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Progressives Pay the Price for Confusing a Party With a Movement

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Posted on Sep 3, 2009

By David Sirota

The difference between parties and movements is simple: Parties are loyal to their own power regardless of policy agenda; movements are loyal to their own policy agenda regardless of which party champions it. This is one of the few enduring political axioms, and it explains why the organizations purporting to lead an American progressive “movement” have yet to build a real movement, much less a successful one.

Though the 2006 and 2008 elections were billed as progressive movement successes, the story behind them highlights a longer-term failure. During those contests, most leaders of Washington’s major labor, environmental, anti-war and anti-poverty groups spent millions of dollars on a party endeavor—specifically, on electing a Democratic president and Democratic Congress. In the process, many groups subverted their own movement agendas in the name of electoral unity.

The effort involved a sleight of hand. These groups begged their grass-roots members—janitors, soccer moms, veterans and other “regular folks”—to cough up small-dollar contributions in return for the promise of movement pressure on both parties’ politicians. Simultaneously, these groups went to dot-com and Wall Street millionaires asking them to chip in big checks in exchange for advocacy that did not offend those fat cats’ Democratic politician friends (or those millionaires’ economic privilege).

This wasn’t totally dishonest. Many groups sincerely believed that Democratic Party promotion was key to progressive movement causes. And anyway, during the Bush era, many of those causes automatically helped Democrats by indicting Republicans.

But after the 2008 election, the strategy’s bankruptcy is undeniable.

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As we now see, union dues underwrote Democratic leaders who today obstruct serious labor law reform and ignore past promises to fix NAFTA. Green groups’ resources helped elect a government that pretends sham “cap and trade” bills represent environmental progress. Health care groups promising to push a single-payer system got a president not only dropping his own single-payer promises, but also backing off a “public option” to compete with private insurance. And anti-war funding delivered a Congress that refuses to stop financing the Iraq mess, and an administration preparing to escalate the Afghanistan conflict.

Of course, frustrated progressives might be able to forgive the groups that promised different results, had these postelection failures prompted course corrections.

For example, had the left’s pre-eminent groups responded to Democrats’ health care capitulations by immediately announcing campaigns against these Democrats, progressives could feel confident that these groups were back to prioritizing a movement agenda. Likewise, had the big anti-war organizations reacted to Obama’s Afghanistan escalation plans with promises of electoral retribution, we would know those organizations were steadfastly loyal to their anti-war brand.

But that hasn’t happened. Despite the president’s health care retreat, most major progressive groups continue to cheer him on, afraid to lose their White House access and, thus, their Beltway status. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that Moveon.org has “yet to take a clear position on Afghanistan” while VoteVets’ leader all but genuflected to Obama, saying, “People [read: professional political operatives] do not want to take on the administration.”

In this vacuum, movement building has been left to underfunded (but stunningly successful) projects like Firedoglake.com, Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and local organizations. And that’s the lesson: True grass-roots movements that deliver concrete legislative results are not steered by marble-columned institutions, wealthy benefactors or celebrity politicians—and they are rarely ever run from Washington. They are almost always far-flung efforts by those organized around real-world results—those who don’t care about party conventions, congressional cocktail parties or White House soirees they were never invited to in the first place.

Only when enough progressives realize that truism will any movement—and any change—finally commence.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com.

© 2009 Creators.com


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By Patty T., September 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Those that advocate instant runoff voting to help the progressive candidates have
bought the spin.  In practical use, it doesn’t happen.  IRV does not necessarily
help progressive candidates.

San Francisco has the most experience using IRV. In the past 5 year, every single
candidate that ultimately won had the highest % of votes in the first round, and
the first round runner up, was the runner up in the end of the redistribution of
votes.

Meaning, no candidate ever moved from their original position. 

In fact, no candidate ever won with a majority (>50%) or the votes cast.  They were
just the last candidate left with the highest count when the votes were distributed.

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By tropicgirl, September 4, 2009 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment

David, you put your finger on the truth, exactly.

But, take it a step further… Can you not see the non-neo alliances beginning to
form, albeit hard to notice but altogether there?

You have Code Pink supporting the Town Halls (correctly so). You have
constant calls for alliances of liberals with Ron Paul. Even though they do not
share everything, there is a thread of common here on some issues, such as
the war.

Truth is, most people support the current uprising against Obama, and the
Democrats are totally unaware, as usual. The liberals who are aligned with
policies, and not Democrats power center (which is evaporating) get it. They
get the power. The average person, right or left, wants fiscal responsibility,
care of the sick, environmental reform and so on… Think of your neighbors.
Obama is not delivering on any of this.

I predict an alliance with a third party platform, by both liberals and
conservatives (not corporate neo’s) coming from a conservative stance, but
anti-war, corporate reformists, American people firsters, if you will. It will be
shifted toward conservative because there is building power there. No problem
as long as it is not culturally conservative and I think most of the normal
people are into that. And the Rushies and Beckies will be out in the proverbial
cold policy-wise, (but fun to listen to if you like comedy).

What do you think, David, since you are the only one apparently thinking?...

Again, nice job.

