Do you want to help organize a jailbreak?
In the last couple diaries I’ve written on FireDogLake, I’ve tried to create a framework for radical action. How to Destroy the Democratic Party sets up a broad approach for taking on, if not over, the Democratic Party base organizations, and Say You Want a Revolution tries to outline the scale of organization required for serious structural change. Ambitious indeed!
But how about tomorrow? What’s the bridge between our small, disorganized condition now and the large tasks I’ve recently delineated? I throw this in everyone else’s face, so it’s only fair it be thrown in mine.
I was once tutored by an old friend who had been a machinist in his younger days. He talked about tool-making, that most of this high-precision work entailed building tools. Tools to build other tools. To build yet more tools. On and on until it call came together for the tools building the myriad parts that we drive down the street or heat and cool our homes or watch bad movies and lying news shows on.
A rough assessment:
Likewise with politics. Continuing from the diaries referenced above, we start with a strategic assessment of what forces have to come into play for serious social change. The situation at the moment is:
(1) The corporate elite has taken the Democratic Party – the party that absorbs the organizations and protests of the working class and purports to represent them – and gutted it. The base is adrift.
(2) Over 40% of the electorate is registered independent in one form or another (3rd party, no preference, independent, whatever). A significant percentage of them are progressives, and most of them are alienated from the system to some extent.
(3) The political/economic system is on the edge of a precipice. We inhabit a dying empire, vulnerable to defeat in the international arena. But will we in the U.S. benefit from the decline and fall? Or will it all come crashing down on our heads?
(4) The corporate elite is uneasily bolstered by having a racist and fascist mass base that has the potential to violently crush democratic opposition in a way that the naked state apparatus cannot. The elite now dicker over whether we should be eaten as appetizers, or saved for the main course.
The current status quo allows the corporate elite to plot at their leisure, with complete tactical flexibility. One way it could play out is that the current Republican House majority could jam Obama to further shred our jobs and safety net, then Republican over-reach could allow the Democrats to re-assert themselves and preside over the bloody remains and call it progress. I am an optimist.
This is still a democracy.
Don’t laugh. Controlled, manipulated, circumvented, bought, weakened by the day. Yet still we have elections. The rules are changed at will, manipulated against us, but still we have rules. That the corporate elite must circumvent them is testament to their existence. Those who think otherwise should tell us their plans.
So how do we break up the status quo? Use the electoral arena to build an alliance between progressive Democrats and progressive independents.
This throws a monkey wrench in several ways. First, it confounds the standard appeal for eternal Democratic fealty – you have nowhere to go. Indeed, a simple Democratic Party breakaway could be easily marginalized. Likewise, progressive independents are defined out of existence by being lumped together as an amorphous centrist, moderate, 3rd-way bunch. Alone, they are not an organized force. However, if united with progressive Democrats, with progressives speaking with one voice, they would constitute a potentially majoritarian force. How that might be expressed is an open question. Third party? Crossing over in states with open primaries? The key to linkage would be a broadly populist appeal – for jobs, against Middle Eastern adventures, defense of the safety net, gay and abortion rights.
Breaking up the Right
Beyond its own numbers, it would be able to engage the base of the tea partiers. Yes, I know, the Tea Party serves the Republicans. Yes, I know the teabag legions were bussed to the healthcare town hall meetings with corporate dollars. All that. But their base is a mixed bag, contains millions of working people the Democrats disdain because of the party’s rank elitism. An independent force, not so shackled, could compete for those hearts and minds. Could win over – certainly not all of them, not their hard core racists, not their proud fascists, but millions of ordinary folks terrified of an unaccountable government out of control and leaving them out of jobs, out of hope. That fascist base cannot be taken over, but it can be broken up. It can be rendered ineffective. It can be stripped naked revealing its wealthy corporate core.
Sound good? Of course it sounds good. Possible? That’s the $64 billion question. That’s where we need to go back to my machinist friend, small tools, built to create larger tools, which can crank out the final products that we see in our homes and on our streets.
The Right Tool at the Right Time
So we come to the New Progressive Alliance. It states:
We not only support a primary election challenge to Barack Obama in 2012, but will endorse an Independent or third-party candidate to oppose both major party marionettes in the general election, who publicly pledges to run on the Unified Progressive Platform and to govern based upon that platform when elected.
The NPA primary candidate would be required to declare at the end of the Democratic nomination process:
“I therefore throw my support to neither this party nor the other -- but to us, the American people -- and I encourage you to volunteer, work, and vote for ________________.” On that line would be the name of the NPA’s endorsed general election candidate.
It’s a small organization, born online at FireDogLake and growing, with an organizational structure that uses the blogosphere but has a separate organizational existence. Its significance is that it embraces the inside/outside, progressive Dem/progressive indy strategic vision, and its platform is well framed to drive a wedge between the Dem leadership and the Dem base. It is a small tool, but the correct one, provided it can hang on, continue to grow, and eventually reach critical mass.
On the surface, there is one small problem: it has as of yet no candidate for the Democratic primaries. It continues its candidate search, but there is no guarantee that any of the prospective candidates “nominated” at FDL last fall will accept the NPA’s call to run on the NPA platform and agree to endorse the NPA’s independent nominee in the fall.
A strategy which is dependent on some big name stepping into the fray is a fatally flawed strategy. But is the NPA so flawed? I believe not. There are (not mutually exclusive) alternatives.
Just Say No!
