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This Democratic Party Is Going Nowhere. Can Progressives Take it Over and Change the World?

Posted on Nov 8, 2014

By Alan Minsky

  Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., center, joined by congressional Democrats and others, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Sept. 8 calling for an amendment to the Constitution aimed at curbing special interests’ financial clout in elections. From left: Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen; Margery F. Baker, executive vice president for policy and program at People for the American Way; Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Sanders; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.; and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Tuesday’s crushing defeat of the centrist Clinton/Obama Democratic Party provides an opening for the American left. The next few years are not going to be pretty, but they could be the beginning of something beautiful. 

In 2009, shortly after its most crushing national electoral defeat in 44 years, the GOP was sparked back to life by the tea party insurgency. America’s right wing revived its moribund conservative party with a stark challenge to the Republican establishment. The GOP gained 63 House seats in 2010.

Could the left do something similar to bring the Democrats back to life? Many barriers have to be confronted, but left progressives who are serious about making positive changes in our society need to get going now—for two reasons.


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First: The moderate, pro-corporate, Democratic Leadership Council wing that has dominated the Democratic Party since 1992 is reeling, unable to compete with a well-funded and reactionary GOP. Without a charismatic frontman or -woman, this Democratic Party cannot mobilize its middle- and working-class base for the simple reason that it doesn’t represent their interests. Only left progressives stand for the welfare of average Americans, and they have to stand up, make this distinction and stake their claim before all focus turns to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. 

Second: The country and the world are a mess. The economy, the justice system, the environment, education, immigration and foreign policy are all out of whack. Obama, Hillary and the centrist Democrats aren’t going to set these right; as for the GOP, God forbid. If left progressives really believe that their program for America is the best possible program, which they do, the state of the world demands that they get to it right away.

The time is right to strike now. The electoral left has a secret, albeit underutilized, asset. Almost no one in this benighted land knows that the Congressional Progressive Caucus is larger now than the Tea Party Caucus ever has been—yet given its relative influence on the national discourse, the CPC’s anonymity is no surprise. The progressive caucus is simply not as aggressive or as focused a political force as the tea party.

This has to change, and if it does, progressives will go into the next election cycle holding a winning hand. All they have to do is boldly introduce themselves to the public, establish very clearly what they stand for and present themselves as a unified front in 2016. Even if they just hold on to the seats they currently hold, the results will have the appearance of a national victory for a unified insurgent movement.

This might seem like petty gamesmanship, but it’s not. The GOP has been running on economic populism, claiming to represent the interests of working people, and winning elections. To date, the Democrats have failed pathetically to expose this lie—and only left progressives can really make the case.

Furthermore, as issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline, attacks on the EPA, Social Security reform or the Trans-Pacific Partnership take center stage in the next year, left progressives have to fight back as fiercely as the tea party did in Obama’s first year and a half. Fighting the good fight will draw the American people’s support.

Another strategy of the tea party that a progressive insurgency must adopt is a willingness to challenge incumbents—demanding that they support the left progressive platform or else. Paradoxically, the gerrymandering that will dominate the national election scene through the 2020 cycle is an asset, as the GOP has created overwhelmingly Democratic districts in which the party nominee has almost no risk of losing. 

At the same time, the people in these districts are generally further to the left politically, and they’re conscious of being weakly represented in the political system. In other words, these districts could elect an Angela Davis if she was willing to challenge a faux progressive incumbent. Just like the tea party challenged the GOP mainstream, left progressive Democrats need to do the same, except where the GOP got Christine O’Donnell, the Dems would get a new Paul Wellstone or Delores Huerta.

The third asset left progressives have is the crescendo of support for either an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders challenge to presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton inside the Democratic Party. At the moment it seems more likely that Sanders will go for it, as Warren has more to lose from a failed effort to topple Clinton.


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