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after bernie

Why Political Parties Are Unnecessary—Frank Fear

You know the euphemism, “Follow the Party Line.” Mind what you say. Watch how you act. Do what’s expected.

Watching the major party conventions this summer made we wonder, more than ever, why anyone would follow a political party line—either party.

The Republican Convention was a frightening experience, my dread well expressed in a series of headlines published in The Washington Post:

Comparisons of “Trumpism” to circumstances in 1930’s Germany and Italy aren’t exaggerations. Neither is Robert Nelson’s attribution of a Karl Marx saying: “History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

There was Malenia Trump’s blatant, prime-time plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech. How could she? But then (I soon learned) it wasn’t the first time that Malenia had duped the public. On her website (since taken down) Ms. Trump claimed to be a college graduate, which she is not.

What bothers me as much about Malenia’s cavalier plagiarism is how her speech was defended, even lauded, by party partisans. Examples include:

“I thought she did an incredible job of showing the composure and the steadfast resolve that you would want in a First Lady.”

“They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. I think Michelle Obama should be flattered.”


But it’s not just Trump’s brand of politics I can’t support, it’s Republicanism “the standard version.” You know what I mean … the ultra-Conservative, Bible-thumping form that pushes tax cuts, smaller government, Right to Life, the Second Amendment, morality of a “certain brand” and the elimination of programs that the government “shouldn’t be supporting” (that’s code, of course).

Those things have pushed us into our shared plight—wrapped in the label, “Conservative,” to mask what it really is.

Save for eloquent speeches delivered by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Rev. William Barber (NAACP president, NC), the Democrats presented a four-day short-course on branding and marketing

So what did the Democratic Convention offer in contrast? It began with controversy—shenanigans is a better word—enacted by the very group that supports the party, the Democratic National Committee. And save for eloquent speeches delivered by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Rev. William Barber (NAACP president, NC), the Democrats presented a four-day short-course on branding and marketing.

A “carefully choreographed show,” Robert Samuel wrote, offering “a blend of optimism…empathy…a strong dose of patriotism, and promises to defeat the Islamic State.” Madison Avenue couldn’t have done it better.

The fundamental purpose (done exceptionally well) was to re-image Hillary. Hillary = Smart (√). Capable (√). Experienced (√). ... and now… likable (√). Politics done perfectly.

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But a good share of the proceedings in Philadelphia felt like a Republican confab. There was “the appropriation of conservative tropes and themes,” Ross Douthat wrote, including “God and country, the flag and 9/11, the Founding Fathers, and the Constitution” … literally, a Constitution. A pocket-sized Constitution almost brought down the house. Pat Buchanan probably teared up.

One character witness after the other portrayed Hillary in exalted terms, a person seemingly able to do just about everything for everybody. And, as Carlos Lozada observed, “If there’s one thing Clinton has spent her entire adult life doing, it’s telling us what she has spent her entire adult life doing.” The coup de maître was an expansive acceptance speech that had something for just about everybody.

If Trump’s acceptance speech was a rant, then Hillary’s was a laundry list.

And why not? There’s an election to be won and there are proven ways to win it.

Well, that’s right, if you look through the viewfinder with a party lens only. But that’s not the only way—even though it’s the most familiar way.

But for many of us “what’s familiar” means affirming and spouting the party line—even when you question what you’re affirming and regret what you’re spouting. Most of us have been there—in business and in life. You don’t say what you really think. And you don’t do what you really should do. Costs are too high.

So you follow the party line or keep your mouth shut. But there’s a cost in that, too – either to the person or, in politics, to that person’s followers. That’s where I come back into the picture.

I voted for Barrack Obama in 2008, a believer in his call for “Change We Can Believe In.” Even though I believe that change never came, I voted for him again in 2012. On July 27th he spoke enthusiastically about Hillary and damned Trump.

I had hoped Michael Bloomberg would run this year as an Independent. He didn’t. On July 27th he spoke enthusiastically about Hillary and damned Trump.

I backed Bernie Sanders—voting for him in my state’s primary—and hoped he’d win the Democratic nomination. On July 25th he spoke enthusiastically about Hillary and damned Trump.

I understand why each of these men did what they did. I also understand why Jackie Salit wrote what she wrote last week in The Huffington Post:

“Those three leaders…could have used the chaos of this cycle to advance a new majoritarian, transpartisan, and multiracial electoral coalition, one that is pro-reform and breaks with the endless regress of winning at all costs. But they didn’t. Instead they turned a blind eye to the movements that created them and empowered them. The message is that we, who want a new politic, have no choice but to vote for the old one. That was painful to watch. Given who they are, given who they could be, it was painful to see.” [From How the Three B’s (Bernie, Barack, and Bloomberg) Abandoned the Political Revolution.]

I agree. Those of us who feel that way need to unite and redirect today’s politics away from the parties and business as usual to a new yet-to-be-fashioned framework for America’s democracy. I used to think that my generation, The Boomers, would lead the way. But I know from personal experience that many of us simply copped out.

So, today, I rest my hope on a new generation of Americans—the Millennials—many of whom are disinclined to inherit a world that Boomers have left for them.


My wish: November 8 will mark the end. The “new” will emerge and grow—not just in critique, not just at the margins—but, per Salit, as the “New Majoritarian.’

Frank Fear