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By NYCartist, September 4, 2009 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment

While we have the two party system, we still have to work for change.  I suggest reading Howard Zinn, Frances Fox Piven (or look online for videos via
YouTube), and for good critical articles about Obama,
I recommend: http://www.blackagendareport.com

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By DHFabian, September 4, 2009 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment

We disagree on one point: I say we can be Progressive but realistic, but I also say that I can’t write the rules, saying “A Progressive believes this-or-that”. Those who are left-of-center (generally speaking, of course) are notorious for thinking for themselves, and as a result, often argue among themselves. That’s not a bad thing.

Early on in the campaign season,all options are open. By election day, the race gets narrowed down to one of two viable candidates. That’s just how the current system works. The debate about whether or not one should vote for a third party candidate on election day has been on-going for decades, and both sides present a reasonable argument. We each have to make that decision for ourselves.  My point was that it’s we just can’t state that every Progressive makes this or that choice, and if you don’t, you aren’t a Progressive. We aren’t Fox network people; we don’t all march to the same drummer.

I understand your definitions for Liberal and Progressive, and that’s fine.  To me, a liberal is more inclined toward talk than action, and more likely to conform to a set “liberal point of view.”
In my opinion—and that’s all it is, my opinion—today’s liberals seem very “Reagan-ized”, unaware of
how we’re all interconnected (i.e., what happens to the poor trickles up to the working class, then up to the lower-middle-class, etc), and seem to pick issues like one would pick food at a cafeteria—a little of this, maybe a little of that, thanks but not interested in main course. Progressives seem more inclined toward issues relevant to the poor and working class (two groups that are interchangable these days; poverty is not a topic that is currently fashionable among Liberals). A more liberal issue is gay rights or global warming, a more progressive issue is economic justice and curbing corporate power. Both perspectives are needed.

Ask the next person, and his/her interpretation of those two terms will be different.  That’s not a bad thing, either.  My point was simply that it’s not a good idea to try to put any chunk of the population into a nutshell, saying, “Progressives think such-and-such, and if you disagree, you’re not a real Progressive.” This is a sure-fire way to get people not to consider what you are saying. That would be a shame in this situation, because you do make some excellent points.

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By Folktruther, September 4, 2009 at 12:46 pm Link to this comment

I think a beginning to an American left movment can be initiated, as part of a world movement, by focusing on an anti-War on Terrorism.  The real purpose of this delusive war is not to protect Americans from terrorism, but to protect the American ruling class from the American population during enormous and increasing class inequality.

Emmanuel Wallerstein has a piece on CommonDreams predicting a firestorm in the near future in Muslim countries from Pakstan to Palestine.  It will be against US military imperialism and his argument is plausable.  Should it occur, it could kickstart an anti-War Terrorism around the world and in the US.

Such a movment is needed to get the American people to emotionally understand that the War on Terrorism involved a basic transformation of the US power system.  It was initiated by the 9/11-anthrax public relations homicide orchestrated and used by the Bushite administration.  It legitimated military imperialism, a historical regression to colonialism and the barbarism of torture, rape and deceit that the world was emerging from. 

But in addition to war abroad, it initiated a neoliberal police state at home, which Obama is continuing.  The dispowering of the Amereican population continues apace, legitimated now by Obama’s inspiring deceit rather the Bushite lies. 

Until Americans have the intellectual and moral courage to acknowledge that the ruling class has given up a long range future for the US power system in favor of intesive current exploitation, we cannot formulate effective strategies for dealing with them and the economy. 

such a movment would form the necessary cadre to form the eventual party needed to deal with the US economy and to formulate a new or modified political system that empowers the population.

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By Dave Schwab, September 4, 2009 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment

I do know that everyone is not me. But people who say “progressives voted for Obama” are using an incorrect definition of the term.

Progressives: live and vote their values

Liberals: do not live and vote the values they profess to hold

Some people are fine with sleazebags like James Carville and Hillary Clinton hijacking the term “progressive” because their party sullied the term “liberal” so. Not me. I’ll be damned if I help kill the progressive movement like Bush-loving conservative apologists helped kill the conservative movement.

By the way, if your philosophy is “well, in a perfect world I’d really love x, but you have to do the best with what you’ve got [ie. what Goldman Sachs and company let you have] then you, sir, are a liberal.

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By Kesey Seven, September 4, 2009 at 11:59 am Link to this comment

The irony is a third-party candidate could get elected without a single vote from a Dem or a Repub—that many people don’t vote. 

I voted for Nader in 2000 because there was no way in hell I would ever vote for Lieberman.  Gore essentially hired a Republican as a running mate; it was a major F-up.  Then the Demos whined and moaned when they lost, never acknowledging Gore ran the campaign of an idiot signifying nothing. 

2004, voted for Kerry even though HE ran the campaign of an idiot, too. 

2008, supported Kucinich early on, but did not have to hold my nose to vote for Obama, just had to acknowledge beforehand that I was voting for someone who would keep a place at the table, and therefore deny a place to someone who was a little bit nuts, McCain, and completely nuts, Palin.

Here’s to hoping the Green Party nominates Michael Moore or Sean Penn in 2012. Just joking, kind of. But it would be good if they could choose someone with national prominence, with a lot of guts, who also happens to be a great speaker.

Most Dems are just Republicans in drag.

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By DHFabian, September 4, 2009 at 11:51 am Link to this comment

Greenferret, Please recognize that not everyone is you. Not all people reach the same conclusions that you have reached, so don’t say, “All progressives…” or “All liberals…” do this or that.