(1) If the NPA cannot field a candidate, whether because no one steps forward, insufficient resources or inability to agree on one, there is the option of running the Nancy Reagan Memorial Just Say No campaign. No, I’m not saying the NPA should run Nancy Reagan for president. Rather, during campaign season, the Democratic Party base organizations give endorsements and make resource allocations for get-out-the-vote operations. Here the NPA could work off the lead provided by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who on May 20 stated:
What we are saying is for people who support workers, we’re going to be with them. And candidates who don’t support workers, we’re not going to be with them. The difference is we are not going to spend precious resources helping candidates that don’t stand up and help us.
This could be a real campaign. Argue for “no endorsement.” It would gain some level of support, even if not defeating the sold-out leadership of these organizations. The NPA’s task would be to consolidate that support organizationally. This would entail having some kind of organization WITHIN the Democratic Party.
Roll Your Own
(2) A stronger move would be for the NPA to run its “own” candidate, whether or not she or he has a big name. As it stands, the NPA candidates must pledge to back the NPA-endorsed independent in the generals. But apart from their bad habit of backing the Dem nominee, primary challengers all too often simply drop out if they don’t score big in the early rounds. Pledge or no pledge, you can’t enforce energy or enthusiasm. Not to mention that pledges have been known to be broken.
By running its own, the NPA has a much greater degree of control. Will she be marginalized by the press? Of course. Denied a place in the debates? Certainly. Denied ballot access in the primaries? No.
Ballot requirements vary from state to state. While there are a few very tough nuts to crack (which should probably be written off), most require a filing fee of maybe $500 and/or 500 to 1,000 signatures. And a good lawyer to keep the paperwork invulnerable to challenge. This is very doable for maybe a 40-state run. The NPA can guarantee itself a campaign.
Fringe candidates have a tradition of running fringe campaigns, seeking media gimmicks, clever sound-bites, etc. The NPA candidate, however, would run dead-serious on its mainstream progressive platform. To the argument that such a candidate couldn’t win in the generals, she has a delicious counter: if she wins, the corporate Dems have no place else to go. Switch to the Republicans? Not with the Tea Party running batshit crazy. Or if they did, well, that would be exposing.
One concern, if the NPA recruits a big name, even one who takes the pledge, there is no guarantee that the big name could carry her or his followers into the generals as independent. By running its own, whatever the vote totals, the NPA comes out of it with its own campaign organization which can most definitely work independent in the generals.
2012 is not Armageddon
Dark as things may be, the forces of light and darkness will not have their final showdown within the Democratic Party, with the NPA supporters all sailing independent in the aftermath. The NPA isn’t that strong, bureaucratic inertia too great. Apocalyptic thinking would lead to the NPA becoming just another left sect, marginalized in the 3rd party ghetto along with the Socialist Party, the Progressive Party, the Socialist Labor Party, and even the Greens.
Inside/outside is a strategy for the long haul, not just the clever tactic of the moment. So let’s think about tools again.
A Bridge Just Far Enough
When the Allies stormed ashore on D-Day, they took a very, very small strip of land. Germany didn’t fall that day. Not even France. The master stroke was that to that tiny foothold, they brought over the pieces of a pre-made, man-made harbor to supply it. That opened the way for all that was to come.
Likewise, at this stage the NPA needs to be, and is, creating the organizational tools needed to seize and hold a beachhead within the Democratic Party, a different set of tools needed to create and hold a beachhead in the independent arena. AND the bridge-building tools to link these two beachheads.
All sorts of people have a happy or not-so-happy home in the Democratic Party. Many have their cozy hovels on the independent side. The genius of the NPA is that it is building the bridge between them that allows progressives on each side to reinforce each other. Thus while the strategic task is to take down the Democratic Party, the tactical task, to put it another way, is to create those beachheads and nurture them to critical mass.
Critical Mass Is Critical
This is a key concept, which the Tea Party understands much better than the left. Progressives are often blinded by the majoritarian bias that is supposedly the essence of democracy, that if 50% plus 1% of the public believes something, the minority is effectively negated. But thinking in terms of critical mass, the question becomes whether a group has reached the size to carry out a particular action or campaign, whether in the streets or at the pools. The key is not percentage, but absolute numbers.
What that mass is needs to be determined. But at a minimum, it means being large enough and smart enough to be self-sustaining, and beyond that, able to grow.
A Final Word
At regular intervals, I read comments to the effect that “I’ve had it, this last sellout is too much to stomach, I’ll never support another Democrat, etc.” I appreciate the sentiment. So why don’t I say that? Because I think it’s individualistic bullshit. People are fed up? Great. So are lots of people. But dropping away one at a time, EVEN IF many people drop away one at a time at the same time, it only makes the Democratic Party more comfortable. One at a time, they don’t go to the same place, they don’t act in concert. Their potential power is not felt.
In a Reid Report post excoriating NPA steering committee member Cornel West and the NPA in general, Joy Reid writes:
With all due respect — have some cojones. If you want to put up a third party candidate who will be more liberal, do it. Stop playing games with the Democratic party, which already has its nominee, and which overwhelmingly supports its nominee.
They are quite happy with this steady trickle into the 3rd party ghetto. So if you’ve “had it,” fine. But think beyond yourself. How many others are of similar ilk? How close to splitting are they? How many? Who can you take with you? And where? It’s like you’re in a prison. Do you want to engineer your own personal escape?
Or would you rather help organize a jailbreak?