What would it take to build a populist democratic party?
Oppositional politics in America have been plagued by disunity. As long as I’ve followed politics, progressive forces outside the Democratic Party have been unable to unify, with the 2000 Nader campaign being the closest thing to an exception in that regard. Since then, Greens have been riven with disunity, reinforcing the perception among many Americans that the Democrats are the only choice.
Take 2012. We have the Greens, Justice, Peace and Freedom, and Socialist parties running on very similar platforms. So….why couldn’t they get together? Why didn’t they unify as one party and run a slate of congressional candidates? How do these parties hope to attract well-known candidates if they cannot come to terms with their closest ideological relatives?
There are a number of reasons for this. Oppositional politics, even when exclusively nonviolent and democratic, has to overcome the barriers of repression and propaganda. The status quo machine specializes in churning out propaganda that keeps the people divided and conquered.
One of the problems faced by a progressive 3rd party is as soon as they achieve a measure of success, they can expect a torrent invective from the party most hurt by this success (in this case the Democrats). In 2000, propaganda convinced many Green party voters they had made a mistake. At the same time Democrats like Kucinich and Dean lured us back into the party. All this played out disastrously in the 2004 election and little has changed since.
Personally I consider myself a Green and I identify with the 10 key values. However I have to admit that the Green Part did not successfully promote the issue most vital to its continued success (and the health of democracy in America)–electoral reform. Despite the evidence that the 2 party system is undemocratic and favors the interests of finance capital, the Greens have not been able to convince most of the progressive movement that electoral reform is the way forward. Until we get electoral reform, it’s hard to expect much from the political system.
One option is to put the past behind us and work towards building a progressive 3rd party with the goal of displacing the Democrats and then enacting reforms leading to multi-party democracy. But in the 2 party system, if a party is either ‘left’ or ‘right’ then it’s difficult to resist being co-opted by the party that already represents the ‘left’ or ‘right’. This is how 3rd parties end, though co-option isn’t all bad if the major party actually changes its policy. The problem is, changes in policy don’t always solve the problem. Unless the culture of the party changes, allowing for electoral reform or something like it, then capital can eventually reassert its domination of the party. For example, progressives were able to briefly take over the Democratic party in 1972, but the system proved strong enough to resist their push and eventually undo the McGovern Commission delegate selection reforms, which put the party back under control of party bosses and corporate donors.
So I’d like to discuss another kind of 3rd party strategy. Build a party that is implicitly capable of being a majority party, if everyone knew about it. That is, build a populist 3rd party that rejects left/right thinking. This 3rd party would try to draw equally from the right and left, using the issues that populists across the spectrum can agree on as the signature issues. These would include
1) Meaningful electoral reform including proportional representation, ranked choice voting, and verifiable and reliable voting systems, overseen by the people and by international observers. Personally I’d want something like they have in New Zealand, mixed member proportional representation.
2) Focus on transparency in government. Force politicians to conduct their hearings/dealings in public, in front of the cameras, under the watchful eye of the people.
3) Target the military industrial complex and out of control federal spending on defense/offense/operations. Nobody ever voted for this and hardly any Americans support the imperial status quo.
4) Focus on the injustices of the drug war and the prison complex. Once again, a vast majority of Americans would agree that nobody should be locked up in privatized prisons for using/having illegal drugs.
5) Foster a culture of congressional oversight by members of the (populist) party, as Ralph Nader has urged. This is really essential and would be a unifying, patriotic activity.
6) Fight the 2-party system and identify duopoly politicians as obstacles to democratic control of the government. We need a grassroots, non-violent education campaign to convince citizens to stop watching cable news and take their civic duties seriously.
The point of the strategy is to unite progressives, libertarians, Ron Paul supporters, disaffected Democrats, and principled Independents into one party, which agrees on a few issues, and agrees to disagree on the rest. Cause lets face it, the Ron Paul movement is the biggest populist movement out there at this time (2 million votes in the primary, plus a huge activist base, and the movement has a good grasp of why the duopoly sucks). We progressives would be fools to not seek some common ground when in fact we have many concerns in common.
If you’re thinking that progressives have nothing in common with libertarians, please watch these videos right away
Yes, there are indeed many issues that all 3rd parties can agree on (which was also obvious in 2012during the Free and Equal debate). Early in his speech in the 1st video above, Paul correctly notes “there is no doubt in my mind that we represent the majority…” and Nader concurs.
What would hold such the party together would have to be a spirit of ‘patriotism’–eg a commitment to reject the left/right blame game once and for all, and treat each oher as equals deserving respect and consideration. The patriotic commitment would be to a society of law and order, human rights, and democracy. The ‘progressive’ and ‘populist’ anti-authoritarian traditions would unify on the basis of common aims. The ‘enemy’ of such a populist party would be corporate elites and the Military Industrial Complex in particular. In my opinion, we can learn alot from the Founders’ ideology of ‘Republicanism’ and a more democratic, 21st century version of ‘Republicanism’ could easily become the ideology that unifies us.
The end goal of the party? IMO the end goal should be taking power and writing a new constitution (in plain language) that guarantees a society of law and order and equal opportunity. The new constitution would guard our liberties rather than protect the privileged. Once we have democratic control of our society and a working Constitution, then we can start debating with each other about what kind of positive rights we want, what kind of international trade we want, what kind of tax system, and so on. We can also work together to end monopolies in education, health care, and various industries.
How could such a party be organized? Well, that’s easy, we can use the Internet to communicate with each other. The elites and the cable news don’t need to know about it.
I know this is a rather utopian proposal, but imo we’re never going to break through the barriers in front of us until we drop the left/right nonsense that the system uses to divide us, and start treating each other with love and respect and compassion. That love and respect and compassion is the very definition of REAL PATRIOTISM. If we want democracy, then we need a democratic party that represents the interest of ALL (non 0.1%) Americans.
What do y’all think? Ideas, addendum, suggestions, criticism? Is a populist democratic party possible, and what will it take to build it?