Can anyone still take the Democrats seriously as an opposition party after leaders like Senators Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel
(D-Ill.) firmly distanced themselves from Rep.
John Murtha’s (D-Penn.) call on November 17 for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq?
In a recent editorial, The Nation declared that it “will not support any candidate for national office who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq a major issue of his or her campaign. We urge all voters to join us in adopting this position.” (“Democrats and the War”, November 9, 2005 <http://www.thenation.com/doc/20051128/editors>)
The Nation’s editors should be congratulated for taking this stand. But will The Nation and other publications that have opposed the war redirect their support towards candidates and parties that have consistently opposed the war from the beginning and called for withdrawal — such as the Green Party?
Many publications on the left have undermined their own principles by remaining loyal to Democrats who have abandoned theirs. It’s no longer acceptable to endure the accelerating retreat of Democrats, or insist that, since we live in a two-party system, we must continue to support Dems in order to keep Republicans out of power, until a third party insurgence grows strong enough to deserve attention.
Until they begin to promote such an insurgence, such publications are merely helping to maintain the political status quo. And what a dreary status quo it is: Republicans drift towards ever greater extremism, while the mainstream of the Democratic Party more and more ignores its traditional principles and goals — Fascism Lite vs. GOP Lite.
In 2004, many progressive, antiwar, and ecologically minded voters called their votes for Mr. Kerry’s deeply flawed candidacy a necessity, fretting that nothing was scarier than another four years of George W. Bush. The reelected President did not disappoint expectations. But there is something indeed scarier: another century of Bush vs. Kerry.
The Nation has consistently covered and promoted liberal and progressive Democrats, and Greens have likewise been privileged to work along side principled Democrats like Reps. John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, Cynthia McKinney, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and others on everything from opposition to the Iraq War to promotion of national health insurance to the crisis of the right to vote in the wake of the 2000 and 2004 election irregularities. (Let’s not forget that it was Greens and Libertarians, not Democrats, who initiated the vote recounts in Ohio and New Mexico after evidence emerged that Republican officials obstructed votes cast by African Americans and young people and manipulated computer voting outcomes.)
Even progressive Democrats have remained loyal to their corporate-funded corporate-friendly party. Witness the role progressive Dems have played in national elections during the past generation:
outstanding candidates like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, and Mr. Kucinich ultimately support whichever pro-corporate pro-war candidate wins their party’s nomination, herding those who voted for them back into the the fold of a party that has rejected their ideals.
This pattern will repeat in 2008. The Democratic nominee will not be someone who challenged the deceptions behind the decision to invade Iraq or demanded quick withdrawal. The nominee will not be a critic of international trade authorities, an advocate of single-payer national health insurance or repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, or leader of a movement for energy conservation, decreased oil drilling, and other urgently needed measures to curb global warming. He or she will have the full blessing of the CEOs who sit in the skyboxes at the Democratic convention every four years.
As David Cobb, the Green Party’s 2004 presidential nominee, said during his campaign, “The Democratic Party’s presidential primary is where progressive politics goes to die.”
If nominated in 2008, will Hillary Clinton — who helped her husband kill our most recent chance for single-payer in 1992; who, under pressure from credit card lobbies, voted for the Bankruptcy Bill in March, 2001; who calls for 80,000 more U.S. troops in Iraq, who now soft-pedals her earlier support for women’s reproductive rights — get widespread support among progressives? According to The Nation’s editorial pledge, they should not.
But Democrats have also shown a talent for historical revisionism. Significant numbers of Democrats in Congress swallowed the Bush Administration’s deceptions and brushed aside contrary evidence, voting enthusiastically in October 2002 to transfer their constitutionally mandated war power to the White House, and cheering the invasion that killed over 2,000 American servicemembers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Nearly all congressional Dems voted for the USA Patriot Act. Now they’re having second thoughts. As the Iraq venture turns more and more disastrous, we may see eleventh hour conversions among warhawks like Sen. Clinton as the 2008 race heats up. Will The Nation reward such feeble demonstrations of leadership with an endorsement?
As Sam Smith, editor of The Progressive Review, has observed, progressives stuck in the Democratic groove have become like abused spouses unable to get up and leave.
The Nation’s editors have not entirely written off third parties. They have occasionally promoted the Working Families Party, which emerged first in New York and is now branching out in other states. But the Working Families Party, despite some excellent candidates of its own, pursues a strategy that includes cross-endorsement of Democrats in many races and avoidance of challenges against Dems in statewide and national elections. In states like New York, which allows fusion, cross-endorsement serves immediate ballot-status goals. But the Working Families’ lack of independence makes it an ancillary party to the Democratic juggernaut (a winning Democrat-Working Families candidate is recognized publicly as a Democrat) and will ultimately consign it to the same fate as the New Party (now defunct) and the late Tony Mazzocchi’s Labor Party (moribund).
In the mid 1850s, right-thinking Americans faced a national crisis for which the existing system and prevailing political parties offered no humane resolution, and the abolitionist Republican Party was founded. A new, independent party, one that seeks to abolish corporate domination, empire, and reckless ecological policy, is no less a necessity at the beginning of the 21st century.
The establishment of a permanent, independent, noncorporate people’s party with significant numbers of registered voters and a presence in Congress, state legislatures, and other offices in the coming decades would be a tremendous progressive victory. There are lots of obstacles, and it won’t make Democrats happy.
But it is achievable.
If progressives retreat from a third party challenge, and if the direction established under President Clinton continues, we can look forward to decades of dreary Dem vs. Repub races, narrow public debate from which the ideals of progressives are absent and the interests of working people disregarded, and probable further drift to the right within both establishment parties. The Democrat Party will not overcome its addiction to corporate money.
The Nation’s pledge is admirable, but it says nothing about supporting antiwar candidates. Is this a loophole, in order not to offend Democrats? Or is the pledge a serious statement that its support for Democrats can no longer be guaranteed? If the latter, we invite all who oppose the Iraq war and the bipartisan consensus to consider seriously the Green insurgency, support our candidates, and join us in making the Green Party the great political endeavor of the 21st century.
Scott McLarty serves as national media
coordinator for the Green Party of the United States <http://www.gp.org>. He lives in Washington, DC.