By election day, it was clear that there were only two viable choices—Obama or McCain. This country is in such crisis that I believed I couldn’t afford to cast a protest vote, i.e., voting for ANY third party candidate. I voted for Obama because I believed (and still believe)  Obama was the best of all leading candidates that we’ve seen in decades. Of course I don’t agree with all of his policies, and I often strongly disagree with Congress, but you have the do the best you can with what you’ve got.

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By Dave Schwab, September 4, 2009 at 10:33 am Link to this comment

Progressives didn’t support Obama. Progressives know that the only way to make progress is to live and vote one’s values - that’s why they supported McKinney, Nader, and other Green and independent candidates.

Liberal Democrats - the ones who claim to share the same values as progressives, but scream and curse at anyone who actually votes for those values - supported Obama. I’m sorry for anyone who was misled into thinking Obama was something he is not, but I know from personal conversations that many were misleading themselves.

David, two key words are missing from this and all your columns - Green Party. We already have a national progressive party in this country. Check out the platform. How about one column where you write about a true grassroots progressive party, instead of moaning about a corporate-controlled establishment party.

Green is peace, justice, democracy, ecology:

http://gp.org/

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By Butter, September 4, 2009 at 10:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Nancy Bordier:

Absolutely brilliant!

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By James Bowen, September 4, 2009 at 10:19 am Link to this comment

So David after you’re through dividing the Democrats what is your strategy for dividing the republicans who must be cheering this column?

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By Rontruth, September 4, 2009 at 9:58 am Link to this comment

DHFabian,
I would have to agree with your commentary, although I remember Cindy Sheehan and hundreds of thousands of America’s young, and some not so young, took to the streets, including the dirt road just outside Dubya’s Crawford, Texas ranch.

The real way to do this whole thing, is not only to march, but do as we did in the 1960’s when we marched for civil rights, sang the powerful songs of social and economic justice, and peace, and then did something the fat cats weren’t expecting.

Now, get this. Through the grassroots organizations for civil rights and the peace groups, with money raised by popular performing groups, like Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and others, we staged, and raised awareness of with our picket signs, etc. and newspaper advertisements, “TEACH-INS.” The teach-ins” were set up outdoors, indoors, and wherever people might naturally congregate, including churches. Their purpose was to help people do things like boycots of certain businesses who were known to hold certain pro-war, or anti-civil rights beliefs, or who produced war materials, etc.

In the fight over healthcare reform, group members would get together and discover which medical clinics or hospitals or doctor’s offices had refused to treat the uninsured, or other major issues that affect the health of ordinary peopple, and advertise in various ways to the elderly,  or others to not use those particular healthcare establishments. In other words, to take their medical cards to more friendly locations. Other members would be in situations such that they could provide transportation of poor people to medical care facilities whose owners or leaders gave good medical treatment to those who otherwise would get shoddy treatment.

Boycots can be done to make changes in other areas of the economy, not just healthcare. Job discrimination is another. People can boycot the products that are manufactured by firms that practice discrimination, or who provide less costly, and thereby less effective insurance coverage for the healthcare of their employees.

You cannot, as a group of concerned citizens, effectuate real change unless and until you hit the greedy dirtbags in their collective pocketbooks.

Now, join Jesse Ventura in the REVOLUTION. Yeah!

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By herewegoagain, September 4, 2009 at 9:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with Mr. Sirota, it’s pretty clear by now that we won’t see change by focusing our efforts on electing Democrats. By and large, most are now owned by mega-corporations and industry. To expect these people are actually going to push for campaign finance reform that reverses this situation is completely unrealistic.

So, we need a grassroots movement that catches public attention and support: electing only politicians who don’t take a dime of corporate money. I believe this is our best hope.

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By Night-Gaunt, September 4, 2009 at 9:35 am Link to this comment

Mr. Sirota is correct as to the remedy. It isn’t a complex in hypothetical way is to organize as many as possible and stick to what they all agree with as a base even if they differ on many other areas. The Greens, Demo-Socialists, Libertarians, Conservatives, Anarchists, Black Panthers, Wobblies, Christians (not all are Dominionists et cetera, have some things in common. Will we be able to? Divide and conquer is a well tested and proven method against us even today.

We really needed to infiltrate both heads of the same corporate theocratic party just like what was done to them. The republicans started in the 1960’s (Goldwater knew their type and detested them) and the Democrates in the 1980’s. But do we have time before the next disaster (they planned for many contingencies) to weaken or make our gov’t finally fall? Otherwise how will the monopoly be broken? Can it still be done?

Obama was just the latest way to absorb the frustration and mistrust in order to keep the program of transformation from a democratic-republic (however broken) to a fascist empire. Most of the problems we are experiencing from economic meltdown (on hold) to two wars with more in the offing, while the military creeps into our schools ever deeper along with their corporate partners.  Pollution, energy loss, water shortages, fires, droughts, food, disease, climate changes all happening at once. Difficult to think when you have so many problems going at once. This which also hides what sabotage from within by those who want our gov’t to fail—-so that they can come in with their own form of gov’t to take over. “To save us.”

Obama is just in a line of managers going back to Reagan putting on the human face for the shadowed cabal that is the worm in the heart of our republic eating its way nourishing its empire to come. Draining the vitality of its host to fund its massive military machine larger than any ever in existence.

