Since the Bill Clinton era, the Democratic Party has been trying to distance itself from its progressive wing. At the same time, the party tried to woo conservatives while claiming to be “moderate,” much like a “good” Christian man who beats his loyal wife, demanding her loyalty, as he seeks an to have an affair with the pastor’s wife.
Under Obama, the Democratic Party has stopped trying to put on a friendly face for progressives. Instead, they’ve turned to using the threat of Republican domination and “President Bachmann” or “President Palin” to cow them into silence. Where has this strategy gotten the Democratic Party though? Why, less Democrats in office of course, with the most conservative wing, the Blue Dogs, being utterly decimated in 2010.
You’d think that an approach that has proven to be unsuccessful would get the Democratic leadership to change its mind. After all, the takeover of the Senate and U.S. House in 2006, as well as the eventual Obama victory in 2008, were largely due to progressive rhetoric … such as suggesting that the War on Terror would be brought to an end, Big Brother (aka the Patriot Act) would be reined in and the rich would be made to pay their fair share. But once in office the Democratic winners of 2006 and 2008 largely toed the George W. Bush line and did very little to change the direction of the country. And, after the losses of 2010, the general belief among them seems to be that they didn’t go far enough rightward. On top of that, it’s apparently the fault of progressives that they lost!
This puts progressives into quite a predicament. Do they continue to give their vote, time and money to a party that has utter contempt for them and continues to show more interest in conservative and rich voters? Do they flock to a third party that is condemned to failure in the two-party system? Or, do they join “the enemy” and change it from the inside out?
While partisans might howl about “Democratic cornerstones” like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid” or continuing the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, they must also remember that the Republicans have their own share of progressive figures, such as Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, along with what is known as the “Progressive Era” which brought about trust busting and the first national parks.
In reality, none of that really matters when it comes to the Big Two American parties. Beneath all the slogans, money and promises, their main purpose is winning office, nothing more. The Democrat and Republican parties are more like NFL or MLB teams, as either party will embrace whatever policies or people get them into office rather than a core set of principles or beliefs. The difference is, at the moment, the Republican Party is much more responsive to their base than Democrats are to theirs.
And, looking closer, much of the Republican base is what most Americans consider extreme, especially when it comes to the TEA Party and Religious Right. But, unlike Democrats, the Republicans don’t run in the other direction while screaming insults, nor do they attempt to silence them as the Obama administration has. Even more insulting on the part of Democrats and President Obama is that they seek to outright placate groups like the Tea Party while attacking what is supposed to be a crucial part of their base as “extremists.” An interesting strategy, considering the Tea Party’s outright racist agenda against the president.
Let us also remember that Obama has carried on most of the Bush White House’s surveillance and war policies … even expanding them, as most of us know. Domestically, so-called Obamacare has done little more than bolster the strength of the private health care industry instead of gaining ground for a universal system and even in the wake of the BP disaster, dead miners and flaming water little has been done to regulate the oil, coal or natural gas industries. Even Democrats in the House and Senate have been largely mum when it comes to these issues, due to the desire to seek the support of current-Republican supporters.
So, maybe it’s about time that progressives kiss the Democratic Party good-bye and get to work moving the GOP leftward. After all, the Tea Party members themselves have been expressing dissatisfaction over the Republican leadership when it comes to the debt deal. The Tea Party might even be apt to take the Democrats’ invitation over staying with the GOP if they’re actually forced to “work” with progressives.
The religious right are apt to depart too, since they risk exposure to acceptance of science and tolerance of “nonChristian” lifestyles. Of course, the vacuum left by those two groups would be apt to be filled by recently-arrived progressives.
Already, the GOP has the most outspoken officeholders in regards to antiwar rhetoric, ending the drug war and reeling in the security state. Democrats, on the other hand, either support the status quo on all three or remain mum on them. There are also potential allies in the Log Cabin Republicans, who somehow manage to have more name recognition with the general public than the Stonewall Democrats (who often get the “personally I’m against gay marriage” line from Democratic officeholders over civil unions).
And even with what is supposed to be a clear cut party issue over labor unions, especially in the Wisconsin battle, the party line remains a little blurred across the nation. There are still some (but not many) pro-union Republicans, while there are less and less pro-Union Democrats. Unions, like progressives, are getting the cold shoulder from Democrats here lately, especially since the party is more interested in obtaining more corporate support instead of assisting the little guy.
While those issues do not a progressive party make, a surge of leftward voters could turn this party in the “right” direction. Considering what progressives have received from the Democrats over the last 20 years, it might be a better bet.
The GOP and Democrats have shifted positions many times over the last 150 years. The GOP holds its roots in the anti-slavery and anti-war politicians of the 1840s, while during that time, the Democrats fought to protect the “peculiar institution” and sought what was then Mexican Territory. During the Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Republicans were trust busting and establishing national parks while Democrats were the party acting on behalf of the rich and former slaveholders. Of the two, the Republicans seem fastest to respond to change.
Democrats didn’t lean leftward until radical one-worlder Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913 and really couldn’t be called the party of progress until FDR in 1933 (though throwing American citizens in concentration camps because of their ancestry is not really that “progressive”).
Neither party has distanced themselves from expansionism though. Whether it be the genocide against American Indians or the War on Terror, both parties are equally guilty of either starting or continuing the imperial actions of the other. If modern progressives ever find their voice, they might be able to turn one of them around.
While there might not be immediate results, and there would be much resistance, it seems progressives might have a better chance joining the ranks of “the enemy” instead of staying with an often indifferent, many times hostile friend.