Republican Scott Brown’s defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts’ Senate race raises key issues for real progressives, activists, and independents about the viability of the Democratic Party. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, expecting a different result. Every electoral cycle people who consider themselves left-of-center campaign and vote for Democratic candidates – albeit, often holding their noses while doing so. These well-meaning citizens are generally disappointed by the outcome — whether their candidates win or lose. Yet come the next election, they dutifully stuff envelopes, knock on doors and cast ballots for Dems again — expecting another outcome.
Why does this electoral straitjacket reign supreme? I just did a search on our Declaration of Independence and Constitution: Nowhere do the words “Democratic” or “Republican Party” appear. Yet these two private entities have such a stranglehold over our current political life you’d think Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Paine, etc., enshrined the Democrats and GOP in our framed rules. Today we have a despotic duopoly that limits political power to parties that didn’t exist in 1776 or when Washington took office, usurpers that dictatorially restrict elections — and hence governance — with onerous laws making it difficult for other parties to participate. It’s like there’s a sign on voting booths: “Republicans and Democrats only; others need not apply.” Unlike under segregation, there isn’t even a separate but equal water fountain for independents.
Nevertheless public opinion polls show the number of Democrats, Republicans and independents are roughly divided into thirds. A September 30, 2009, Gallup poll revealed 35% of respondents identified as Democrats, 27% as Republicans and 28% as independents — more than the GOP. Furthermore, in election after election, majorities of people eligible to vote don’t bother to, including tens of millions of non-voters during the presidential race: According to The Guardian, 36% of Americans didn’t vote in 2008, although it was a record year for voter turnout. One person’s lack of civic-mindedness is another’s protest through nonparticipation.
The sad but true reality of the electoral status quo of our supposed democracy is that the electorate’s options are severely limited. Since we’re political prisoners of two parties – both espousing free enterprise – voters are stuck in a Washington Wonderland, forced to choose between Twiddle Dee or Twiddle Dum, or not voting. Since voters don’t have viable labor, socialist, green, etc., alternatives to vote for, people simply register their displeasure with the powers-that-be by casting their ballots for the party out of office or not at all. It’s the lesser of two evils syndrome.
Coakley’s loss of the “Kennedy seat” in “Taxachusetts,” a state where registered Democrats greatly outnumber GOPers, to a Republican whom liberal talk show host Ed Schultz derides as a “bastard” and “Dick Cheney, Jr.” is a vote against the Obama administration. Coming one day shy of the one-year anniversary of Obama’s inauguration, Massachusetts’ special election is clearly a no-confidence vote in the president and his policies. Much is made of Obama’s enraging of conservative critics such as “Teabaggers,” but less attention is paid to how Democratic activists and independents who’d voted for him in record numbers are increasingly disaffected with him – and his party.
Obama reminds me of Groucho’s joke: “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?” He’d hoodwink us into believing he’s the candidate of “hope” and “change we can believe in” and then choose as his running mate an old man who was not only the third longest serving member of the Senate, but authorized Bush’s Iraq invasion and voted for a bill limiting consumers’ bankruptcy rights – while his son worked for a credit card company that not only benefited from the new law but was Joe Biden’s top campaign donor. Obama retained Bush’s Defense Secretary; chose another Washington insider for Secretary of State; selected Wall Street insiders partly responsible for the financial meltdown – Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and another Bush appointee, Ben Bernanke — for his economic team; courted gays’ votes and donations then gave them homophobic preacher Rick Warren as his inaugural invoker-in-chief.
Obama has not kept campaign pledges regarding global warming and Bush police state measures, such as closing Guantanamo. Indeed, the main campaign promise he has fulfilled is escalating the Afghan War. His shameful Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech justified 60 years of U.S. militarism, rendering Henry Kissinger’s 1970s acceptance speech dovish in comparison. Obama’s latest Judas kiss is appointing Bush, who so dreadfully botched Hurricane Katrina’s emergency response, to Haiti’s earthquake relief effort. (If that doesn’t make Haitians panic and riot in the streets, nothing will.) Heck of a job, Barack-y!
This is just the tip of the iceberg of Obama’s betrayal of Democratic activists and independents. In addition to Coakley’s catastrophe, Connecticut’s longtime senator, Christopher Dodd, announced he’s not seeking reelection. What’s going on here? In his 2009 documentary Capitalism, A Love Story, Michael Moore exposed Dodd’s sweetheart mortgage deals with Countrywide Financial and asked him to retire. Moore, who’d previously directed Sicko, also declared he’d campaign against any Democrat opposing a public option.
Similarly Obama’s healthcare bumbling, banker bailouts, drone attacks, high unemployment, etc., undermine the enthusiasm of party shock troops, keeping Dems and independents from getting out the vote in Massachusetts (as well as New Jersey and Virginia last November). Without committed cadres and nonpartisan voters – increasingly angered by Obama’s lies, failures, militarism – Democrats are losing seats, even one occupied forever by Teddy Kennedy, and stand to lose big time in November’s mid-term.
Let them. As David Cobb, 2004’s Green Party presidential candidate, said, “the Democratic Party is where progressive ideas go to die.” Left-leaning voters should leave it to the party’s corporate shills, hacks and conservatives. This doesn’t mean they should vote Republican: If you lie down with dogs you get fleas. But if you lie down with Democrats, you get Blue Dogs. A plague upon both their houses. It’s time to dump and jump the sinking two-party ship of state and create a new progressive people’s party. If those well-meaning activists who’d wasted time and money supporting Obama, just so he could backstab them once he got in power, had expended that energy and money on creating a new genuinely pro-worker, pro-peace, pro-human rights, pro-gay rights, pro-single payer, pro-woman, pro-ethnic rights, anti-global warming, anti-Wall Street party, we’d be better off.
America is sick and tired of the twin tyranny of Democrats and Republicans and ready for new parties; it’s called “democracy.” Certainly a new progressive party couldn’t do worse than our current two parties have. There’s nothing in the Declaration, Constitution – or Bible! — dictating only Democrats and Republicans can rule. However, “the right of the people to alter or abolish” governments destructive of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is our most cherished right, and is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.
Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based freelance writer and author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.