Once you see it from that point of view then all the other actions make sense. The political monopoly must be broken or we are doomed to follow the written by those who do not like our form of gov’t even if they control most of it. It is messy and dictatorships are streamlined and straight forward.

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By KDelphi, September 4, 2009 at 9:29 am Link to this comment

Yes, it was probably easier to just give Obama a donation, but look at what we ended up with? (Btw—didnt give hm a red cent)

thebeerdr—” For those still enamored of the small change they can believe in, consider this: Obama and the democratic majority have managed to do what even the Republicans could not accomplish, and that is, raid the Social Security trust fund, using bureaucratic slight of hand that mainstream media liberals do not even mention.
The deceit of the new regime shocks even the most hardened cynics..”

I agree!

DHFabian got this right, certainly: “Also, history shows that the foot-soldiers of every significant social movement have been the poor.  It’s fair to say that America—including Progressives—have shut the door on our poor.  When the “social safety net” was torn out, those who have a voice didn’t bother to say, “Stop!”  So, whatever could be accomplished, the poor know they would continue to be blocked out. What’s left is a movement with few foot soldiers.  There are organizations and fund-raisers, but few to take to the streets to demand to be heard.”

How often have you heard Obama even use the term “poor” or “poverty”? When peopl came to his rallies with signs like ‘What about the Ghetto”? Obama’s junior high minions shouted them down with “Yes we can”! Sounded alot like a neo-liberal versin of “U.S.A!” to me.

Until the ‘war” hits more people right where they live, as long as the middle class is relatively comfortable, they wil keep pushing for people like Obama—keep stock portfolios , IRAs and 401k’s (which wouldnt have to exist if the uS had a decent pension plan for all)heading in the right direction, dont “go soft” on the Af-Pak fiasco, make sure that those with gold-plated health industry plans are not touched (do you ever hear him talk about the 50 m uninsured anymore? Youd think that it was a finanacial debate!) and you’ll get re-elected, Obama.

Pretend to be overturning some of Bush’s uncontstituional laws, pass watered-down verions of the EFCA and “credit card bill reform” and hire on Wall St to fix Wall St. Continue with mercenaries, flip-flop on principles like supporting the democratically elected president of Honduras, waffle on Cuba and “dont ask , Dont tell” ,etc. Continue No Child’s Behind Left , with the profit-only inspired Arne Duncan, and bend over backwards for the NRA and then complain about guns at Town Hall Mtgs.

Dont get me started on his ban of crony appointees.

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By Sallyport, September 4, 2009 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sirota’s & some of the respondents’ views point up the fact that real effectiveness
depends on a widespread vocal campaign for our truly progressive aims: stop the
wars, regulate capital, install universal single-payer health care, provide jobs
through public works.  Big marches on Washington take too much energy and are
shut out by the corporate media to such an extent that they might as well not have
happened.  What is needed is a country-wide rash of demos—one in every town
—that will be visible to more people & can involve more people everywhere. These
demos are not insignificant.  I have seen a bi-weekly demo against the war in a
predominantly red town of about 7000 population go from reaping angry shouts,
fingers, thumbs down, to garnering thanks, happy waves, V signs, and increased
attendance.  Steadfastness is key.  People respond to real human beings in a way
that brings self-examination.

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By ElkoJohn, September 4, 2009 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

if the 50-million uninsured would
march on Washington & do massive
civil disobedience, we’d get universal
health care. . .
The power elite in DC don’t give a damn
about the disenfranchised, BUT
the disenfranchised won’t fight the establishment.
se la vie.

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By dihey, September 4, 2009 at 9:01 am Link to this comment

Answer to question: because they are too lazy or else too hogtied to Obama to start a new political movement which “anti-war” has never been.

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By Ouroborus, September 4, 2009 at 8:32 am Link to this comment

Yup, we’re doomed, nobody listens! Curiosity is dead,
pity!

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By Rontruth, September 4, 2009 at 8:29 am Link to this comment

The idea of a political revolution becomes more and more appealing. The problem is as as it has always been, at least in my lifetime, that “intellectuals” want someone in office at any level, that thinks like they do. They refuse to see intelligence in anyone who disagrees with their views.

If I were totally honest about my political views (and I, like most people, am not), my first choice for president would be someone like Jesse Ventura, of Minnesota. He speaks slowly and distinctly, but if you actually listen to him, he makes totally honest political statements, a political rarity these days.

Jerry Falwell once said of Ventura, “Well, Geraldo (Rivera), you can easily see that Jesse got bouced around the wrestling rink one time too many.” Falwell was insulting Ventura because Ventura made the comment that he had studied the assassination of President Kennedy, as many including myself have, and found that he could not accept the Warren Commission’s conclusions.

(About the Warren Commission, Ted Kennedy’s Memoir book in which he states publicly that he “had always accepted the Warren Commission’s findings,” was Ted’s attempt to keep the warmongering fascists who fly under the banner of “democracy,” from committing any further atrocities against his remaining family.

What is the basic difference between Jesse Ventura and the late Senator Ted Kennedy? Simply that one had the temerity to say in public that his study of the “crime of the last century” was committed by members of President John F. Kennedy’s own government, rather than by a lone-nut who had no history of violence in his past, and actually had agreed with many of JFK’s decisions, speaking of Lee Harvey Oswald. I can’t believe that Ted Kennedy didn’t know at least as much as Governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura!

