Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Brand New (Old) Idea

Trey Smith

Jeffrey St. Clair is right to deplore the current low level of activity of the US left in his article, “The Silent Death of the American Left”.

St. Clair’s article omits the recent Occupy Movement, whose sudden and spontaneous emergence shows the potential for unrest lurking below the surface. But without an organization or a strategy, Occupy has disappeared. The potential is still there, because the profound problems that plague most Americans have not been solved or even ameliorated.

What is missing? A left electoral presence. To most Americans, politics means elections. But the Left lacks electoral representation.

There are a few exceptions: Bernie Sanders is a US Senator, while Dennis Kucinich served honorably for sixteen years in the House. But someone may object, what good does it do to have a Senator on our side?

Not long ago, Bernie Sanders took the floor of the Senate to read a list of dozens of big corporations who paid no income tax, and some even got tax credits. Hillary Clinton wouldn’t do that, nor would Mitch McConnell. Instead of debating whether taxes are too high or not high enough, the Left ought to point out who pays taxes – and who doesn’t. “Only little people pay taxes,” proclaimed real-estate queen Leona Helmsley, and she was right.

Sanders and Kucinich got elected without any organized Left to help. If the Left that took seriously the task of building a left electoral presence, that would entail examining every Congressional District in the country, weighing the electorate, the incumbent, the prospects for recruiting a left candidate, and the prospects for winning. It would entail teaching ourselves to explain the left perspectives to the electorate.

What we’ve been doing just does not work in building a left electoral presence:
  1. Instead of recruiting our own candidates, we wait until the usual cast of opportunists and careerists get themselves nominated, then hold our noses and work for the lesser of the two evils.
  2. We focus on the race for the White House, not Congress or Senator or state legislator.
  3. A third party doesn’t work. The system is rigged against third parties. It costs a lot of effort just getting on the ballot. Then as election day approaches, voters realize that voting for the third party will help the Republican candidate win, and the third party fails.
Instead, I propose, in Democratic districts, to recruit and run our own candidate in the Democratic primary. That’s a strategy that actually aims at winning.
~ from The Left’s Missing Ingredient by John W. Farley ~
This is, by no means, a new idea. This is the kind of strategy that Democratic Socialists of America has advocated for decades. My feelings about this proposed strategy are ambivalent, at best.

On the one hand, the third party experiment in the US has failed to gain any significant traction. I do not write this as an outsider. For 15 years, I was involved in third party politics both as a state officer AND candidate for public office. However, after 15 years of tireless work, I honestly can't say that we or others had made much of ANY progress. Every two years we trotted out our slate of candidates and every two years we struggled to garner as much as 5 percent of the vote!

As Farley notes, our political system is rigged against third parties and that hasn't and won't change. So, third parties and their candidates work like dogs and rarely have anything to show for it!

On the other hand, Farley's strategy is far too simplistic and naive. Money is what drives politics and that is what most every truly progressive candidate lacks. Without the requisite millions of dollars in a campaign war chest, progressive candidates can't compete. Sure, they can throw their hat into the primary, but chances are great that they will be trounced. What difference would it make to run as a Democrat in the primary and struggle to garner as much as 10 percent of the vote versus running as a third party candidate in the general election and struggling to garner 5 percent of the vote? Such results equate to almost the same thing!

Until we get money OUT of politics -- which won't happen because it serves the politicians IN politics so well -- it really doesn't matter whether one tries to run inside or outside of the established system. This is why I think the answer lies outside of politics. Really, how do you reform a system that is rotten to its core?

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