Alright, we’ve laid the groundwork, examined the dilemma, and heard the two main sides of the argument. The time has come to ask practical questions about what can, if anything, be done.
Whichever side of this debate they come down on, I think everyone agrees that the core of the problem is $$$.
The stranglehold maintained by the relative minority of Democrats in the Democratic Leadership Council and the Blue Dog Alliance is made possible primarily by the overwhelming superiority of the GOP $$$campaign donor$$$ advantage over the past 25 years. The GOP, which represents and is employed by Corporate America, has enjoyed a 3 or 4-1 advantage in fund-raising for national and state-wide campaigns. A LOT of that money has gone into Rovian attack ads against Democratic candidates, as well as into outright efforts to sabotage likely Democratic voters and to steal close elections. For example, the paid Republican mob in Florida that intimidated Dade County election officials into cutting short their vote count were bought and brought there with RNC funds donated by corporations.
The DLC/BD Alliance has successfully made the argument to recalcitrant Dems that if they don’t want to go back to losing election after election, they have to be able to compete with the GOP monetarily. To do that, they have to present an agenda that is not unfriendly to potential corporate donors, and to do that, they have to dump their traditional concerns over labor rights, environmental issues, worker safety, and a host of other issues that had alienated corporate donors in the past.
The result of the Clinton success in the 90’s was to cement the power of the DLC/BDA in the party, pushing it further and further to the right until we now have a party that is, a majority of the time, philosophiocally indistinguishable from the GOP. It pushes the same agenda, it just doesn’t go as far as the Pubs are willing to go. The GOP is willing to dive off the cliff blindfolded; the Dems are only willing to push to the edge of the cliff, hoping it won’t collapse beneath them but otherwise doing nothing to move away from it or shore it up.
To rescue the Donkey party, therefore, first requires an all-out assault on the corporate-owned campaign financing system. In order for the Dems to return to who they used to be, there has to be a level campaign playing field, and as long as the rich own the Pubs, there won’t be…unless…we can manage to force public financing of campaigns on an unwilling and reluctant pair of political parties.
The most intensive of these efforts so far came in the 90’s with McCain-Feingold, but through compromise, tricks, and lengthy negotiation, the legislation was riddled with so many loopholes, exceptions, ifs, ands, and buts that by the time the vote came it was all but worthless. In the ensuing years, both parties, especially the GOP, simply ignored it or used one of its multiple loopholes to get around it.
If the Dems are ever to be Dems again, public financing of campaigns must become a reality and a strict limit placed on the raising of outside money by either party. I’m not going to go into the manifest benefits of forcing the parties to work with equal amounts of money, they’ve been repeated often enough that most of us know them by rote. Nor am I going to play devil’s advocate and repeat the myriad problems with enforcing such a law should we ever get one passed. Those are also too well known to need repetition.
What I am suggesting is that if we can’t pass and enforce a tough campaign finance reform law, there is ZERO chance that either party will EVER be anything other than a corporate subsidiary. With corporate $$$ dominating the campaigns and therefore the candidates and their campaign agendas, both will have to bow to corporate demands. To claim anything else is either hopelessly naive, naively impractical, or the result of blind denial of modern political reality.
The DLC/BD Alliance
When our liberal/progressive movement has succeeded in breaking the hold of corporate money on the election system, we’ll still be faced with breaking the hold of the DLC/BDA on the party. They aren’t going to go quietly. They have determined the course of the party for almost 2 decades from positions of power. They’re not going to let loose of that kind of power just because we don’t need them any more.
It will be necessary for us to work against the worst offenders – the Clintons, Rahm Emanuel, Harry Reid, Silvestre Reyes, Jay Rockefeller, et al – possibly to the extent of supporting Republican challengers if Democratic challengers lose in the primaries. We MUST be prepared to take it that far and they must KNOW we will take it that far. Otherwise the DLC/BDA will simply undercut the efforts by insisting, as they have in the past and are doing right this minute, that we can be taken for granted because, you know, we have nowhere else to go.
This is a powerful argument. It tells lazy, cowardly politicians (and most who aren’t one are the other; many are both at once) that they don’t actually have to change anything they’re doing because there’s no real threat to their incumbency; that we are so anti-GOP that we won’t vote for a Pub against a Dem no matter how often that Dem votes with Pubs. Joe Lieberman is the Poster-Boy for that snake oil even as we speak. As long as that is what the Dems believe, it is the corporationsn they rush to placate, not us.
In order for any of this to happen, we will first have to forge a coherent strategy and an alliance of our own wherein liberal and progressive activists agree to put aside their differences and – most importantly – agree to concentrate, for the good of the country, on recognizing and supporting priorities that may result in the sidelining of their pet projects.
The Democrats simply will not respond to a demand for change from the left unless a formidable organization is behind it, ready to work against and vote against any Democrat who doesn’t support the Main Principles of the New Movement.
(Next: “What are the main principles?”)