Saturday, August 05, 2006

Democrats: why bother?

Not sure about this mousepad.

Two guys whose commentary on the world I really trust are having a disagreement.

Billmon says's my confession: At this point I really don't give a flying fuck whether the Democrats take the House or the Senate back. No, wait, that's not true. The truth is I hope they don't. It wouldn't save us from what's coming down the road, in the Middle East and elsewhere. It wouldn't force President Psychopath to change course or seek therapy. But it would make sure that the "left" (ha ha ha) gets more than its fair share of blame for the approaching debacle.

That may well be the natural role of the Democratic Party in our one-and-a-half party system, but I don't want any part of it any more.

Steve Gilliard fired back:

If you're making minimum wage, you need a Democratic Congress, if you want to be treated with stem cells, if you want to get an abortion.

It's easy to sit back and say nothing will happen to Bush, because nothing will happen to you. But if you're fighting with the VA, it fucking matters. If your kid is in Iraq, it fucking matters. Fuck the shit which comes with Bush, there are people who need the help, even minimal help, a Democratic Congress can provide.

A lot of nice, middle class progressives forget that the fight isn't for them.

Billmon returned to his theme:

Watching the Dems line up to salute the Israeli war machine, hearing the uncomfortable and awkward silence descend on most of Left Blogistan once the bombs started falling in Lebanon, seeing how easily the same Orwellian propaganda tricks worked their magic on the pseudoliberals -- all this doesn't leave too much room for doubt. As long as World War III can be sold as protecting the security and survival of the Jewish state, I suspect the overwhelming majority of Democrats, or at least the overwhelming majority of Democratic politicians, will support it.

And Gilliard shot back:

It is a selfish thing to sit back, say all is lost and go to work in a nice office building. Because what you're saying is that people are going to die, and oh, well, not much we can do for them.

The Iranians can end our Iraqi adventure with a few phone calls. But those tiny differences, the one you don't think can really matter are life and death issues. And I've seen it close up. You want US policy to change towards Israel, we need election finance reform. Throwing up your hands about it solves nothing.

So there we are. I feel as if I had been living in this discussion all my political life.

After all, I work in elections -- or to get people involved in elections. Third parties in my lifetime merely served as platforms for prima donnas; anyone else remember Audie Bock? So I've done my bit for a lot of Democrats.

I'll work for campaign finance reform, but I'm not going to pin my hopes on it: most elections I've actually worked under various political reform packages have shown me that money always finds a way to throw weight around.

So what to do about the spineless, Israel-accomodating Democrats?

I can't really get on board with either Billmon or Steve. There's another fact in all this: at the base level, where folks outside the beltway live, Israel's attack on Lebanon has already opened a partisan divide. According to polls in both the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times, Republicans are saying "bomb, bomb, bomb." Democrats are already, despite being deluged in biased news, moving toward thinking the United States should be working for a cease fire. Now a cease fire is not a just solution, but it sure beats another U.S. war. Supposing we don't quickly get Billmon's version of Armageddon, this divide will only increase as the reality of Israel's war congeals with the extremely unpopular Iraq war.

Republicans think the divide is just fine. They hope to peel some of the Jewish vote from Democrats. And they may get some, though unless Israel's survival is really at stake (not likely), I'd be surprised if much of the Jewish community actually votes based on Israel policy. They just have noisy "leaders" that claim they do.

Meanwhile, I think this growing polarization is good for the Democrats because it will force the empty suits who occupy political office to recognize the real base of the party. And not only the politicians. Much of the Democratic blogosphere is as out to lunch on this as the Beltway crowd. We too sometimes think and write as if Democrats were really middle class liberals. This assumption is simply false. As I emphasized in a recent post, the core of the Democratic party consists of "people of color, the working class and poor, and women heads of households."

This 35-45 percent of the electorate is not invested in wars. Because its children provide the cannon fodder, after five years of Administration belligerence, most of them know better. They'd fight if this country was actually threatened, but Bush has taught them to be suspicious of the peddlers of easy victories over unknown, remote enemies. A Democratic party that stuck up for them would pick up the rest of us, those chatty upper middle class liberals, along the way.

