The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has been defeathered.
While Democratic Socialists, Greens and other non-Democrats of the American Left might push for an end of capitalism itself and perhaps a near total tearing-down and rebuilding of American society, the “progressive” agenda among liberal Democrats engenders few if any items that reasonable people would call extreme.
Consider the following laundry list:
1. stop the wars and make reasonable cuts in the “defense” budget
2. pass conservation and climate change measures
3. increase subsidies for alternative energy
4. bailout homeowners who are having mortgage problems
5. pass a “robust” public health care option
6. increase graduated tax rates on the wealthy
7. pass legislation to cut back on job exports
8. refuse to accept any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid
9. demand an end to discrimination against gays including repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
10. stop compromising on the liberal agenda without even putting up a fight.
There are many other policy areas that could and should be added to the list. This is pretty mild stuff.
When 2012 rolls around, neither Mr. Obama nor any hand-picked substitute the Democrats might “select” will have fulfilled even an iota of this liberal laundry list. Progressive Democrats, if they stay with the same team, will put a great big zero up on the scoreboard… again. They will be all sound and fury signifying nothing… absolutely nothing. Again, inside the Democratic Party, progressive Democrats have been defeathered.
Some have called for a “primary Obama” movement. I wish them well. Obama isn’t the problem; the party is. Could a progressive candidate make a credible showing on their stage under their rules? Kucinich and Gravel were kicked out of the primary debates in 2008. It just doesn’t seem likely that a primary opponent to Obama can get much traction from inside the party.
But suppose that a third party formed around a narrow core of populist issues? These issues might just finally lead the “nowhere else to go progressive Democrats” out the door. The exit signs, which for far too long have been flashing “Warning: Voting third party will elect Republicans”, this time seem to have a very different message.
“Warning: Even the Democrats have caved in on Social Security.” It’s hard to imagine how any self-respecting progressive could just look the other way and pull the “D” lever yet again. Suppose a candidate like Bernie Sanders, and perhaps a ship-jumping Democrat like Russ Feingold or someone out of the Green Party ranks, teamed up to make this a “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” line in the sand?
And suppose layered on top of the “hands off my Social Security campaign”, a clear, but narrow list of several other key issues became the platform. Add in an anti-war plank, a gay rights plank, and severe penalties for companies that export jobs and you might just be able to build a potent coalition of progressive Democrats, Greens, Democratic Socialists and maybe even some of those who are so alienated by electoral politics that they haven’t voted in years.
The American people are watching in horror as neither party seems to have any answers to give them hope. Obama’s bi-partisan centrism is far more a politically calculated scheme than it is a clear vision to solve the problems we face. Building a third party for 2012 should set as its primary objective the building of a new coalition on the Left and not the promotion of any particular candidate or even the winning of the 2012 presidential election. If electoral viability evolves from the building of a movement behind the leadership of a candidate, great; that should not be the primary objective. The goal is movement building and educating the public about the progressive agenda.
The exit signs are finally flashing the right message to progressive Democrats. Only time will tell if they can overcome their passivity and their inertia and their despair. Think exit signs; think coalitions; think about finally being a “pro” instead of a “con”; think about joining and building a movement that represents your values. The odds are long against us but nothing will ever change if we don’t get to work building an opposition to the status quo parties. 2012 presents the nearly-dead American Left with a real opportunity to jump back into the game if we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make it happen.