The point here is that what our government needs are people like JFK. People whose wealth means that they do not need any special interest money with all the strings attached to it. Such politicians, when they become “the leader,” would likely do as JFK did. He set about policy positions which he tried to stick with, including issues of war and peace.

He also began making changes in the backing of US money. He wanted to take control of the US dollar from the Federal Reserve, which he saw as controlling the US economy through control of interest rates, doing such only to the benefit of the already wealthy. He saw the Fed as an enemy of the American people, and set out to remove their power. He lost on November 22, 1963.

Jesse is much more like JFK was, than was JFK’s youngest brother. One big difference is the fact that both President Kennedy and former Minnesota Governor, Jesse Ventura, served in the US military during time of conflict abroad. Ted did not.

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By race_to_the_bottom, September 4, 2009 at 8:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ardee is right, of course. The Two Party System is a trap for progressives. But it is an elaborate and carefully designed trap with many layers. It has “defense in depth”. It’s effectiveness can be gauged by the fact that all true progressives who wish to do anything at all are forced to involve themselves on one level or another in the Democratic “Party”.

Why “Party”? Because it is not a Party. Parties have members. Party members pay dues, have cards, participate in local party affairs, elect delegates to regional or national party bodies which create the program of the party. Candidates of the party must defend the program during election campaigns. They cannot simply ignore it and do their own thing. If they do, they are expelled from the party because they are not representing the membership. This is how it should be and is, at least theoretically, because outside forces are always trying to influence parties for their own purposes.

Now, the Democratic “Party” has no members. None. You can be active during elections to elect Democrats to office, of course, but you cannot influence policy. The “convention” is a joke; a stage managed affair. Probably 90% of the delegates at the last “convention” were for single payer, for an end to the wars, workers’ rights, and other parts of the progressive agenda, but there was no possibility of being allowed to vote on such matters. None.

The “party” is deliberately designed this way so that it is impossible for progressives to control it. Actually, the Republican “party” has pretty much the same structure.

So what is the solution? Forming a progressive party on the left is the obvious answer, but we see where that goes. Under the winner take all system, a progressive party could theoretically get 49% of the vote and get not a single representative in the legislatures of the state or federal government. Pretty damned airtight. If we had a system of proportional representation we could possibly begin to break up the system, but our antiquated constitution probably wouldn’t allow it. Defense in depth. Instant runoff voting could help progressive at least maintain credible parties on the left, but the establishment is dead set against it, realizing its dangers to the system.

I’m just throwing this out there to provoke some thinking about what the Democratic “Party” is. Not a party at all, but part of the state machinery to corral progressives and keep power away from the people.  I’m hoping that some practical thinking can emerge.

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By DHFabian, September 4, 2009 at 8:23 am Link to this comment

I reached some of the same conclusions, myself.  I think about the differences between what happened in the past(abolition, women’s sufferage,labor movement, civil rights,etc) and what’s happening (or not happening) today. It seems we can run organizations, but have lost our ability to organize.  We rarely protest because we are required to obtain protest permits and remains in the designated protest zone, and there seems to be no courage to say, “To hell with that! Let’s march!” 

Also, history shows that the foot-soldiers of every significant social movement have been the poor.  It’s fair to say that America—including Progressives—have shut the door on our poor.  When the “social safety net” was torn out, those who have a voice didn’t bother to say, “Stop!”  So, whatever could be accomplished, the poor know they would continue to be blocked out. What’s left is a movement with few foot soldiers.  There are organizations and fund-raisers, but few to take to the streets to demand to be heard.

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By Nancy Bordier, September 4, 2009 at 8:22 am Link to this comment

The Democratic and Republican Parties, and their corporate benefactors, have undermined rather than strengthened majority rule and democratic processes.

They have turned elections into meaningless rituals in which voters do not express but rather relinquish their sovereignty to influence peddling elected officials.

As I point out in my book, Re-Inventing Democracy (which can be read free online), the trifecta of political parties, corporate interests and corrupted politicians have de-coupled government in the U.S. from popular control.

The path to re-inventing democracy so that it serves the people requires the creation of new political parties that will be unlike any prior political parties because voters will actually set their agendas and decide who will run on party lines.

The Interactive Voter Choice System I invented empowers voters across the political spectrum to create such parties. It enables them to reset the nation’s policy priorities across the board, and build socio-political networks, coalitions and voting blocs that can either take over existing political parties or build new ones.

Voters can use this bottom up, self-organizing web tool free of charge to build consensus and create genuine grassroots movements that cut across existing party lines and ideologies.

Obama and his operatives claim they have built a grassroots movement. But all they did was harness social networking web technologies to campaign marketing techniques to create the impression that a movement was emerging. At no time did they allow their supporters to define Obama’s policy agenda nor are they willing to do so today.

This failure explains why Obama cannot mobilize the 13 million members in his campaign database to support his health care reform proposals, which actually flout the will of the majority of Americans who support a single payer system like Medicare.

It is time for progressives to call his bluff and show that Obama’s phony movement is a paper tiger that can easily be outflanked by the emerging progressive majority.

