Monday, February 9, 2009

The Third-Party Delusion and the Need for a Mass Movement for Progressive Change

The Third-Party Delusion and the Need for a Mass Movement for Progressive Change By Dave Lindorff up on

The problem with this piece is revealed if you carefully read Mr. Lindorff's tortured logic. He starts by saying that he routinely hears many people say he's nuts when he calls for pressure on Democratic politicians. Then he goes on to bash 3rd parties throughout the rest of the piece. Easy to see why the Democrats at CommonDreams put it at the top of the page.

But, while he manages to bash any hopes of a 3rd party for several hundred words, he fails to provide any alternative. Mr. Lindorff is one of the people who spent much of the last three years trying to 'pressure' the Democratic politicians into impeachment. How'd that work out for ya? Seems like the Democratic politicians just laughed in his face, that is if they paid any attention to him at all.

The key is to realize is that there is no mechanism for people to try to apply any pressure on Democratic politicians. The Democrats have chosen to build their party entirely on money. They collect huge amounts of money in each election cycle now. They've gone from the party that was always outspent by the Republicans to one that massively outspent the Republicans in the last election. The Obama campaign alone raised over $700,000,000.00.

If you want to pressure the Democrats, one way to do it would be to be a major contributor and threaten to cut off the money. The Democrats certainly listen to their major contributors. Just to give one example, the major contributors to the Democrats include the insurance and health care agencies. So, you see one critic of single-payer health care after another appointed to this administraion.

But, since we all know that we are not the rich moneybags that currently fund the Democratic party, just exactly are the other means to 'pressure' the Democrats? There's only one other way to get their attention. Threaten their ability to win elections. That's the real power over any politician. Threaten their ability to win elections.

There are two ways of doing this. One is to challenge the Democrats within their own party in primaries. Of course, the problem is that the current leaders of the Democrats set the rules for those contests. And they set the rules such that the rich, and the candidates backed by the rich, have huge advantages. There are no campaign funding limits or public financing schemes in internal Democratic party races that are any stricter than federal law. None. The Democrats could set rules in their own races outlawing say contributions bigger than $100. But it ain't gonnna happen. The rich own this party and they intend to keep it.

So, what have we seen since 2000? We've seen precious few real primary challenges inside the Democratic Party. The Democrats appoint well-funded candidates, and if there dares to be a challenger to them, we see 1) pressure on the challenger to withdraw, 2) attempts to take away the challenger's funding and support, 3) major support from national Democratic sources to the candidate for the rich in the primary, 4) no sense of neutrality at all from the national Democrats, and 5) elections often run by well connected Democrats who control local voting boards.

At best it is a very uphill struggle. Its playing a rigged game in a rigged casino. And so far its been very unsuccessful. And then there are the quixotic campaigns like Kucinich that seem designed to go absolutely nowhere, but suck up tons of progressive money and effort.

Nope, if you want to 'pressure' the Democrats, the way to do it is in the General Elections running as a UNIFIED opposition third party. The key is that 'success' in 'pressuring' the Democrats can be had for much fewer votes. All you need is for the Democrat to lose. We don't have to beat them ourselves. Just make them lose.

Think for an instant if the Democrats were looking ahead to the 2010 elections and seeing either 1) a number of internal primary challengers, or 2) 3rd party candidates running campaigns in key districts across the country. The leaders of the Democratic party would just laugh at the first. But the second would cause them to be taking 'safe' races and having to mark them as 'competitive' or 'losing' races. This then would mean they would be taking seriously the notion of losing control of the House. And if its the left that is doing this with the 3rd party, well then congratulations, you've successfully 'pressured' the Democrats. They'll come to you asking what you want, and for the first time in a generation we would see the corporate Democrats picking up progressive causes.

Mr. Lindorff is correct in one way. We need to build a large populist opposition movement. But there is no reason on earth why this can't be done as a part of also building a 3rd party. Heck, its a pre-requisite for success in any case, not some sort of bizarre 'either-or' choice like Mr.Lindorff suggests. He appears to be saying that we need to give up all hopes at political power to build some movement beyond politics that will somehow then change politics and political power in this country. That of course is nonsense.

If you want change, we must build political power. You don't do that outside of politics. You don't do that by running hopeless primary campaigns in a game rigged by the Democrats such that money always wins. The only way to do it is to take the Democrats head on in close races they feel then need to win.


Lyle said...

There were a large number of replies to this piece by Lindorff on Commondreams. You know there is something up when Joe Hope agrees with him. The real story of yesterday got buried.

Lyle said...

What could be worse than waterboarding?

"The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, "is very far down the list of things they did," the official said."