A Call For A Left Realpolitik In 2004

Can we have our cake and eat it too?

Can the left go into 2004 with anything more than a shotgun marriage with the party of Clinton? This proposal suggests that they can.

Dump Bush at all costs?

Defeating George Bush as an objective for the left is all but taken for granted. Although straightforward and scarcely in need of rehearsal, it is worth stating the list of reasons that this has become an almost singular objective: the “low intensity war” on labor; extreme rightwing control over the judiciary; with the Iraq invasion, the interweaving of economic globalization with the military and political globalizing of the American state (aka Empire); the right’s mopping up of the welfare state and civil rights and civil liberties protections; the continuing war on the environment and regulations that protect it; the “faith-based” initiative, promotion of educational vouchers; the endowing of fetuses with human rights; oligopolistic control over the media and communications systems. Taken together, this list suggests that Bush is not only trying to “repeal the twentieth century” but also the two preceding centuries, obliterating the separation of church and state and, with the Republican head lock on all branches of government (and the media), the separation of powers.

So where does this leave the left’s earlier aspirations to build a progressive political alternative to the pre-2000 duopoly? For many, the current situation means that we should (1) support whomever the Democrats choose (2) not make demands on the Democrats that may alienate the “center.” If there is consideration of actual left strategy, at best, a number of hybrid solutions are proposed:

– run a number of state level campaigns; don’t run for President

– campaign in secure states, not in swing states

– negotiate with the Democrats on their platform; ensure that includes some of the things we want

– support only candidates who pass a peace-based litmus test

Given the high stakes following from the Bush interregnum, Democrats are being handed a blank check. Even races for the House and Senate will be subjected to the same logic: voting for a Green will deliver the seat/state, House/Senate to Republicans.

To be sure, there is still a small number who argue that a Democrat will be no better than Bush, let’s run our own ticket. After all, it was Clinton who bombed Serbia, rained Cruise missiles down on Afghanistan, Iraq and the Sudan, campaigned for NAFTA, mooted FTAA, bungled health care reform, introduced the WMD scam with respect to Iraq, passed the Terrorism Bill, introduced affirmative action-lite… (and similar complaints can be made about Jimmy Carter).

Although I am viscerally and intellectually sympathetic to the above position, Bush’s extremism leaves me asking: Is there a solution that dumps Bush but leaves us stronger and independent of the Democrats? I believe that there is, but first, what are the problems with the hybrid solutions already described?


What’s wrong with the hybrids?

These leave us to the mercy of an electoral system rigged against small political parties. Contesting safe states leave us without the opportunity to make a difference. In short: all the effort, no possibility of winning, no impact on the political system. Worse, in a tightly contested House and Senate, we may end up throwing those elections to the Republicans.

Getting the Democrats to change their platform to accommodate leftist demands may have symbolic value. But it stops there. It is unlikely that a 2004 platform will provide any guidance for party’s policy agenda.

Not running is perhaps worse: We give up on developing the human capital, skills, presence needed to develop an alternative in the long term. Furthermore, in the absence of a real campaign, and outside of electoral cycle we fail to do things that would strengthen us in the long term. We abandon the political arena for other social movement activity. For example, really interesting proposals that we should have taken up right at the beginning of the Bush reign were never explored.

A way out

The left has options because it has power. The U.S. electoral system prevents the power of the left’s numbers-i.e. the votes of those who would support a left platform if it had a chance of winning-from being measured. As a result, the left’s power is expressed in its role as a potential spoiler-its ability to deny Democrats the presidency and perhaps key Senate and House seats.

The left also has power in 2004 because the Democrats are at a turning point. With Republican control of fantastic amounts of campaign money, both Houses, the White House, and the 2000 electoral makeweight, the Supreme Court, Democrats risk becoming a permanent opposition party.

Today the Democrats need a left. Only a genuine left flank will help Democrats overcome claims that they are the far-left.

The Democrats-or at least those not cognitively challenged amongst them-are ready for a meaningful deal.


What will a deal look like?

A good deal will allow each side to assume responsibility for its own electoral fate: neither will influence the messages of the other; neither will cede their imprimatur to the other.

It will also foster practical cooperation between the deal-making parties while punishing non-cooperation. In other words, the goods to be delivered must be concrete, verifiable and immediate. Promises of future rewards or reforms will not cut it.

