While not all that is said is true, not all that is truth is told.
It’s difficult for progressive candidates to present themselves unless they run as Democrats. Many do so sustaining hopes that the party might be transformed into a progressive force. While the Democrats pretend to be a popular party – they insist on referring always to the “middle class” and only on rare occasions to the poor – the priorities of the Democrat Party leadership would be threatened if their own mass constituency became more active. Principled members continue to feel that they must support the party on the grounds that there is nowhere else to go. By Victor Wallis (July 29, 2013)
Nowhere else to go: The Dilemma of the “Liberal Class” in the United States
For many years, the Left in the United States has agonized over the role played in national politics by the Democrat party (DP). We all recognize that the top leadership of the DP is thoroughly entwined with corporate interests. But the electoral system makes it difficult for progressive candidates to present themselves unless they run as Democrats. Many do so, and some (not many) are successful. The existence of a sector of progressive DP legislators has sustained hopes that the party might eventually be transformed into a progressive force, independent of capitalist domination.
I have never viewed this as a plausible scenario. While progressives may be allowed to represent districts where popular forces are strong and well organized, the national DP leadership is firmly in the camp of capital. Even a slight deviation from the corporate capitalist consensus is unacceptable. This was shown in the experience of the 1972 presidential election, when antiwar and popular forces joined hands to secure the nomination of the liberal senator George McGovern. The big contributors shifted their support to the Republicans, McGovern was crushingly defeated, and the movement behind him was discredited within the party.
The symbiosis of Democrats and Republicans is deep-rooted. The more liberal or left-leaning Democrats may challenge the corporate agenda on domestic issues, such as supporting popular demands for public services or for raising the minimum wage, but only very rarely do any of them challenge the dominant consensus on issues of foreign and military policy.
Many voters feel that they are locked into support for the DP because of the extreme nature of the Republican agenda, whose triumph they understandably wish to avoid at all costs. Thus the main “virtue” of the DP is the purely negative one of being – or seeming — “less bad” than the Republicans. The resulting dynamic is one in which DP politicians, right up to the presidential level, profit from the blatantly anti-popular stances of the Republicans (e.g., their wish to privatize social security), while at the same time calculating that since the Republican alternative will be so unpopular, the Democrats can get away with being only slightly less anti-popular in their own program.
Of course, this is no way to build up any kind of enthusiastic mass following, but such enthusiasm – and the associated activism – is precisely what the DP leadership does not want. They have consistently preferred to lose elections rather than to support measures that would strengthen the electoral base of the party (which is more progressive in its policy-preferences than are most DP legislators, let alone presidents).
The clearest expression of this stance is the party’s unwillingness to campaign aggressively for such proposals as a single-payer program for national healthcare. By opting instead for a confusing arrangement dependent on the private insurance industry, they disappointed their popular constituency, losing much of its support. This was a factor in the Democrats’ loss of their majority in Congress in 2010 and their inability to recover it in 2012.
Another key expression of the Democrats’ permanent partnership with the Republicans – even at the cost of electoral successes – is the matter of voting rights. Voter-suppression began to gain notoriety in the decisive Florida election in 2000. It has only grown in importance since that time. The forms it takes are many and changing. They range from computer-fraud to voter-intimidation, to an undersupply of polling facilities in certain districts, to the disenfranchisement of former prisoners (now totaling almost 6 million) to the newly fashionable tactic of imposing ever-stricter identification-requirements at the polls.
Such practices disproportionately affect the poorest sectors of the population, especially in zones of high African American and Latino residence. What this means is that voting is most restricted among the very sectors that would be most likely to support progressive agendas. It is well established, though not widely spoken of, that there is no Constitutional right to vote in the United States. Particular states may discriminate against categories of voters in any manner that is not explicitly prohibited in the Constitution. The application of voter-suppression clearly diminishes the relative strength of Democrats compared to Republicans, and yet it has not been the subject any major DP campaign.
While the Democrats thus pretend to be a popular party – although they insist on referring always to the “middle class” and only on rare occasions to the poor – the priorities of the DP leadership would be threatened if their own mass constituency became more active.
What journalist Chris Hedges refers to as the “liberal class” is stuck in this situation. Although its more principled members often echo a radical critique of the powerholders, they continue to feel that they must support the DP on the grounds that there is nowhere else to go.
The electoral regime remains at the forefront of people’s attention most of the time. This is regrettable, because although we cannot ignore the electoral options, we must also keep reminding ourselves that our principal task is to redefine them, so that they become real. This will require that we focus our attention on building an independent popular movement which recognizes from the outset the unhealthy grip in which the country has been held by the dominant duopoly. ###