Why There is No Populist Alternative on the Left
Before the 2008 election, I stressed the need for a progressive party. The Democrats were not addressing our concerns and Obama, as most progressives acknowledged at the time, was not and never had been a progressive. I was told the important thing was to elect Obama and put an end to the bad days of the Bush era. Well, we can all see how well that turned out.
There has been a lot of talk about how the left has been veal penned. But I don't think it is understood how much of its organizations have been. The healthcare debate is a great example for this. You had large swathes of the traditionally liberal Democratic blogosphere like dkos and Huffington Post that were essentially in the bag for whatever the Democrats/Obama came up with. This also included HCAN, a veal pen creation put together by other veal pen groups, including unions.
But beyond these, there were co-opted veal penned progressive groupings. These were the public option supporters, like firedoglake. The PO was never more than a contentless, read into it whatever you want, hook to keep the rubes quiet while the real sellout was going on.
These were the positions of most of the liberal/progressive organizations and groups going in. Noticeably absent from all these was the only truly progressive program of single payer universal healthcare. This already exists in various forms in most of the industrialized world and delivers better outcomes at substantially lower prices. What is so interesting about this is that not only did Obama and the Democrats never put this on or anywhere near the table, neither did almost the whole of the organized left. Single payer proponents were ostracized, banned, and viciously attacked, not just by Obama and the Democrats, which was to be expected, but by this much larger veal pen of liberal Democrats and independent progressives.
When it was all over, the public option was exposed as the PR sham it was, and had always been. Some progressive groups belatedly opposed the healthcare bill, but most did not. By then it didn't matter anyway. It was a done deal. Yet to this day, most of the rancor of these groups remains directed at the single payer supporters, the only people in that whole sorry mess who got it right on both the policy and the politics that were going on.
So what does this have to do with a new progressive party or populist movement on the left? Well, everything. All the liberal and progressive groups that could have done so much to create a real debate on healthcare yet did so much instead to suppress that debate are playing the same role here. dkos and Huffington Post could be powerful tools for organizing a populist progressive alternative to the two parties and the Tea party. But this would be to overlook that they operate as virtual adjuncts of the Democratic party. So their hostility to anything independent or third party is expectable.
What is less expected, and actually quite pernicious, is how so many progressive blogs take a similar if not so obvious position. There the attitude, as I have often heard, is go out organize a third party, get it up and running, on the ballot, and start winning elections, and then, and only then, will we maybe come along.
You have to understand these are the same groups that in 2006 and 2008 pushed hard the theme of "more and better Democrats" and eagerly sought out potential forward looking Democrats and organized for them. Many of those Democrats lost, done in by the Establishment Democratic machine, but even those that won without exception sold out their progressive supporters and turned their back on them at the earliest opportunity. Yet these groups, despite being burned and burned again, continue to concentrate on and favor Democrats. When it comes to backing actual progressives, people who won't burn them or scuttle the progressive agenda, they vary between indifferent and hostile.
So if you want to know why there is no populist alternative on the left, the answer is that huge chunks of the left continue to be controlled by the Democratic party, fairly overtly. Independent progressives are similarly dominated by Trojan Horse groups, progressive in name but Democratic in orientation, which suck all the air out of progressive organizing efforts. The result is that progressives are largely shut out, even on the left, even in those organizations that should be most supportive of their ideas, even among those that say they support those ideas.
There are a few progressives who have rebelled and are trying to build new organizations. But it is hard. Look at it this way. There is a periphery between traditional Democrats and liberal Democrats. There is another between liberal Democrats and progressives, and there is yet another between veal pen progressives and true independent progressives. Progressives have a good message and good solutions, but it is difficult to get it to an audience in a recognizable form past all those veal pens.
(This post began as a comment at Naked Capitalism where, as Yves would say, mirabile dictu, it would not load. I thought to attach it to lambert's orginal post which brought this to my attention, and then thought it could stand alone as a post of its own.)