This can easily be accomplished provided progressive activists in the progressive blogosphere and organizations like MoveOn, Progressive Democrats of America, Democracy for America join forces with labor unions to transform the emerging progressive majority into a movement that can win elections and get control of government.

The Interactive Voter Choice System is a unique and indispensable strategic and tactical tool for making this happen.

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By Gregg_Jocoy, September 4, 2009 at 8:19 am Link to this comment

MoveOn.org has always had a leadership that was more moderate to conservative than their supporters.  Obama told us that he wanted to expand the war on Afghanistan, and said clearly that he would be willing to invade Pakistan.  His slogan of “change we can believe in” was as real as any other advertising slogan.  As Jackson Browne wrote back in the 80s,

They sell us the president the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us every thing from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars

What some seem to be missing is that Sirota is saying that progress rests in local groups making change.  Large national organizations with corporate structures are not going to help anyone but those who are already in power.  If large organized labor groups threw millions to alternative parties as a way to pressure the Democrats to adopt more meaningful change the Democratic leadership would crush them.

I am a Green Party member, and while I agree with the sentiment that parties are inclined to support their elected members at the expense of their issues, another part of the story is the local, decentralized nature of the Green Party.  With over a hundred electeds across the nation pushing for real reform at the school board, county council and city council lever, the Green Party offers activists who want real change a place to lead and follow without risking their values in the process.

If you want real change you must work for it.  The forces of reaction don’t quit pushing, and don’t give up.  We can’t afford to do so either.

Because I don’t want to go afoul of this site’s policies I won’t post the web address of the Green Party news site where I write often, but if you want to know more about what local Greens across the planet are doing, please put my name into any search engine and you should find it.  grin

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By Nancy Bordier, September 4, 2009 at 8:10 am Link to this comment

The Democratic and Republican Parties, and their corporate benefactors, have undermined rather than strengthened majority rule and democratic processes.

They have turned elections into meaningless rituals in which voters do not express but rather relinquish their sovereignty to influence peddling elected officials.

As I point out in my book, Re-Inventing Democracy (which can be read free online), the trifecta of political parties, corporate interests and corrupted politicians have de-coupled government in the U.S. from popular control.

The path to re-inventing democracy so that it serves the people requires the creation of new political parties that will be unlike any prior political parties because voters will actually set their agendas and decide who will run on party lines.

The Interactive Voter Choice System I invented empowers voters across the political spectrum to create such parties. It enables them to reset the nation’s policy priorities across the board, and build socio-political networks, coalitions and voting blocs that can either take over existing political parties or build new ones.

Voters can use this bottom up, self-organizing web tool free of charge to build consensus and create genuine grassroots movements that cut across existing party lines and ideologies.

Obama and his operatives claim they have built a grassroots movement. But all they did was harness social networking web technologies to campaign marketing techniques to create the impression that a movement was emerging. At no time did they allow their supporters to define Obama’s policy agenda nor are they willing to do so today.

This failure explains why Obama cannot mobilize the 13 million members in his campaign database to support his health care reform proposals, which actually flout the will of the majority of Americans who support a single payer system like Medicare.

It is time for progressives to call his bluff and show that Obama’s phony movement is a paper tiger that can easily be outflanked by the emerging progressive majority.

This can easily be accomplished provided progressive activists in the progressive blogosphere and organizations like MoveOn, Progressive Democrats of America, Democracy for America join forces with labor unions to transform the emerging progressive majority into a movement that can win elections and get control of government.

The Interactive Voter Choice System is a unique and indispensable strategic and tactical tool for making this happen.

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By LostHills, September 4, 2009 at 7:46 am Link to this comment

Sirota offers no path to change because there is none. Because we have allowed legal and institutionalized bribery to fuel our political system, the same big money players control both parties. If a third party emerged as any kind of a threat, they would simply buy them off, too. The vote means very little these days, when the less bribable candidates are weeded out in the primaries. Good luck trying to vote for a candidate who does not take money from the coal companies, the insurance companies, the Israel lobby, the military contractors, etc. They can’t get on the ballot or run an effective campaign if they don’t, and money buys influence, pure and simple. You cannot have a democracy when you allow your politicians to take bribes, and that’s why we don’t have one. The only people in a position to change this system are the bribe takers themselves, and that ain’t gonna happen. The people might be able to overthrow this system if they were unified, but we have allowed ourselves to be divided into “left” and “right,” and that’s really the only purpose of the two parties any more…..

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By the worm, September 4, 2009 at 7:45 am Link to this comment

Here’s an example, I stumbled on in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. In less than
nine months, “the Fed has bought roughly $740 billion in mortgage-backed
securities and the debt of government-backed mortgage agencies”.  The
entirety of health care reform would cost $1,00 billion a year.  **So, Bernake,
Obama & Guitner have taken the health care reform money and spent it instead
to cover the financial institutions’ miscarriage of public responsibility. 
**Now, in the next couple of weeks, Obama and friends (among them ‘the pay
Czar) will announce the bonuses for the CEOs and higher-ups in the financial
industry - bonuses for getting money from the government to cover their
misdeeds, not bonuses for adding to the wealth and well-being of the nation.
**“Parties are loyal to their own power regardless of policy agenda; movements
are loyal to their own policy agenda regardless of which party champions it.”
**Obama’s advisors do not see their power as coming from the high number of
young people who voted for them, or as coming from the astonishing number
of motivated voters who made individual contributions to their campaign and to
other Democrats, or as coming from the usually un-involved who were moved
by the prospect of ‘real change’ and contributed funds and votes. Nope,
Obama’s advisors see their power as coming from Wall Street.
**$740 billion is only a drop in the bucket, a small part of the debt Bernake,
Obama and Guitner have accepted to bailout their Wall Street buddies. Now,
they’re happily sacrificing health care reform in the name of ‘budgetary
constraint’.  Perceived power base equals ‘wealthy’. Policy equals ‘welfare for
the wealthy’; politics equals talk about - but no action on - ‘real change’.