The deal should also be proportional to the actual contributions of each side. Anything else will seem opportunistic and the beneficiaries mere extortionists.

A deal should energize each side’s partisans, providing them with the inspiration to rouse their bases, mobilize their resources and get out the vote.

Here’s a deal that may meet these criteria: the left agrees not to run a candidate for president, and instead to vigorously campaign for Democratic candidate, be it Lieberman, Clark, or Sharpton. In return, Democrats agree not to run in House races in 5 to 10 safe districts in swing states, providing support to left-Green or other-candidates.

This deal will energize the left to campaign in swing states and get out the vote for the Democratic presidential and senatorial candidates. It ensures that the left will receive congressional representation that is roughly proportional to the votes they would have received if that ran a candidate in the two contests. Both sides are can monitor the other’s compliance with the deal.

For the left, it will provide an opportunity to construct a majoritarian strategy and gain experience with electoral campaigns. It also allows the left concentrate its resources and deploy its national energies in a focused way.

It will also allow the Democrats to concentrate resources on more highly contested seats in the swing states, without having to worry about its left flank.

Clearly, candidate-centered elections-as opposed to party-driven elections-provide a challenge to this kind of deal. After all, how do the Democrats suggest to aspiring candidates that, for the benefit of the party as a whole, they not run in sure-win districts? Furthermore, despite their broad national presence, the Greens neither represent the entire left, nor do they speak with one voice. The prospects of a deal, together with a sober consideration of the stakes may assist in the deal making process.

A deal that may unite the left, as well as some smaller right-wing parties, would be for the Democrats to help sponsor, and support referenda/ballot measures in swing states that enable instant-runoff voting, perhaps with the title, “Making All Votes Counts.” This deal requires less party discipline than our-votes in exchange for seats deal; it also presents itself as a less explicit quid pro quo and therefore more difficult for the Republicans to characterize as a “dirty deal” (a threat faced by the first suggestion).

Other more creative deals may be possible, unfortunately, right now, it appears that the Democrats are likely to have their cake (no left competition) and eat it (no concessions to the left).

Here’s why the left should have an interest in making a deal. Democrats in power quickly dispel any illusions about their allegedly progressive agenda. This provides an opportunity to forge a leftist movement and build the fledgling left political formations. The converse-Republicans in power-leaves the left’s constituencies hostage to the Democrats behind which they unify to attenuate the right-wing policies.

A deal with the left will bring out swing state voters who may have never voted before, or those who may never have wanted to vote in this election. It can increase the number of votes for a Democratic presidential ticket and tap the energies of the left in a way that Democrats never can.

Above all else, it lets the Democrats take responsibility for the election. It removes the stigma for the left, whose only role is that of spoiler, whose only duty is not to be.

Without a deal we will go to polls or stay at home, and in either case remain irrelevant to the political future of the country. In four years we will have the same vacuous choices that we have today, had in 2000, or even several decades ago.


Getting to the deal

“Given the alternative of a Bush presidency,” a Democrat may ask, “why should we do anything to get the left’s support? They’ll vote for us anyway.” This may well be true. The only way to get a Democrat to accede to the deal, is to maximize the left’s power as a spoiler. It should begin a serious run for the presidency (and other important seats) and it should concentrate its energies on the swing states. This would allow the left to develop the infrastructure for serious political campaigns and provide Democrats with an incentive to this constructive about deal making with the left.

Who willl broker the deal? There are certain Democrats who both represent large blocs of the Democratic base and have demonstrated that they have the acumen to either force deals on the party or defect from it. They include the well-understood Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Both have strong interests in brokering a deal the gives the Democrats a shot at the White House. From the Green side, Ralph Nader appears to be most interested in seeing a Democratic candidate succeed, even at the expense of his (Nader’s) relevance.

A successful deal will leave the Greens stronger, it may even put a Democrat into the White House. Without a deal, the left will have to face the almost certain victory of the $200 million Republican ticket and also be left with little to show for the past few years.
With a deal, the Greens will, for the first time, have a national platform from which to speak to the majority of voters who support many of the kinds of things proposed by the Greens. And history may begin again.

Dump Bush, Vote Green!


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