For those manning the barricades at DailyKos, fending off the DLC and OFA hordes, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Horrible news arrives on a daily basis about the latest betrayal by the Administration, Congressional Democrats or the party apparatus, but discussion of these outrages is blocked or at least blunted by well orchestrated legions of loyalists.
Cassiodorus referred me yesterday to a link about “democratic centralism,” a Leninist, top-down approach to political organization that brooks no dissent once the majority has made a decision. He noted the mind-numbing consistency of the loyalists’ message:
1. Praise Obama.
2. Cite Obama’s big resume.
3. Denounce all of Obama’s critics.
All this has made me even more skeptical about the value of conventional politics in the United States, and confirmed my view that the Democratic Party is worthless.
What’s interesting is how the same thing is taking place in the Republican Party. A Naked Capitalism link led me to David Frum’s lament about purges taking place in Republican think tanks. Frum himself was a victim earlier in the year when he was fired by AEI, but today he’s writing about Cato purges:
The summer’s biggest inside-Washington story was the abrupt and simultaneous departure of co-authors Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson from the Cato Institute.
Lindsey was Cato’s vice president for research; Wilkinson a Cato scholar. They were working together on a book arguing for a new political approach fusing libertarianism and liberalism – a concept that Cato has previously endorsed on issues like drug control, foreign policy, and sexual freedom.
Frum then despairs about the effects of these purges on Republican policy initiatives should they gain the majority in either the House or Senate:
Right-of-center think tanks claim to do objective research that can be trusted by all policy players, regardless of point of view. They boast that they care about ideas, not parties or personalities. They aspire to set a broader agenda for the right, in lieu of the narrow demands of K Street special interests.
These claims look increasingly false. The right-of-center world is poorer for the dessication of the institutions that used to act as the right’s brains.
We are likely soon to have a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, maybe the U.S. Senate too. And what will that majority do? The answer seems to be: They have not a clue. Unlike the Republican House and Senate majorities of 1994, unlike the Republican Senate majority of 1980, these new majorities will arrive with only slogans for a policy agenda. After staging a for-the-record vote against Obamacare, and after re-enacting the Bush tax cuts, it will be policy mission accomplished.
There’s little other policy inventory, because the think tanks have not done their proper work. Without a think tank agenda, the new majority will rapidly decline into a brokerage service for K Street.
What we see are the two major political parties both engaging in an intense effort to purge those interested in policy, those who dissent from party political strategies and those who care more about ideology or principle than loyalty.
The rationale for the purges given by the parties’ leadership and its spokespersons to party members is that a great battle for the future of the nation, if not Western Civilization, lies ahead. Only if “we” win can the world remain safe for the “middle class” or the “free market,” for LGBTs or Christians, for African Americans or whites, for freedom of religion or a Christian nation.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The policies of the two parties are indistinguishable because, as Frum points out, the source for policy for both parties is the same: K Street as it symbolizes the international, Capitalist Corporatocracy. Imagine that you have arrived from Mars and been told a little about the history of the Democratic and Republican parties and the ideologies around which they supposedly coalesce. Then consider how you would answer if you were asked which of the following enacted programs, foreign policy, military strategies and legislation were supported by which party:
Medicare Part D
2010 Health Insurance Reform
No Child Left Behind
It is all but impossible to identify any of these as distinctively Republican or Democratic because the ideological and policy distinctions between the parties, minimal as they were in the pre-Reagan, pre-DLC period, have now shrunk to almost zero. Note that you were asked only about those things that actually became law or were adopted as policy by the Executive branch, not those things that were advocated by either party but never enacted. Republicans have benefited from the support of the Christian Right, but what part of the Christian Right’s agenda has ever become law? At most, they have seen a little tinkering around the edges of abortion restrictions, some of which did not survive court challenges, something fully expected by the Republicans who enacted the bills. Democrats have made many promises to Labor over the past two decades. What of it has ever become law? Immigration issues are treated similarly by both parties. Each party panders to different interest groups, but the status quo that satisfies elites, is carefully maintained.
Both parties tell their members that absolute party loyalty is required because the effects of losing to “the other side” would be so catastrophic. Yet it is all but impossible to determine substantive differences between what is enacted by Republicans when they are in power from what Democrats do when they are in control.
The two parties do differ greatly in how they portray themselves and each other to the general public. Republicans are consistent in their internal and external messages. They tell both their membership and the wider electorate that Democrats are traitorous socialists who must be defeated and defeated completely. The Democrats, however, are completely inconsistent. They send out internal messages to their own members that Republicans constitute a grave threat to constitutional democracy, peace and the rights of minorities, but they follow a policy of reconciliation and bipartisanship when dealing with the opponents in Congress or in the press. It’s no wonder that the two parties are often compared to the Globetrotters/Generals “competition” where one team is masterful and always victorious while the other is a perennial weakling and loser. The only difference is that there are times when the public is so dissatisfied with how things are going that the “loser” party must step up, absorb the “throw-the-bums-out” votes of the majority and assume power for a while. Once in power, however, they immediately revert to their Generals’ schtick and prove as ineffective and bumbling as ever.
If there is any battle left in electoral policy, any hope for change, it lies either in the emergence of third parties or in the battle for control within the existing major parties. Inter-party politics, if confined to the Republicans and Democrats, is meaningless. The behavior of the Obama Administration has confirmed that once and for all for anyone on the Left, just as the behavior of the Bush Administration confirmed it for conservatives like Frum and Bartlett.
The are several questions that Leftists need to ask themselves. How they answer those questions will determine how they focus their individual energies in the coming hard times. That Leftists answer these questions in different ways is not a bad thing, however. There’s nothing wrong with concentrating energies in different venues if we do so in solidarity with one another and with strategies that complement each other’s efforts.
1) Do you believe conventional electoral politics at any level offers any opportunities for change in the coming decade?
2) Do you believe conventional politics at the national level offers any opportunities for change in the coming decade?
3) If you answered “yes” to #1 and/or #2, do you believe that third party efforts or a takeover of existing Democratic Party structures offers better opportunities?
Depending on how those questions sort us out, we could find people working for change in a number of different ways:
1) organizing communities to become more humane, green, resilient and self-reliant and eschewing party politics altogether;
2) working to take over the local Democratic Party with the goal of preservingimproving public transportation and education;
3) building a regional third party movement to run a economic populist against a Blue Dog Democrat and a Lunatic Republican in a southern Congressional district;
4) coordinating a national movement to change the Democratic Party rules for nominating a Presidential candidate.
Ironically, even DailyKos can be used a tool in some of these efforts because the FAQs explicitly call for the site to be an “anti-Establishment” force in the Democratic Party.
Any effort to re-build a Left in this country must begin with the acknowledgment that the “competition” between the two major parties has no substance. It even matters little to the party elites because they benefit as long as they play their designated role. It is mere distraction, a way to absorb the ever growing dissatisfaction with the American social, economic and political systems.
In my view, there is no definitive answer to those questions posed above. We can argue about them, but at this point, it may be best just to come up individually with the best answer we can and agree that we can disagree and still be comrades. If we find that a particular strategy is working, great. More focus can be placed on it. If something appears fruitless, it can be abandoned.
One thing is clear. Continuing to do what most of the Left has been doing is insanity.