Jessica Azulay and I received a fairly substantial response to our recent essay, which was mostly a strategic presentation of what the hell progressives and radicals should do to make a difference in the coming years, starting with a major dose of facing reality. At least one of us responded to pretty much everyone who wrote, often at length, and I thought I’d share an exchange or two here, since I spent all that time typing.
Almost everyone who wrote us was largely positive. Most differed on one or two points (which showed they were thinking — always beats the “I agree 100% letters, though I don’t reject those. No hate mail so far, which is a nice change. The following bit is my response to the most critical letter we received to date…
Hi ****. Thanks for taking the time to respond to our piece. We always appreciate responsible criticism.
> What you have written in your article ‘Waking up to reality’ must bring
> a smile to Karl Rove’s face.
Actually, I imagine the all-out effort for Kerry — even from the left — followed by a decisive defeat of nearly everyone left of John McCain and Colin Powell in one fell swoop, probably brought a bigger smile to Rove’s face than anything else you can imagine. I would bet he got his rocks off seeing almost the entire Left unconditionally surrender itself to the will of a centrist liberal like John Kerry, without even placing demands on him.
> Why are Republicans always so happy to
> see Ralph Nader running? The answer is simple- a divided opponent is
> always so much weaker and easier to defeat.
Actually, they are happy only because third parties are not a viable force in this country. If Ralph Nader or a similar candidate had 1/3 of the electorate behind him, you can bet the Republicans would be very much upset that candidate was running. So too would our other enemies: the Democrats.
Why do you think the Democrats are so upset when Nader runs? The answer is simple — he makes them look like a bunch of centrist do-nothings who stand for nobody-knows-what, at which point their only chance is their pre-ordained claim to electoral viability and to not being Republican — the former of which they no longer possess, by the way, and the latter they possess largely in name only.
> 1. If the Democrats really should be rejected- why are you apparently
> so upset?- after all they were the only ones who could defeat Bush and
> cronies like it or not. If your argument is true, why should we vote
> at all?
We are upset because the entire Left just stuck its head in the sand and crossed our fingers and hoped the Democrats could be our vehicle against the Republican juggernaut. Including ourselves. But we learned that even with our support and the strongest imaginable mobilization they could muster, they still lost. We’re upset because, like you, we thought the Democratic machine in 2004 was the one thing that could beat the conservatives, and it proved unable to do so.
Let’s make sure we have a backup in 2008, lest we repeat 2004. This time there was an argument for it. But next time we have nothing to lose by changing paths, since the Democratic path is a gauranteed loser.
> 2. Aren’t you just rejecting the notion of a strategic alliance-
> namely with the 56 million people who ‘condescended’ to vote Democrat.
> Aren’t you just rejecting their point of view, aren’t they slightly
> left of center and exactly the sort of people come election time we
> should be making strategic alliances with.
If you think the 56 million people who voted for Kerry actually like him, you might want to think again. We are appealing to them, not rejecting them. Many of them are not Democrats at all, and many of those who checked that box on their voter registration form just did it for lack of a better option.
We don’t intend to reject Democrats, just the Democratic Party. There is a world of difference. We want people who bear the label “Democrat” to realize it means “sell-out” and to abandon it.
> Yes the Democrats have sold out and opt for the pale imitation of the
> Republican position and run the ‘at least we are not Republicans’
> argument. This has been the tragic story of all post WW2 Democrat
> administrations. But if you think about it, this is really a sign of
> total weakness- the Republicans have them running scared. This is
> basically because they have no popular base and are forced to feed off
> the scraps of corporate America which prefers Republican
> administrations anyway.
I could not agree more with that. I fail to see how it bolsters your argument in the slightest.
> We have to recognize that institutions are the sum of their parts- lets
> think outside the box- join mainstream politics and transform the
> institution that has the default capacity to talk directly to middle
> America. In other words put a bit of spine into it, otherwise if it
> loses next time lets not hear so much complaining.
How do you put spine into it from the inside? Dean and his followers couldn’t do it, and I think they had the best opportunity imaginable.
Maybe the way to do it is to threaten abandonment. If you want votes from the third (or half or whatever) of the party that is more progressive than John Kerry, you’d better tack this list of progressive positions onto your platform, and you’d better not pander to the far Right on “moral values issues” just to get votes you aren’t going to get anyway. Then you can get our support. But not by immitating the Republicans and abandoning us.
The problem is, they’ll decide to abandon us (which is the default position, by the way), long before they decide to appeal to us. John Kerry just spent 6 months appealing to the 6% of the population pollsters identified as swing voters by trying to guess which of Bush’s stances he could adopt in order to get them to swing his way. He would have needed the overwhelming majority of those voters, it turns out, to win the election. Instead he could have appealed to the 45+% of the population that doesn’t vote, a tiny portion of whom could have given him victory. But the Democrats never look in that direction, and there is no indication that they ever will. When Dean did it, they spit him out.
> Just think about what a popular movement can do for a political party-
> eg the evangelical vote for the Republicans. As a result the Bush
> administration is now beholden to them. If the social movement got
> behind the Democrats then their is no reason why a similar phenomenon
> could not occur.
Jeff, you must not have been looking the past year. Almost the entire Left *was* behind the Democrats. And what would Kerry have been beholden to us on if he had won office? Nothing. Because we made no demands of him, and we offered unconditional support.
But even with all of our efforts, Kerry still failed. So, really, it is silly to talk about making him win us over, and I should probably shut up about it. He had us this time and still face-flopped. It’s time to regroup and head in a different direction. Repeating the mistakes of 2004 is an enormous waste of time, money, morale and energy. People who spent the last year feverishly organizing for Kerry, in retrospect could have spent that time at the beach. No alternative insfrasturcture was built up. Even the polling mobilization failed, especially among young people, who probably decided they had too many ideals left to sell themselves out for someone who was gearing up to sell them out three months later.
> If the democrats rely on 5-10 million antiwar voters (this is a new
> phenomenon really) to win an election they’ll think twice about
> imperial wars won’t they?
Throughout the post-WWII era, Dems have always thought twice about imperial wars. And on that second thought, they usually go for it anyway. The problem is Kerry didn’t rely on antiwar voters — he scorned us by:
- saying he wanted to carry on Bush’s policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine;
- orgasmically proclaiming he will hunt and kill terrorists wherever they are, as if the world is our personal Wild West;
- telling us and the world he would never give the UN veto power over US interventionism and invasions (which it legally has according to documents his predecessors signed);
- insisting he thought presidents deserved blank check authorization to decide on imperial wars even when they are lying to get it;
- never defining his own criteria for engaging in invasion or intervention!
And I am not willing to waste the next 4 years of my life in hopes that the Democratic elite (who took the primaries away from the Dean campaign, which was probably as good as we can hope for next time around), will somehow fail to steal the next primaries from the “new base” of the Democratic Party. The Party Elites proved they are more afraid of a real liberal like Dean (who is still pathetic) than they are of a real neocon like Bush. And if you think they spent 200+ years cultivating their position in control of the Party just to see it taken away at the grassroots, I’m afraid you are mistaken.
I wish you were not.
But there is real work to do, because we are at very serious risk of suffering under a conservative regime (with majority electoral support and majorities in Congress and the Sup. Court) for the next 8+ years. That is a lot of room for them to decimate our society while we try to organize people to act (fuitilely) on their own behalf every 4th year.
> I would be interested to hear your reply.
I really appreciate the opportunity to explain. I’d be happy to hear your response to the above.
In Sincere Solidarity,