Perfect: The Enemy of Better
by joetalarico, Fri Jul 06, 2007 at 11:46:01 AM EDT
I was speaking with a few of my progressive friends last evening when one mentioned that another friend of ours, who twice unsuccessfully for Congress, decided he was disgusted with the local, state, and national Democratic Party (not without justification), was quitting the party. This is a common theme among progressive Democrats who are frustrated with the records of "Republican- lite" members of Congress and the largely uninformed electorate that vote on the basis of slogans, or for who the press deems the "person you'd most like to have a beer with." While I understand their frustration, I believe their all-or-nothing approach (either the party is completely progressive or no better than the Republicans) is a recipe for disaster in the long run. This belief is the best chance the Republicans have to establish a permanent majority, in spite of holding views that are reprehensible to a clear majority of Americans.
The Democratic Party finds itself in better place than the Republicans were situated after the landslide of 1964. Barry Goldwater, a right-wing radical that was totally out of touch with the electorate was routed by Lyndon Johnson. Fast forward 40 years, and one with Goldwater's views would be slightly right of center (roughly in Hillary Clinton territory). Sixteen short years after that rout, we elected the first of 3 out of 4 fascist presidents. How did this happen in such a short period of time? Certainly not by the conservatives leaving the Republican Party because they felt abandoned and frustrated. To their credit, and our chagrin, they systematically started from the ground up by developing think(less) tanks that completely changed the political language of the country. As a result, they took over government in spite of being ideologically out of touch with the voters. They convinced America that greed was good, corporate profits were always a good thing (as median wages decreased), that Jesus wouldn't give money to a beggar because the beggar need to learn to stand on his own two feet (whether or not he had feet), that the clean skies act actually cleaned the skies, etc. etc. etc.
When one is frustrated with one's own organization, there are two choices: stick around and improve the organization or quit. In my opinion, quitting can be a viable option, but only when there is a better, more effective, place to go. While the argument that the defecting to the Green Party or becoming unaffiliated may well be considered moving to a better place, I submit to you that it is certainly by no means a more effective place. At this critical juncture in our history, we cannot afford to desert the only organization that, however imperfect, can deliver us from evil (Reagan, Bush, Bush, Thompson, Giuliani, Romney, etc.). Ralph Nader certainly can't get the job done!
The argument has been made that, while voting for a third party candidate may be harmful in the short run, it may teach the party a valuable lesson in the long run, thereby slowly moving the organization in a desirable direction. There are a number of flaws to that school of thought. When Nader took enough votes from Gore to enable Bush to steal the 2000 election, the Democrats didn't abruptly take a left turn to ensure it wouldn't happen again. There aren't enough pure progressives at this time to form a majority party (at least Americans have been convinced by the right for forty years that there aren't). Perhaps more importantly, however, we don't currently have the luxury of teaching the party a short term lesson for a long term improvement. If enough progressives leave the party to enable the Republicans to retain the Presidency and regain the Senate, we're screwed for 50 years. One more right-wing Supreme Court Justice and/or a handful of federal judges and we might as well start the trek to Canada now to beat the rush.
Those who choose to abandon the party with the honorable intention of making America a better place have an extremely formidable foe: the US Constitution. Third parties in a parliamentary government can wield considerable power, but in our form of democracy, for better or worse, third parties are, and always will be, relegated to also-ran status. Barring a constitutional convention, the prospects of which aren't very good, the Democratic Party, for better or worse, is the only vehicle through which we can accomplish a long-term progressive majority. For all its imperfections, the Democratic Party brought us the New Deal, the Great Society, the War on Poverty, labor unions, progressive taxation, and every other worker-friendly program we have ever enjoyed.
Consider what we have accomplished in the three short years since the re-election (or not) of the King: slim, if somewhat ineffective, majorities in both houses congress, an increase in the number of people who consider themselves Democrats, a decrease in those considering themselves Republicans, a solid number of independents who intend to vote Democratic, etc. We are in the early stages of a movement. We can't counter the effective propaganda of Fox and the right-wing noise machine overnight. The way forward is to take our imperfect institution forward, continue to support candidates that, while not as progressive as we are, are far better than those who have dominated our government for the last generation, and perhaps most importantly, relentlessly hound these imperfect elected officials until they discover that the electorate in America is more progressive than the pundits have led them to believe.
This will be a long, frustrating fight. We will take two steps forward and one back. In the end, it is not merely a fight worth the effort, but one we can't afford to lose.