Party’s Over: Time for Progressives to Jump Democrats’ Ship

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

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based freelance writer and author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.


  1. says

    Ed, the reason we only have the two viable parties is that we have a winner-take-all electoral system, which does not accommodate third parties or “conscience” voting. So as much as I may agree with your sentiment (hey I’ve been looking for real representation my whole life), I’m sure you understand the limitation of this system.

    In fact, we have one of the least representative democracies in the world with extremely low voter turn out as a result. And most of those who do vote understand that their vote will be wasted if they don’t cast it for the one most likely to win, or, in many cases, the lesser of two evils.

    I’m sure you remember the 2000 presidential election. Remember how Nader split the dem/progressive/liberal vote, which gave the election to Bush? (Well not really. I think that was the handiwork of the Sup Ct.) But the point is that until the winning candidate is required to obtain 51% of the vote to win, we are vulnerable to the spoiler effect.

    Now I’m certainly not blaming Nader, and I always supported his decision to run. I do question the intentions of some voters who knew what affect their vote would have. If you understand how the system works, why would you deliberately give the world George Bush.

    So I challenge those who either belong to a third party or want to start one to direct their energies towards electoral system reform – end the electoral college, support any and all opportunities to bring Instant Runoff Voting (or any form of proportional representation) to your communities and local governments, and learn about proportional representation so you can spread the word here at home.

    Most Americans are not familiar with the more representative systems used by other countries. And the best (and maybe the only) way to counter the recent Supreme Court assault on American democracy is to make it as representative as possible. This can only be done if we dismantle, from the grassroots up, the winner-take-all system.

  2. Progressive Mews says

    I’m more the type to believe in taking over the party. As long as we continue to go without publicly funded campaigns and Instant Run-off Voting, third parties are completely nonviable. I agree that a two-party system isn’t democratic, but I’m sick and tired of rants to abandon ship without even making sure the lifeboat can float. Way to hand it over to the Repubs!

    Right NOW we have an opportunity to take over the party, via the primaries. We can demonstrate to the administration that they are making a grave mistake believing they have to go even further right of center, by eliminating DINO incumbents and replacing them with Progressives!!!

    Likewise, there is already a strong movement to push for publicly funded campaigns due to the SCOTUS decision. Why not take this step, push for more municipalities to have Instant Run-off Voting, and vote Progressives into Dem-seats until we know third parties can actually win?

    Let me ask you this: Why do you think Denis Kucinich hasn’t become a Green Party member yet? When you figure that one out, I think we’ll be on the same page.

  3. kelly says

    Good luck with all that.

    How come, everyday, there are at least 2 articles on this update, and countless Dems/Progressives on television, recently and in the last 3 years noticeably, who start most of their sentences with the phrase “It’s time we did blah, blah, blah.” or the worst one “America is/wants (fill in the blank)”. You Dems and Progressives can’t agree on where to have lunch much less know what
    America wants. Retire the phrases. I’ve offered some realistic solutions to what your ilk is really saying:

    Instead of “It’s time we/America did (fill in the blank)” say “I’m a selfish crybaby socialist Progressive and this is what I want and if I don’t get it I’m gonna cry and bitch and then blame Bush/Cheney for everything that has ever happened in the history of the world.”

    Instead of “What America wants is (fill in the blank)” say “What my socialist view of a perfect America wants is (even though I don’t talk to anyone outside my progressive comfort zone so I really have no idea what 99.9999999% of America wants is….)”

    See these are much more to the point and illustrate the true meaning of what you try to convey.


  4. David Lentz says

    I think this is a great article. It summarizes the frustration I feel as an immigrant who obtained citizenship and voted for Obama in my first opportunity to vote. I am deeply disappointed. Next time I will not vote democratic. I will have to vote for some ‘independent’ on the ballot. How do we start a new party. I will support it.

  5. annieR says

    In view of the Supreme Court decision handing over the government to corporations, including foreign interests, this article is pointless.

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