A thought for Sunday: the importance of state-level third parties
– by New Deal democrat (from Bonddad blog)
A thought for Sunday: the importance of state-level third parties
[You know the drill. It’s Sunday. Regular nerdy economic blogging will resume tomorrow. And be sure to read Bonddad’s latest summary, below]
There was a devastating piece about the Democratic Party published about a month ago by Chris Bowers, I think, that reads particularly bitterly in the light of last Tuesday’s midterm election results. Of course I can’t find it now. (UPDATE: I think it was This piece. By Matt Stoller. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it now).
But in summary, it said that the high point of the left netroots was the Lamont-Lieberman Senate contest in 2006. Anti-Iraq war progressives defeated Joe Lieberman in the primary. But because Connecticut has no “sore loser” law preventing primary losers from re-filing and running as independents in the general election, Lieberman did so, and the Democratic Party establishment, including one Barack Obama, rallied around him. When Lieberman won with the help of GOP votes, he got a standing ovation in the Senate.
In 2008 most of the netroots backed Obama, who also suggested that he was anti-Iraq war (he never actually cast a vote) vs. the pro-Iraq war Hillary Clinton. But once Obama won and no longer needed progressives, he dumped Howard Dean as Democratic Party Chair, along with his “50 state strategy,” and installed economic neoliberals as his most powerful appointments.
The point Bowers(?) was making is that the party establishment learned in 2006 that it didn’t have to worry about progressives. Progressives would lose most primaries where the primary determinant was money, and then they would fall meekly in line, backing a centrist Democrat in the general. This is where Kos’s mantra “more and better” democrats led.
The GOP, when installed in power via Bush, or even with a stranglehold on a necessary artery, like the filibuster rule in the Senate, has relentlessly pursued a maximalist strategy, rallying round the most extreme policies and maybe compromising a little at the end. The democratic estabslishment, with no party discipline to the right, pursues milquetoast centrist policies and even then compromises with the GOP.
The Progressive voice is never going to be heard, let alone come to power, under these circumstances.
In order to do so, progressives need to take a page from the historical rise of the UK’s Labour Party. One hundred years ago, the UK’s two major parties were the Conservatives (a thoroughly reactionary party), and the Liberals, a center-left coalition much like today’s Democrats. The Labour Party formed after the Liberals stabbed them in the back.
And Labour did not win by defeating Conservatives. Labour won by driving the Liberal party to the brink of extinction.
Similarly, progressives will not win because of GOP losses. Progressives will only win by driving corporatist democrats to the edge of extinction, just as movement conservatives took over the GOP by making Rockefeller Republicans as extinct as the dodo bird).
As spelled out above, corporatists are throughly in charge of the democratic establishment, to the point, it is widely reported, that they would prefer GOP election wins over progressive democratic candidates. See, for example, here
So, how to make corporatist democrats extinct? By showing them that they can never win. And how do you show them that they will never win? By borrowing a page from the career of Joe Lieberman.
It isn’t enough for progressives to primary corporatists. State level third parties, like New York’s Green Party, give progressives the ability to stay in elections right through the general election, even if they lose a democratic primary to corporatists.
Yes, this strategy will mean some general election losses over a few cycles. But when corporatist democrats learn that they cannot win, they will start to disappear. Progressives will win either as Democrats, or under another party banner.
By the way, this happened before. One hundred years ago, there were active Populist and Progressive Parties in the states (remember Robert LaFollette?). Ultimately they became part of the winning New Deal coalition.
Progressives shouldn’t abandon the Democratic Party. But they should target the corporatists as mercilessly as Tea Party republicans targeted their less-extremist wing, and state level Third Parties are an indispensable part of that attack.
What’s the time frame for this?
What will be left of the country by the time any of this works(if it does)? What will the House districts look like?
Who will be allowed to vote by then?
How many Presidents will serve in office who did not win the general election?
Even worse, how many Presidents will serve in office elected by the insanely undemocratic system in place for electing Presidents when the incredibly undemocratic Electoral College fails to elect the President?