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By Ouroborus, September 4, 2009 at 7:41 am Link to this comment

The Wobblies! Hello, the Wobblies! For those of you
looking for something more than a 2 party system; check
out the Wobblies. Maybe it’s an idea whose time has
come! To find the future; look to the past. As Solomon
said; “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Look to the
past to advance your future; history is a great
equalizer because this crap today started a long time
ago and will be fought as long as humans exist on this
planet. It’s so simple it might just be missed! A
hearty thanks to JPS for the reminder.

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By Kevin Martin, September 4, 2009 at 7:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I generally agree with Mr. Sirota but I think this needs a bit of de-construction, especially as to who the “we” is/are here. Also pieces like this are written from some fantasy wannabe omniscient vantage point as though somebody (who?) could “direct” a grassroots, decentralized, resource-poor movement to “do the right thing” strategically and politically, which I find tiresome.

I can’t speak for the unions, enviros, consumer groups, etc. But the peace/anti-war folks, the grassroots organizations (not talking about MoveOn here), didn’t endorse Obama, nor raise a bunch of dough for him and the Dems. We knew that though he wasn’t Bush, he also isn’t Gandhi, and his positions clearly didn’t and don’t warrant our endorsement.

Sure, many of our members and supporters (but for the most part not our activists and organizers) were enthusiastic Obama supporters/donors/volunteers and transferred a (sometimes large) part of their activist energy to the campaign, but that is usually the case, campaigns are exciting and much better resourced than we are, and we are a decentralized movement and we can’t control what those folks do, how they choose to expend their shoe leather is largely out of our hands.

Actually, compared to 1992, I think we have done a better job of maintaining our independence and holding onto our supporters, though of course the tanking economy has hurt us badly as it has everybody in the economy who Obama didn’t bail out with our children’s and grandchildren’s money. I think this is precisely because of a better sophistication about organizing, politics, and the unyielding nature of militarism and the war machine, regardless of who is president, even if it’s a nice, thoughtful, charismatic smart young black man.

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

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By Paul_GA, September 4, 2009 at 6:59 am Link to this comment

If there’s to be political reform—or revolution—in this country, it’s have to come from without the Repubs and Demos (a plague on both their houses!), not from within them. The two major parties are both essentially parties of the Status Quo—and as Solzhenitsyn said 30 years ago, “This debilitating dream of a Status Quo is the symptom of a society that has come to the end of its development.”

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By Chad Lupkes, September 4, 2009 at 6:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When a bill finally hits the floor and a vote is
taken, then we’ll see.  Right now the flailing around
is because there has been no vote on anything related
to Health Care reform.

There was a vote on Cap and Trade in the House,
although I agree it’s too little and perhaps too
late.  I personally don’t believe that it will ever
get a vote in the Senate.

Sirota is saying that it is up to us, not party
leaders.  Of course, I’m saying that as a local party
leader myself.  I stand on a foundation in two parts. 
Our bylaws, and our platform.  http://46dems.com  As
soon as I see votes that defy either or both, I will
speak up for or against reelection campaigns.

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By Amy, September 4, 2009 at 6:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is all because of our first-past-the-post voting system.  If people could rank
their choices then they would be free to abandon either major party for candidates
aligned with their cause.

http://www.instantrunoff.com

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By johnp, September 4, 2009 at 6:37 am Link to this comment

The values Progressives are behind are represented by the Green Party, not the Democratic party. Many of us knew going into the last election we were voting against Bush/McCain, not necessarily for Obama. My intuition re Obama proved correct when the cabinet members were chosen and the bailouts started. It’s been, as Dave said above, downhill since then.

Even if you think that a Green vote is “irrelevant”, isn’t it your personal responsibility to vote FOR something you believe in, rather than against something you don’t? What statement does it make for someone who believes in single payer, an end to the wars, free good education, and a proper investigation into war crimes by the previous administration (for starters)to vote for the party that may..or may not (as is being seen now) support these values? Vote/work for what you want, for what you believe in, which is what Dave is saying at the end of this piece, and I agree.

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By Ouroborus, September 4, 2009 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

ardee and jackpine savage; the Wobblies actually still
exist but their active membership is below 1,000
members. They have been effectively neutralized by
corporate and government directed violence, pretty much
the same way public demonstrations have been met with
over-reaction by the police in recent years. U. Utah
Phillips was a major song writer and proponent for
them. I never missed his show; but alas, he’s gone. RIP
U. Utah Phillips.

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By rico, suave, September 4, 2009 at 5:52 am Link to this comment

I agree with ardee. Sirota does nail it. But true conservatives also feel let down by the Republican party. They were very doubtful of McCain’s ability or desire to carry their torch in 08- abortion, immigration, the environment, bailouts.

