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The Left’s Missing Ingredient
Jeffrey St. Clair is right to deplore the current low level of activity of the US left in his article, “The Silent Death of the American Left”
St. Clair’s article omits the recent Occupy Movement, whose sudden and spontaneous emergence shows the potential for unrest lurking below the surface. But without an organization or a strategy, Occupy has disappeared. The potential is still there, because the profound problems that plague most Americans have not been solved or even ameliorated.
What is missing? A left electoral presence. To most Americans, politics means elections. But the Left lacks electoral representation.
There are a few exceptions: Bernie Sanders is a US Senator, while Dennis Kucinich served honorably for sixteen years in the House. But someone may object, what good does it do to have a Senator on our side?
Not long ago, Bernie Sanders took the floor of the Senate to read a list of dozens of big corporations who paid no income tax, and some even got tax credits. Hillary Clinton wouldn’t do that, nor would Mitch McConnell. Instead of debating whether taxes are too high or not high enough, the Left ought to point out who pays taxes – and who doesn’t. “Only little people pay taxes,” proclaimed real-estate queen Leona Helmsley, and she was right.
Sanders and Kucinich got elected without any organized Left to help. If the Left that took seriously the task of building a left electoral presence, that would entail examining every Congressional District in the country, weighing the electorate, the incumbent, the prospects for recruiting a left candidate, and the prospects for winning. It would entail teaching ourselves to explain the left perspectives to the electorate.
What we’ve been doing just does not work in building a left electoral presence:
(1) Instead of recruiting our own candidates, we wait until the usual cast of opportunists and careerists get themselves nominated, then hold our noses and work for the lesser of the two evils,
(2) We focus on the race for the White House, not Congress or Senator or state legislator
(3) A third party doesn’t work. The system is rigged against third parties. It costs a lot of effort just getting on the ballot. Then as election day approaches, voters realize that voting for the third party will help the Republican candidate win, and the third party fails.
Instead, I propose, in Democratic districts, to recruit and run our own candidate in the Democratic primary. That’s a strategy that actually aims at winning.
The formation of the Tea Party has helped to push the Republicans to the Right. If the Left had an electoral presence, it could push the Democrats to the Left, at least rhetorically. For example, in 1988 when Jesse Jackson got into the Presidential race, nearly all the other Democratic candidates suddenly became populists (except Bruce Babbitt).
As a platform for the Left, I recommend an 11-point program proposed in Monthly Review by Fred Magdoff and Michael Yates back in 2009. Here are the 11 points, which a generation ago were called “Immediate demands.”
(1) Adequate food for everyone,
(2) decent housing,
(3) universal healthcare,
(4) full employment/good jobs,
(5) quality education for all
(6) adequate income in old age,
(7) enhanced public transportation,
(8) a commitment to a sustainable environment
(9) progressive taxation
(10) a non-imperialist government, and
(11) labor- and environmentally friendly trade.
There’s nothing sacred about this list. I’m sure many CounterPunchers would come up with a similar list. The whole Yates/Magdoff article is well worth reading.
Remember: for most Americans, politics means elections. If the Left has no electoral presence, we’re not in the game.
John W. Farley writes from Henderson NV.