The problem keeps popping up in the online liberal/left community: Should we stay within the Democratic party? How far do we allow the party to move to the right without protesting it? Are we pulling the party too far to the left, to the detriment of its general success, as if often claimed by the Republicans and the media? Can we trust the Democratic party to represent our point of view?
As I see it, it's really not so much a matter of trust, it's a matter of the realities of power and how it's manifested in the way our political system is structured.
Our non-Parliamentary political structure allows for only two major political parties at any one time, generally a center-right one and a center-left one. When one party moves too far to one side, as the Democrats arguably may have done in the 70's, and which the Republicans have, without a doubt, done now, the other party must act to take up those that have been left behind by the shift. That means that the hope for the Democratic party is to become generally more centrist, not to become more liberal -- it's the only reasonable way for the party to get back into power.
(But hear me out -- "centrist" does not mean conservative, nor does it mean right-wing, nor is it centrism to acquiesce to abuses of power. In point of fact, the central assumptions of American politics are decidedly liberal ones, so centrists can and should be our allies in the vast majority of our battles against the right wing. Within Left Blogistan, for instance, the widely respected Josh Marshall is essentially a centrist, as is the unfairly maligned Kevin Drum.)
Because our major parties are by definition coalitions between groups with somewhat conflicting priorities, having the Democratic party as a whole broaden its focus somewhat to attract more centrists doesn't mean that it necessarily should lose people at the left end at the same time -- it's an expansion that's required, not a shift. If liberals keep the pressure up on the party, hold their feet to the fire, liberal principles won't be abandoned when the time comes to negotiate between the various conflicting interesting inside the party, but if liberals abandon the party over a perceived shift to the right, that weakens the liberal part of the coalition and reduce the need for others within the alliance to serve the liberal agenda.
Looking askance at the Democratic party because it necessarily will include more centrists is therefore self-defeating for liberals, since no purely liberal party can survive in our system, and no more than two major parties can exist at any one time. (This will ultimately be the reason why the Republican party will not stay so far into the right-wing forever. They will eventually need to re-establish some centrist elements, or else they will disintegrate as a party, leaving room for a new center-right coalition party to take over.)
The Democrats are our only recourse within our system as it exists. During those times when the Democrats are strongly ensconced in power, we can occasionally attempt to influence them via leftist third parties, but the function of those parties (in our system as constituted) is entirely to act as a goad -- they are essentially blackmail to the center-left party saying: you need to pay us more attention, or we'll withdraw our support. That only works, however, with the Democrats firmly in power, when there's less chance of the Republicans taking over (this was Nader and the Green's fundamental mistake and misunderstanding in 2000) -- when the other party is in power, as it certainly the case now, then liberal influence can only be usefully wielded from within the party's Big Tent.
There's also the disturbing fact that the other potential centers of power which should be acting as a break against Bush & Company are, like Congress, in the hands of the right: the Supreme Court and the Press. (The power of the collective individual states is another power center, but it's pretty evenly divided at this time between the parties. There is some hope because Republicans in state-wide offices are necessarily more cognizant of the realities of the world and therefore don't get so lost in ideological fantasies. They may start to act as something of a counter to the wildness of the national Republicans and their supporters, but that hasn't been the case so far.)
The only potential weapon to be wielded against the Republicans from outside the system, is Public Opinion, which is why the liberal blogs are so important, not because they themselves carry much weight, but because they allow liberal response to coalesce around specific issues and concerns, which then serves as the nugget around which Public Opinion can grow.
The sum total of that is that we're in an extremely dangerous situation, as I'm sure everyone on the left understands. We're not only in the grips of the party which represents corporate power, that party is profoundly corrupt as well.
The objection can be made that the Democratic party is also strongly influenced by the needs and desires of corporations, and that the party is also corrupted by corporate money. It's undoubtedly true that the tendrils of the culture of corruption go pretty much everywhere, and there's no doubt that corporate power is pervasive in our system but, on the whole, weighing every aspect of it, it still remains true that the corporate will is more directly and consistently served by politicians of the Republican party then by those of the Democratic party.
It is undeniable that even watered-down and made to serve as best as possible the interests of Big Business, legislation passed by a Democratic legislature and signed by a Democratic President will more likely be beneficial to ordinary citizens than similar legislation controlled by Republicans.
Sure, I absolutely know that sounds like pretty thin gruel and meager justification for continuing to stay within the Democratic coalition, but it is, nonetheless, true. When the Dems are in power we don't take the powerful strides towards social justice and egalitarianism we would prefer, instead we get mincing half-steps, which is frustrating and annoying as hell. But, on the other hand, when the Republicans are in power, we take no steps at all! In fact, they do their damnedest to roll back the clock and take away the little progress we made in the past.
Given our circumstances, given the reality of globalization and the thoroughly entrenched existence of the big corporations, and given the structural political situation laid down by the Constitution, there may be little choice for us but to fight like hell to get a half a loaf, because the alternative is no loaf at all, and perhaps no water to go with it as well. That's, as I said, damn frustrating when we all know that a whole loaf would do a hell of a lot of good, but we have to fight for what we can get now and when the situation changes, fight then for what we can get at that time, which will be different, and perhaps will be more, it depends.
We need to stay strongly connected to the Democratic party in order to preserve the possibility that the party stands for basic liberal principles of governance and social policy. Opening up the Big Tent to more centrists shouldn't threaten that, but it might if liberals abandon the party out of frustration and annoyance and don't stay on to anchor our end of the coalition. That really should be our bottom line, that the Party stands for those liberal principles, even if the Party's politicians don't quite manage to live up to them. What we shouldn't expect is for an expanded Party, with more centrists on board, to necessarily support every plank of the current liberal agenda, as opposed to basic liberal principles. The agenda is something we work for within the party, as a matter of compromise between factions, but the principles are what should be inviolate. To insure that's the case, we have to stick around.
So, my advice to all of us who have been put off by the unwillingness of the Democrats in power to actively fight against the abuses of the current regime -- is to suck it up and support them anyway, but to keep pressing them to stand up for what is right. The time to deal with the slackers within the party is not now, when every Democratic vote is vitally needed, but after a Democratic resurgence (assuming that can be pulled off, which is not a foregone conclusion given the generally poor record of mainstream Democratic political operatives). That's when the billl will come due and certain Democrats will learn the cost of their fecklessness -- that's why I keep lists on my weblog of those who have voted against our vital interests.
(Of course, there are always outliers who may be plucked off, which is why I'm supporting Ned Lamont against Joe Lieberman in Connecticut -- but as has often been said, Lieberman's essential sin is not being too conservative, it's being disloyal and too willing to suck up to Bush.)
Update (4/21):Digby, riffing on Michael Tomasky, has better, more sophisticated thoughts on this subject than mine.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.