I believe that the Democrats’ problems are very basic.
During the recent election, immigration issues were foisted on Democratic candidates which were already having enough problems.
If you have a college degree then your unemployment rate is lower and your income is higher. So you might not see immigration as a problem and helping the downtrodden becomes the priority.
But a large number of working class, especially blue collar Americans, believe that the economy is the most important problem that we have. And they don’t understand how more illegal immigration will help with that problem and deep down they believe that it would make the problem worse. They believe that illegal immigrants do take some jobs that Americans would gladly take. (i.e. construction jobs and even meat processing plant jobs.) The knee-jerk response of the liberals is to say that these beliefs are not true. But they are not convincing.
And the Democrats seem willing to accept national deficits every year, ad infinitum. If not when have they expressed concern? Why didn’t they raise holy hell when President Bush’s tax cuts were proposed and passed in the early 2000s or when his wars were not funded by tax increases?
The Republican belief that stimulating the economy thru tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans is just as inane. But Democrats spend almost no time educating the voter as to the dismal results of the Republican policies since 1980. And the Republicans absolutely detest the national deficits and the excessive national debt, EXCEPT when the borrowing is used to cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans or to fund wars.
Issues like these come up on a regular basis for both the Democrats and the Republicans. They drag along some of the electorate because the other party is worse, at least for that election.
Voters are not stupid. When they vote for Republicans who espouse outrageous beliefs it is because Democrats have also adopted beliefs which the voters also consider outrageous. More voters are labeling themselves as Independents rather that identify with either major party. I made that change in the late 1970s.
In my opinion, a significant part of the electorate has been tacking to and fro since at least 1980. It has been getting more and more difficult as time has gone by. This time they probably voted to accept more Republicans in the federal legislature because the President can always veto bills. (And obviously they wanted less of what the Democrats were offering.)
A larger and larger part of the electorate would rather settle for the status quo than accept either party’s agenda. So gridlock as a good thing.
I believe that thru political polling the parties have split the electorate by finer and finer degrees until the electorate hates one about as much as it hates the other. (A forlorn smile here.)
“More voters are labeling themselves as Independents rather that identify with either major party.”
That is true, but the key word is “labeling”.
The vast majority for them are not independents. The former Reps, when they vote, still vote rep. The former Dems, when they vote, still vote Dem. The number of real independents are miniscule. It just soothes their egos.
“”I like my independent status. I think voting for just one party is a betrayal of my civic duty,” says the 38-year-old maintenance worker from Asheville, N.C.
There’s a lot of talk this election cycle about how important independents will be in deciding the November presidential election and which candidate will win their votes.
But exactly how independent are the self-styled independents?
Wilson, for example, has occasionally voted for Republicans on the local level, but he’s gone for the Democrat in all but one presidential election. The sole exception was 2004, when he says he voted Libertarian. He even went to the polls in his state’s 2008 Democratic presidential primary (and voted for Barack Obama).
He has a lot of company. Research over the years suggests that most independents are what John Petrocik, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, calls “closet partisans.”
“We talk as though these people are strongly susceptible to the short-term influences of campaigning and the economy, and that they are a massive swing bloc in the electorate,” says Petrocik, whose research helped lay the groundwork for the influential 1992 book The Myth of the Independent Voter.
“For the most part, none of those things are true,” he says”
In my home state you can not vote in the primaries if you are registered as an Independent.
I have friends and family who register as one party or the other because then they can vote in that party’s primary. And they say that they always vote the candidate and not the party.
The Republicans also want to believe that Independents are not independent.
But any way you cut it, something has changed.
Before 1980, everyone I knew registered as Democrat or Republican. Now more are registering as Independents. And occasionally independent candidates run for office.
The number of registered Independents is a warning to both political parties.
See this for other counter arguments:
NO question there are some real independents.
Just not many.
The biggest problem Dems have is their constant chasing of the mythological independent.
Waste of time.
In terms of that link, all it shows is whom independents say they voted for, not what independents showed up to vote. Writer totally ignores that crucial part.