberal or progressive beyond the traditional lip service they are bound to give as ritual tribute to the leftier wing during an election which will be put back on the shelf when it comes time to legislate.
I would cite as further evidence for the Democratic Party as whole being “irredeemable” to use Hillary Clinton’s words, is that in their current upper level soul searching, no one anywhere has found any evidence of a soul to be saved. Their internal discussions to date have had a focus on “poor messaging” and technical difficulties with their turnout operations and polling, while excoriating external sources like Russians and Comey for the public’s lack of understanding of why Democrats are the better of two options. What is ironic beyond belief is their lack of self-awareness that it is not the public’s lack of understanding about Democrats, it’s their understanding of Democrats that is the problem, i.e. that Democrats are expedient, glib, insincere, reactive, self-serving and non-visionary. They are incapable of delivering on large goals without knee-capping themselves in advance by fencing themselves into little boxes of what is “possible” or “achievable”. What the rest of us have learned is that the power who defines the parameters of possibility are their corporate donors, and not what is best for the masses of the citizenry.
Nowhere was this lesson better exemplified than when left to their own devices, Democrats constructed a wreck of a healthcare system that maintained the dominance and maintenance of provably immoral and unethical industries as its core, whose profits were of greater concern to our legislators than the health and welfare of the masses or their fiduciary responsibilities to be wise stewards of public dollars. How is it that only now, long after the horse left the barn, that Democrats are talking about negotiating drugs in Medicare or re-importing drugs from Canada when those were two basic planks of President Obama’s bait and switch health platform in the first place? Do they understand that in their venality of serving their industry donors, they have pretty much sacrificed any credibility they might have once had on the topic? But now they get it? Now they’ll take it seriously? Right . . . .
This leads me back to the article in Jacobin that I led off this essay with and what I said was its pessimistic outlook towards reform from within of the Democratic Party. While that may be true, it’s no reason for liberal Democrats or Progressives or 99%ers to be pessimistic in general about eventually gaining traction for their views and goals, many of which are shared by the electorate, just not expressed within our current two party framework/prison.
In his article Moody concluded compellingly:
It’s time for socialists to build an alternative. The base is there in cities of all sizes. It is there among thousands of Sanderistas with no place to go. It is there in militant unions and among union insurgents fighting to change their unions — many of whom supported Sanders — as well as among activists from Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, immigrants’ rights groups, and workers’ centers. It is there among the millions of working-class African Americans and Latinos who have seen both major parties let their neighborhoods deteriorate. And it is even to be found among those “left behind” white workers who voted for Trump.
In this debate, I come down on the side of Moody and not on that of Uygur or Sanders. How about you?