Run, Ralph, Run!
Friday, November 15 2002
Contributed By: Howie Hawkins
Ronnie Dugger's proposal ("Ralph, Don't Run," The Nation Nov. 14, 2002) for populists and progressives to enter the Democratic Party is as old as the Populist/Democratic fusion campaign for William Jennings Bryan that killed 19th century populism. Now he wants the Greens to commit suicide by making the same mistake.
The overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress voted for Bush's tax cuts, his military build-up, his assaults on civil liberties, and his regulatory and tax favors to corporate interests. But now, according to Dugger, we should rely on these same Democrats to provide the resistance!
Cynthia McKinney, a Democratic Congresswoman who did resist, is what the Democrats do to their progressives these days. When the right (including the Georgia's Democratic Senator Zell Miller and the Democratic Leadership Council) targeted her for defeat, she was abandoned by the state and national Democrats, from Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson to Terry McAulliffe and Bill Clinton.
We can't fight the far right by supporting the moderate right. The left did that in Germany in the 1930 elections and the moderate right they helped to elect soon handed power over to Hitler.
The Democratic Party has been the graveyard of every progressive insurgency since the populists died there in 1896. Reforming the Democrats has been the dominant strategy of liberals, progressives, and even most radicals since 1936. Inside the Democratic Party, the left lost its independent voice. Its analyses and policy proposals disappeared from public debate. The left ended up doing the trench work for candidates who were bankrolled by and indentured to the dominant corporate wing of the Party.
Dugger's strategy has already been tried and tried by the Communist Party and the labor movement since 1936, by the right wing of the Socialist movement led by Michael Harrington and by the mainstream civil rights, women's, peace, and environmental organizations since the 1960s, and by the many liberal presidential contenders like George McGovern, Fred Harris, Ted Kennedy, and Jesse Jackson in the 1970s and 1980s.
As for 2004, by front-loading the primaries to make them virtually a national primary requiring megabucks for a media campaign, the Democratic leadership has all but guaranteed that no Sharpton or Kucinich is going to upset their coronation of a corporate Democrat for the presidential nomination.
Dugger wants to take over the Democratic infrastructure from the precinct level in order to influence the nomination and platform. But he's aiming at an empty shell with little power. The real Democratic infrastructure is the money raising and media buying infrastructure.
Duggeristas can win all the precinct chairships they want and it won't mean a thing. When McGovern stole the nomination from the Democrats' corporate wing, they still defeated him by putting their money and media behind Nixon. The winner of the presidential primaries will write the platform, not delegates to the convention. The Democratic precinct infrastructure, such as it is, is for mobilizing votes in general elections, not for primaries or for debating platform planks. Candidates' campaign organizations have largely supplanted mobilization by precinct organizations in most places anyway.
What is there to show for decades of reform Democratic politics? The left marginalized itself by disappearing into the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party has moved steadily to the right as it took the votes on the left for granted. The Democrats have retreated on economic class issues since World War II and on racial justice issues since the 1970s. They never had a serious energy and environmental program and have always supported the militaristic "bipartisan foreign policy" to make the world safe for corporate profiteering.
Every presidential cycle we hear this same refrain: The Republican (Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, ...) is practically a fascist, so we've got to unite behind a Democrat to defeat him. Well, when we did get a Democrat, we got Johnson and Vietnam, then Carter and the initiation of the regressive tax, budget, and deregulatory policies we call Reaganism, and finally Clinton and the completion of Reaganism.
There's a class basis for the bipartisan policy of austerity for workers at home, imperialism abroad, and lip service for the environment. Both major parties are corporate parties. When progressives enter the Democratic Party, they are entering into coalition with corporate forces who have no interest in empowering workers, retreating from empire, or investing in an ecological transformation of our economy and technology. The best way to fight the right is to build independent political organization and action by the "plain people," as the original populists put it. It is far easier to build that political party independently than it is to try and take over the Democratic Party. Inside the Democratic Party, activists' energy is spent on the internal struggle and the left's program never reaches the public.
Ralph Nader has a far better chance of winning the presidency in 2004 than Dugger does of realizing his fantasy of persuading the Democrats to "fight for instant-runoff voting" (and open the door wide for the Green Party) in return for the support of Greens in 2004. The Democrats will take votes on their left for granted as always ... unless Ralph runs again.
The point of such a campaign is to try and win the office, not influence the Democrats. What the left needs is a Nader/McKinney ticket heading up Green Party slates for all offices, not another self-defeating attempt to fight the right by supporting the moderate-right Democrats against the far-right Republicans.
Run, Ralph, Run!
Howie Hawkins Syracuse NY