A piece Ted Rall wrote at Alternet entitled, “At Some Point Progressives Need to Break Up with the Democratic Party,” created a small stir on the Left. It was not the first piece of its kind. It probably won’t be the last. This particular essay was recently getting passed around social media again after months. It is a reminder of the tensions that exist between those who want to abandon the party as a lost cause and those who continue to support even as some might agree it has become too corporate-controlled or that it fails to stand up for liberal policies enough.
I have bad news for Mr. Rall and the rest of the disillusioned Progressives. You don’t just get to walk away from the Democratic Party like it’s your abusive partner, because that is the wrong metaphor to use. You can’t just walk away, because this isn’t a romantic relationship; this is a parental relationship. The party is your neglected, problem child. You’ve been sitting it in front of the TV and blowing it off by throwing money at it every election cycle and then expecting your obligations to raise your party right have ended there. Meanwhile, mom (Liberals/Centrists) and dad (Progressives) have been fighting for years and can’t turn their attention away from each other long enough to realize they have a neglected child. Or maybe there’s some other dysfunction.
Maybe you went door-to-door for Obama or made some phone calls. It took your time. You can’t be accused of giving the party a pat on the head once every four years. Other people are sitting on their butts, refusing to engage in the process at all, right? Yep. You are right. But, it was still too little. The Right is outparenting you. Worse, the country is littered with abusive and neglectful parents. If they turn around and complain they now have a problem child, do we offer them sympathy? Throughout college in the early 1990s, I worked my way through waitressing in Iowa. Every Wednesday night, the Winneshiek County Republicans met in their reserved spot in the basement of our restaurant to organize, plan, and plot. Eventually, I grew concerned that I didn’t know where the Winneshiek County Democrats met each week, because maybe I’d like to join them, but I didn’t know where and when. I quickly learned they had no such meeting. I double-checked at this writing to see if the Republicans were still meeting more than 20 years later. They are. Same place. Same time, every week.
The Tea Party was able to swarm the Republican Party and take over because they showed up once for a protest, and then they kept showing up for meetings. With a heritage of community organizing on our side, we should be putting the conservatives to shame, but ever since they became “suburban warriors” in the 1960s, they have taken the lessons of organizing to heart often with greater acumen than progressives or liberals. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with the organizing methods of the Right, their tactics are now the ones worth studying. Progressives showed up for the Occupy protests, and there has been very little political organizing to come of it.
Shouting to anyone who will listen and finding far too few people listening is Thom Hartmann, progressive author and radio/TV host. He has been trying to describe the way in from the wilderness for the Left for years. His steps always begin with retaking the Democratic Party. This could easily be thought of as getting back control over a wayward child. FreedomWorks, the astroturfing Tea Party, Koch brothers’ organization, even provides the same process Thom advocates for taking over a political party on their website. The process involves taking over your party precinct.
Do you have to be a Progressive to think the Democratic Party is broken? No way. Liberals and Centrists are not blind to the corporatization of their party, nor do they fail to see where it has gone off the rails. Hartmann comments on research data by Gilen and Page,
“Ordinary citizens…have little or no independent influence on policy at all.” They go on to say that the wealthy elite have, “a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy…more so than any other set of actors,” while powerful interest groups do pretty well too, with, “a large, positive, highly significant impact on public policy.”
In a nutshell, everyday citizens are not affecting policy as they should be. However, when a child misbehaves, you have to look to the parents for the source of the problem. In the case of the Democratic Party, the Left has shirked a great deal of the actual heavy lifting of party participation, leadership, and development. This neglect of the party might come from the schism between the Progressives and Liberals on the Left. Or in some political models, that split is between the individualists and the communitarians. It is difficult to say what makes a political wing lose control of its party, but in a democracy, the people ought to be able to flush out the bad politicians and replace them with a Congress of the Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanders of the world.
We need to figure out why the Left isn’t making use of the tools available to it to retake the Democratic Party. Is it because we already broke into factions, long before the Republicans had their present day meltdown? We have to ask whether liberally-inclined people feel they can air out the grievances between the factions on the Left without disintegrating into the vitriol and dysfunction we see our compatriots on the Right consumed with as they self-destruct into infighting.
What we see from the Emo-Prog and Obamabot factioning doesn’t bode well. As we’ve been taking out the popcorn to watch the drama on the Right, we have to remember there remains a nasty undercurrent on the Left. What happened is that policy discussions went out the window entirely as the whole issue became about whether you supported Obama. As a Democrat, it has not been okay to question the President’s policies because that moved you into the Progressive faction. In that faction, there was nothing the Democrats could do right.
If Hillary Clinton is elected President, write it down, this entire dynamic will happen again. If you are not supporting all of Hillary’s policies in this not-so-distant future, then you would be letting down women, and course, you’d be an Emo-Prog again. The fact of the matter is, with the abuse President Obama has taken, it has become virtually mandatory to support him wholeheartedly just to counteract the racism. It would happen with sexism, too.
Sent to a Progressive questioning drone policy on Twitter
The only way out of this inevitable continuation of infighting on the Left is to take aim at the problem, the Democratic Party. This means organizing at the precinct level and taking over the party the way the Tea Party took over the Republican Party. The reason a Progressive sweep of the Democratic Party would be good for everyone is that Liberals and Centrists want the Party to be less dominated by the interests of the wealthy, too. They want to see the party move away from privatization, too. They want to see the party show a backbone to Wall Street, too.
Many believed in candidate Barack Obama as a Progressive, and he garnered excitement and votes. Much of the negative emotion that has been generated on the Left since 2008 has stemmed from believing they did not get the Progressive that Barack Obama seemed to be. (Note: if you read his books, it was clear he was more centrist anyway). However, what these people fail to realize is that President Obama needed to have a progressive Congress to go along with his progressive ideas. This is where the organizing on the Left fell short. It has fallen short for a very long time as the Party leaned further and further right. So, basically, Progressives, the Democratic Party is not your abusive partner, it is your neglected, problem child, and it is time to step up and start meeting every Wednesday in the basement of your local restaurant for two hours to plot and scheme.
Deborah is a former social work professor who taught social policy, mental health policy, and human diversity. Proud to be called liberal, she happily pays her taxes after being raised in a home that needed long-term welfare. Contrary to the opinion of many, she is living proof that government investment in children leads them out of poverty having received services from Head Start to Pell Grants. Deborah works with low-income, first generation, and disabled college students who are at high-risk for dropping out of college in a program designed to help them graduate. She lives with her husband, stepson, and an aging cat.