I disagree with you ardee in your assertion that the right enjoys any kind of solidarity. From my perspective on the right, radical right-wingers have marginalized themselves into irrelevance within the Rep party and are just as fed up with the two party system as any disappointed progressives.

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By Anarcissie, September 4, 2009 at 5:29 am Link to this comment

I checked my past mail from MoveOn going back to the beginning of May and I observe that almost all of it is about “health care” in fairly vague terms—vague enough to permit a sellout under the pretense of the “public option”.  There was nothing about Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan or the financial fandango or the economy or war crimes or secret police.  One article suggested supporting the protesters in Iran, a pretty safe bet even a Republican could go for.

Ideologically, I would say that MoveOn’s back is to the wall.  If Mr. O dumps them on the medical issues as he has dumped the Left on everything else, they will have to choose between a moribund irrelevance or going into opposition.  I imagine the other progressive organizations, as they call themselves, will find themselves in the same sinking boat.

No news here to actual leftists, but apparently it’s news to the likes of David Sirota, just waking up now after a long snooze.

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By progwoman, September 4, 2009 at 5:09 am Link to this comment

Having heard this argument since the sixties, I think it fails to take into account several things. One, in a two party system such as ours, it’s hard to influence the government if you’re not in one party or the other. A vote for Ralph Nader may make you feel virtuous, but it has little consequence. Two, having worked to elect Obama (clearly the most progressive candidate running) I feel an obligation to both push him and support him. Three, our democracy is more fragile than we progressives acknowledge. We came dangerously close to losing it during the Bush administration, and one reason is that we became complacent during the Clinton years. Remember that old saw that there was essentially no difference between Gore and Bush? And, four, Obama’s election intensified the racial divide in this country, and we would be wrong to leave him hanging in the wind.

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By Howie Bledsoe, September 4, 2009 at 4:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Notice that many politicians are starting to realize that the average Joe is less and less happy with a 2 party system, and are going independent. This is a mixed blessing, too, as I can guarantee that come next POTUS election many will go this route, even though their agenda will be EXACTLY the same under the independent flag as it is under the current dem/repug flag. These people are corrupt, greedy and inept at everything but keeping themselves fat.

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By thebeerdoctor, September 4, 2009 at 4:22 am Link to this comment

I have been criticized for putting President Obama’s feet to the fire, when pointing out the war monger hypocrisy of his administration’s policies. As an advocate for world peace, what else would be the proper action to take?
Becoming conscious of the unnecessary pain inflicted on others, just so a corrupt minority can enjoy their wealth, this just not cut it in the 21st century. Despite having, at one time, a devoted following, who pretended that President Obama would be that good and wise man of peace they were pretending he was. The same can be said of the other matters David Sirota speaks of: economical justice, universal healthcare and an end to the United States being a tyrannical state that tortures. Perhaps if the tue believers had carefully read what he posted on the issues on his campaign web site and noticed that he advocated for greater lethality (in fact the greatest military lethality in the world). Perhaps if they read those infamous speeches made to AIPAC, and realized that was not overheated red meat rhetoric. Perhaps they should have paused when chose the Israel lobby shill, Joe Biden, to be his running mate. Maybe they would have taken the blinders off… but then again, perhaps not, the moose and squirrel narrative of John McCain and company, proved to be a powerful media incentive.
To be frank, the term “progressive” is a rather silly term that defines or describes very little. For those still enamored of the small change they can believe in, consider this: Obama and the democratic majority have managed to do what even the Republicans could not accomplish, and that is, raid the Social Security trust fund, using bureaucratic slight of hand that mainstream media liberals do not even mention.
The deceit of the new regime shocks even the most hardened cynics.

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By jackpine savage, September 4, 2009 at 4:15 am Link to this comment

Good point, ardee. I’m coming to the conclusion that the only way is to bring back the Wobblies.

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By godistwaddle, September 4, 2009 at 3:32 am Link to this comment

Dems can’t get this stuff done:  none of them (well, maybe Kucinich) deserves to be returned to office.  Socialist!!  Green!  Working Families!! Anything but the contemptible, traitorous Dems.  (Except the murderous, traitorous Repubs, of course.)

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By ardee, September 4, 2009 at 3:13 am Link to this comment

I am not always in accord with the political thoughts of Mr. Sirota, but he nails this one, in my opinion.

The Two Party System is a trap, a sham and a fraud, especially for those of us on the left. The Democratic Party considers the progressive voters of this nation to be dyed in the wool democratic voters and thus expends little to no effort to satisfy our wishes for governance.

While the right enjoys a solidarity that may be a mixed blessing, especially considering the proximity of radical right wingers to genuine conservative republicans who may be increasingly uncomfortable with this proximity, the left is far to fractured and thus voiceless to matter to the Democrats.

I do note that Mr. Sirota offers no path to change other than a vague impression that we on the left need to find a solidarity and thus a powerful voice.

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By bilbabagge, September 4, 2009 at 12:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Perhaps in addition to looking to each other to affect change, we could also look into ourselves.  The choices I make each day to “live well” (buy from locally owned, non chain businesses, eat organic, practice compassion, listen to others, read, etc.)are political choices and actions which, if multiplied by millions, are socially and politically impactful.

We cannot “have our cake and eat it, too.”  The answer is us.

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