Democrats Do It Again and Again

“But for me the real loser was the Democratic Party. It showed that it’s almost totally without leadership. If there is a national figure (other than [Rep. Barney] Frank) who stood up and took on the GOP in this [Terry Schiavo] matter, his — or her — name does not come to mind. In the Senate, oddly enough, it was Virginia’s John Warner who pointed out that he opposed the bill — and he’s a Republican, for goodness’ sake. The Democrats were nowhere.”
Richard Cohen, Washington Post, March 23, 2005

Once again the Democratic Party has demonstrated how out of touch it is with the U.S. American people. Polls have shown that about 2/3 are against what the Republican-led Congress did by attempting to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case. If the Democrats were in touch with those they claim to be representing, and if they were willing to speak up clearly in support of their views, this latest example of despicable Republican opportunism could be backfiring on them the same way Bush’s sputtering Social Security privatization campaign is.

And how about all those House Democrats who voted for the
$81 billion to continue the Iraq war, not even attempting to put any conditions on it? Back in October of 2002, because of a massive, grassroots pressure campaign, 135 of them voted no to the war authorization vote. 2 ½ years and tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths later, only 43 voted against another huge check for war and occupation.

Two months ago, I will admit that I thought more was possible. A grassroots pressure effort had led to the successful challenging in Congress of the Ohio electoral college vote on January 6th, and it seemed that this was a model for other issues. But the war vote is a clear indication that we are not going to make political progress on a range of different progressive issues unless we use a wide range of tactics.

Strengthening the movement for an exit strategy for progressive Democrats has got to be a key one.

I was heartened recently to read that Charles Ogletree, a nationally prominent African American lawyer and activist, spoke critically of the Democratic Party last month at a forum at Harvard University. He called for the African American movement to stand up for principle with a long-term strategy, supported Instant Runoff Voting, and raised the idea of an African American political party.

I had similar feelings when I heard Rev. Jesse Jackson on January 6th in Lafayette Park across from the White House raise the idea of obtaining “Rainbow party lines” on state ballots as he praised the Green Party for its defense of democracy via its Ohio recount efforts.

And it was good to read, in a recent interview of SEIU President Andy Stern by David Bacon, Stern having this to say about the Democratic Party:

“We’re not going to win elections for workers when you don’t have parties that run on platforms that mean much change in their lives. If you ask the average worker to write down the Democratic Party’s view on the economy, the best you might get would be the balanced budget, which is not really something that will motivate people or give them passion to get people elected.

“People are facing real life problems – they’re losing their jobs. They’re losing their healthcare. They can’t raise their families the way they want to. They’re worried about college costs. And we don’t have a clear and precise message coming from any party that speaks to those questions. And I think it’s time that we talk about those questions out loud.”

Does this mean we’re on the verge of an alliance of Greens, African Americans, labor and others working towards a strong and visible alternative to the Dems and Reps? Probably not, for a variety of reasons. But it seems realistic to expect that this discussion will continue among at least some progressive constituencies. The reality of the Republican agenda and the reality of the Democratic Party make that likely.

What about if, over the coming period of time, dialogues could be organized bringing together a mix of progressive leaders and activists to address these questions? Dialogues that allow for some open-ended, serious discussion of the political alternatives before us and what are possible paths that we could take to advance our progressive agenda?
Dialogues that put us into contact with allies who are also frustrated by the Republican control of federal government and the continuing wimpishness and often-collaboration of the Democrats?

How long will it be until the broad progressive movement consciously puts on the agenda this necessary, essential, strategically key discussion?