In the end, this isn't about Democrats. It is about democracy with a small "d". I remain committed to work that presumes that the people who are the core constituency of the Democratic party do matter.

I guess this conclusion brings me a little closer to Steve than to Billmon. I refuse to believe that we can desist from the project of getting the majority of the Democratic base into power. A lot of good outcomes will follow as we work to do so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jan:

I couldn't agree more that the core communities you list "people of color, the working class and poor, and women heads of households" are the base of any hope to move justice politics forward in this country. It's one of the reasons I have such little hope in the Democratic Party as a vehicle to move us forward -- its funding base is significantly composed of the same social forces (capital) that power the foundations of which you are so thoughtfully critical.

It's interesting to me that you mention Audie Bock since it seems I read that experience differently than you do. Here's my read: an inexperienced local Green Party was excited to find a candidate (Audie Bock) to run in a race with worries of a spoiler effect (if I remember correctly there was no Republican running). Internal squables among the Dems opened up a space for Audie and the Green Party to win.

Audie got into Sacramento. For a while she tried to be somewhat exemplary: she called up local unions and asked what they wanted her to do instead of waiting for them to call her, etc. All this while the Dems in Sacramento were behaving in alternately sectarian/isolating and seductive/friendly ways.

Then (sigh) she got bought. She took money from Chevron after some Democratic Party hack told her it was the only way to get re-elected. And we (by this I don't mean just Greens) didn't have the capability of providing the emotional and political support necessary to keep anyone with less moral stature than a Wilson Riles or Cynthia McKinney on track.

I heard about this and thought: there goes the Green Party. They (we, but I wasn't so active at the time) will bend on principle cuz its sooo seductive to have SOMEONE, ANYONE in Sacramento (and there you have the siren song of Demo politics in a nutshell). But they didn't. They told her that the Green Party doesn't take corporate money and in fact thinks the influence of corporations like Chevron are a good part of what's rotten in politics whether in Sacramento or in, for example, the Richmond City Council.

She said, basically, grow up and play with the big boys. We said, take a hike. She lost the only active base she ever had (opportunism doesn't always equal tactical savvy, I guess) and the local Green Party stayed true to its principles and learned something about what that might mean/cost.

That and a lot of good local work supporting various social justice grassroots campaigns (and higher profile efforts like those of Camejo) put us in a place where women like Aimee Allison , Jane Kim and Gayle McLaughlin
are now the Green Party's East Bay standard bearers. A huge step forward and still needing more help from folks with the skills, relationships, compassion and smarts that you, Jan, bring to everything with which you engage.

I certainly don't hope with Billmon that the Republicans win but I think the left loses when we pour our energy into Democratic Party campaigns. There was an anti-war movement before the Presidential election cycle and then... well, we couldn't embarrass Kerry who criticized Bush for not having ENOUGH troops in Iraq and being too SOFT on Chavez in Venezuela but thought his plans for Israel/Palestine were just peachy.

I do think Kerry would have given us more space domestically on a number of key fights but I think its reasonable to argue that he would have been as bad or worse than Bush for our struggle to limit empire. And worse of all the "price of the ticket" was to demobilize our incipient movement, to tell people their only meaningful political activity was to vote for someone whom they disagreed with on most of their core values.

And I think white working class folks in the heartland understood the strategy basically correctly: "latte liberals and their radical left fringe are choosing a candidate that they disagree with because they think I'm stupid enough to vote for him and then he'll turn out to be more like them than he says he is (they hope Kerry's lieing and that I'm stupid!). Well I don't know what I think about Bush but I'm going to vote for him just to stick it to those fools who are calling me stupid."

And that's what I kept hearing from far too many of my radical friends who stumped (and taught others to stump) for Kerry: how could the American people be sooo stupid.

I'm not sure exactly how we move forward but I don't believe -- nor do I imagine that you do -- that organizing around a core belief in the stupidity of working class folk is a step in the right direction.

Peace among those who struggle,