Sunday, November 9, 2014

A thought for Sunday: the importance of state-level third parties

 - by New Deal democrat

[You know the drill. It's Sunday.  Regular nerdy economic blogging will resume tomorrow.  And be sure to read Bonddad's latest summary, below]

There was a devastating piece about the Democratic Party published about a month ago by Chris Bowers, I think, that reads particularly bitterly in the light of last Tuesday's midterm election results. Of course I can't find it now.   (UPDATE:  I think it was This piece. By Matt Stoller. If you haven't read it yet, go read it now).  But in summary, it said that the high point of the left netroots was the Lamont-Lieberman Senate contest in 2006.  Anti-Iraq war progressives defeated Joe Lieberman in the primary. But because Connecticut has no "sore loser" law preventing primary losers from re-filing and running as independents in the general election, Lieberman did so, and the Democratic Party establishment, including one Barack Obama, rallied around him.  When Lieberman won with the help of GOP votes, he got a standing ovation in the Senate.

In 2008 most of the netroots backed Obama, who also suggested that he was anti-Iraq war (he never actually cast a vote) vs. the pro-Iraq war Hillary Clinton.  But once Obama won and no longer needed  progressives, he dumped Howard Dean as Democratic Party Chair, along with his "50 state strategy," and installed economic neoliberals as his most powerful appointments.

The point Bowers(?) was making is that the party establishment learned in 2006 that it didn't have to worry about progressives.  Progressives would lose most primaries where the primary determinant was money, and then they would fall meekly in line, backing a centrist Democrat in the general.  This is where Kos's mantra "more and better" democrats led.

The GOP, when installed in power via Bush, or even with a stranglehold on a necessary artery, like the filibuster rule in the Senate, has relentlessly pursued a maximalist strategy, rallying round the most extreme policies and maybe compromising a little at the end.  The democratic estabslishment, with no party discipline to the right, pursues milquetoast centrist policies and even then compromises with the GOP.

The Progressive voice is never going to be heard, let alone come to power, under these circumstances.

In order to do so, progressives need to take a page from the historical rise of the UK's Labour Party.  One hundred years ago, the UK's two major parties were the Conservatives (a thoroughly reactionary party), and the Liberals, a center-left coalition much like today's Democrats.  The Labour Party formed after the Liberals stabbed them in the back.

And Labour did not win by defeating Conservatives. Labour won by driving the Liberal party to the brink of extinction.

Similarly, progressives will not win because of GOP losses. Progressives will only win by driving corporatist democrats to the edge of extinction, just as movement conservatives took over the GOP by making Rockefeller Republicans as extinct as the dodo bird).

As spelled out above, corporatists are throughly in charge of the democratic establishment, to the point, it is widely reported, that they would prefer GOP election wins over progressive democratic candidates. See, for example, here

So, how to make corporatist democrats extinct?  By showing them that they can never win.  And how do you show them that they will never win?  By borrowing a page from the career of Joe Lieberman.

It isn't enough for progressives to primary corporatists. State level third parties, like New York's Green Party, give progressives the ability to stay in elections right through the general election, even if they lose a democratic primary to corporatists.

Yes, this strategy will mean some general election losses over a few cycles.  But when corporatist democrats learn that they cannot win, they will start to disappear.  Progressives will win either as Democrats, or under another party banner.

By the way, this happened before. One hundred years ago, there were active Populist and Progressive Parties in the states (remember Robert LaFollette?). Ultimately they became part of the winning New Deal coalition.

Progressives shouldn't abandon the Democratic Party.  But they should target the corporatists as mercilessly as Tea Party republicans targeted their less-extremist wing, and state level Third Parties are an indispensable part of that attack.