Where’s the Party?


Now even the New York Times is saying it. In an editorial on Oct. 20, the Times wrote, “Every now and then, we are tempted to double-check that the Democrats actually won control of Congress last year.” Noting how the Democratic House and Senate had rolled over and given the president permission to massively spy on Americans without showing any probable cause, the Times concluded, “It was bad enough having a one-party government when Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. But the Democrats took over, and still the one-party system continues.”

There is no question about it. The Democrats, after persuading voters to hand over control of Congress to them last November, have been worse than failures. They have betrayed the trust of the voters.

Although the party clearly has the power to end the Iraq War by simply refusing to approve funds for continuing the mayhem and madness, it has instead given the president every dollar he’s asked for to continue it, and then some. Although every leading Democrat admits that the president has been torturing the Constitution, not one member has submitted a bill calling for the president’s impeachment, and the one bill submitted calling for Cheney’s impeachment, submitted by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, has been pushed off on a siding by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her gang of “leaders.” More recently in the Senate, where 41 Democrats could stop any presidential appointment, 53 senators instead approved a new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, who refuses to say waterboarding is torture and illegal, and who, even worse, says that in his view the president has the power to ignore laws passed by the Congress. The Democrats in the Senate had the votes to stop this outrageous nomination, and didn’t.

I would go the Times one step further. There is no need to check to see if Democrats won control of Congress. It doesn’t matter. The Democrats have simply ceased to be an opposition party. The party of Franklin D. Roosevelt is now simply a collection of incumbent hacks who are looking to their own re-election, and who stand for nothing.

So what is to be done?

Various left-leaning activist organizations, like Democrats for America and Progressive Democrats of America, and pseudo-progressive organizations like Move-On and DailyKos, argue that liberal Democrats need to work within the party to elect more progressive candidates and party officials. But this strategy is doomed for several reasons. First of all, the leadership of the Democratic Party doesn’t want real liberals or, heaven-forefend, lefties. It wants candidates who can appeal to the corporations that bankroll both parties. And second, the leadership undermines those liberals who do have a chance of replacing the hacks who currently hold Democratic seats in Congress.

As I have written before, we have seen more than 50 years of betrayal of liberal and left voters and their issues by the Democratic Party, and despite the efforts of would-be reformers, the situation has been getting worse, not better.

The answer, I submit, is to tell Democratic incumbents and party officials that we’ve finally had it. We are not going to be ignored or walked over or taken for granted any longer.

How to do this? By mass resignations from the Democratic Party, at which it is made crystal clear that there are two reasons for the actions: Congress isn’t stopping the war funding, and Congress isn’t initiating impeachment hearings.

I am proposing that left and progressive organizations, civil rights groups, Church groups, anti-war coalitions, labor unions and other progressive and liberal groups start organizing mass actions that involve marches to the local board of elections or voter registrar’s office, for collective de-registration from the Democratic Party. Here in Philadelphia, we could have a mass march from Independence Hall to the Board of Elections, for example.

This is a strategy that would hit the Democratic Party leadership like a bucket of ice water-or a brick–in the face.

The beauty of the idea is that it will garner enormous press coverage, even if the numbers are relatively small. Thanks to the overall pro-Republican bias of the media, news outlets like AP, CNN and especially Fox TV, will find the idea of Democratic activists marching on voter offices and quitting the Democratic Party irresistible. And as other groups across the country see these protest actions, they will want to join in.

In no time, Democratic incumbents in Congress, at the DNC, and in city halls and Democratic clubs across the country will see their most loyal voting base eroding.

If that should happen, they will be in a panic. Just watch how fast they start impeachment hearings and stop passing war funding appropriation bills!

Now whenever I’ve suggested this scheme, after the wild applause subsides, there are always those who raise the question about voting for progressive candidates in primaries, and about electing progressives to party office. I agree these are important steps, and that they should be attempted, but mass party quitting doesn’t preclude doing them.

In many states, first of all (CA, NH, VA, MA, and SC, for instance), you don’t need to be registered in a party to vote in that party’s primary. But even in those states like my own Pennsylvania, where you do need to be registered in a party to vote in its primary, it is an easy thing to re-register in time to qualify for the primary. Just check with your voter registrar and learn the deadline. Then, after you’ve voted, just quit again. The same for party caucuses. Those who are elected to positions like county committeeperson should stay in the party, where they can try (good luck!) to make change.

The important thing is those mass quit events.

The other thing I hear is the argument that people should not be just urged to quit; they should be urged to join a third party.

I disagree. As soon as you start trying to get agreement about joining a third party, you are introducing division into a movement that should be narrowly focused on the two issues of getting the Democrats, now, to end funding for the war and to initiate impeachment hearings. Anything else is a diversion.

Besides, getting significant numbers of progressive-minded people to cut their ties to the Democratic Party offers the potential of creating a new base out of which a genuine mass party of the left might come. The first step though, is for all of us, who have been tethered to the Democratic Party for most of our adult lives, to cut the leash.

If desperate Democratic officials respond by according us the same attention and support that they regularly accord to hedge fund managers and health insurance companies, if they meet our demands to end the war and defend the Constitution, so be it. Maybe we will back them in November ’08.

If they don’t, then we’re free to go somewhere else, or to found a new party.

One thing is clear: If we don’t do this, we will no longer live in a democratic state. We will live in a one-party state.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@mindspring.com




CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.