A new Gallup Poll conducted for USA Today earlier this week reports that a majority of Americans (52%) say that they would prefer a third party instead of the two parties, Republican and Democrat, that have dominated American politics for nearly centuries.
The poll shows that one third of Democrats say there’s a need for a new political party, while 52% of Republicans say the same thing. Meanwhile, 68% of independents say they have no use for either Democrats or Republicans and would prefer another option (no surprise there–that’s why they are not registered with either of the two major parties).
Of course, the Third Party envisioned by these various groups is hardly the same. Most of the dissatisfied Democrats are almost certainly in the party’s left wing, and are people who would prefer a more left-leaning, socialist party. Most of the reluctant Republicans are probably either libertarians who can’t stomach the Republican Party’s corporatist stance and its fondness for police state tactics and invasion of personal freedoms, or else they are the rabid right that prefers the kooky conspiracy-driven politics of the Becks, Limbaughs, Bachmans and Palins. As for the independents, there are certainly leftists, rightists, isolationists, globalists, libertarians and kooks among them enough to populate ten new parties.
That’s one reason why we still have just two parties winning all the elections. Some of these dissatisfied citizens just hold their noses and vote for the party that is less likely to make them projectile vomit in the voting booth. Others, unable to vote for either major party’s candidates without soiling the equipment, just don’t vote. And then there are a few stalwarts who insist on doing their civic duty, march in and vote for the Constitution Party or the Libertarians or the Greens or the Socialist Workers, or they write in Mickey Mouse. The rest just don’t vote, which is why the US has one of the lowest participation rates in elections of nearly any of the world’s nominal democracies.
It’s possible that this latest poll could be signaling some kind of tectonic political event ahead. Perhaps the incongruous collection of Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce crowd and the bible thumpers, racists, misogynists and neo-fascists who populate the Republican voter rolls will finally turn on each other and split into two or three smaller units.
But what about the Democrats? What will it take for the 33% of party stalwarts who think the party is the pits to give up hope of reforming it and pulling it to the left? What will it take for the working class that has for generations given its votes to the party’s smarmy candidates, hoping against hope for the best, to finally walk away from the stinking corpse that is the Democratic Party and form the base of an American Labor Party?
Maybe a closer look at who’s really buying the Democratic Party and its candidates would do the trick.
Year after year, the country’s labor unions collect money from their members and give it to candidates for Congress — candidates who pretend to be the working man’s and working woman’s friend, but who after election do the bidding of Wall Street and Main Street.
Here’s why. Even most of the the most liberal members of the Democratic Congressional delegation get most of their campaign swag not from the unions, but from large corporate interests, and that tidal wave of corporate cash simply washes away any good that the union donations might have done.
Check it out.
Take Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), the ranking minority member and former chair of the House Judiciary Committee. A leading member of the House Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus, and surely one of the most liberal members of Congress, Conyers according to the website OpenSecrets.org, in the latest reporting cycle, didn’t list one union among his top five contributors. Instead, occupying those top spots were the National Beer Wholesalers Assn. ($56,000), the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos ($33,600), the corporate law firm of Akin, Gump ($15,102) and Intellectual Ventures LLC ($12,500) a venture capital firm. Over all, the top five corporate donors to Conyers were: lawyers and law firms ($129,102), the entertainment industry ($84,591), the Computer/Internet industry ($78,283), the Beer, Wine and Liquor industry ($77,699) and various industry lobbyists ($52,680).
Labor’s PAC donations to Conyers (a total of $107,520) shrink to almost insignificance compared to the $335,000 donated by various industry PACs, including $140,524 from the Communications industry alone.
Or check out Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), the House minority leader and former Speaker, portrayed as practically a Bolshevik by the country’s right-wing punditry. There’s only one labor organization in her list of top-10 contributors, and that’s the AFL-CIO, which is Number 10 with $10,000, behind Law Offices of Peter Angelos ($43,200), Bryan Cave LLP ($34,950), Johnson & Johnson ($22,200), Gallo Winery ($12,000), Microsoft Corp. ($12,000), Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($11,500), Google ($11,000), and New York Life ($11,000). Unions only represent two of Pelosi’s 20 top contributors. Looking at the former Speaker’s PAC money by sector or industry, labor and working people only come in at rank number five and nine, with retirees contributing $107,150 and public sector unions donating another $78,500. The other 10 big donating sectors are: Health Professionals ($253,700), Lawyers ($203,600), Lobbyists ($125,350), Securities and Investment Industry ($109,200), Real Estate ($105,800), the Pro-Israel Lobby ($89,700), Pharmaceutical Industry ($86,300) and Hollywood ($76,950). Just focusing on Pelosi’s biggest contributors, once again, that’s $1,050,000 from big industries and the rich vs. $185,650 from the people — a ratio of almost 6:1.
But why single out a couple of these supposed people’s tribunes? Why not check out the whole Democratic Party? In the 2010 election cycle, OpenSecrets.org reports that the Democrats raised $210 million in funds subject to disclosure, and another $9.2 million, the sources of which it does not have to disclose. The top four PAC donors to this stash were not labor unions. They were the National Assn. of Realtors ($3.8 million), Honeywell International ($3.7 million), the National Beer Wholesalers Assn. ($3.3 million), and AT&T ($3.3 billion). Only at number five do we find a labor union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($3.0 million). Rounding out the top 10 PAC donors to the “party of working people,” we have the American Bankers Assn. ($2.9 million), the American Trial Lawyers Assn. ($2.8 million), the Operating Engineers Union ($2.8 million), and the National Auto Dealers Assn. ($2.5 million). Unless you count the American Trial Lawyers Assn. as “working people,” this means that among their top ten donors, the Dems took in $22.3 million from corporate interests and lawyers, and $5.8 million from workers’ unions. So whose interests is a party like that going to be serving.
Not all the members of Congress are on the hook to American corporate interests and the rich. But the number who aren’t probably can be counted on one or two hands. People like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (independent socialist-Vermont) show what true working people’s candidates ought to look like. Kucinich’s top five contributors are all labor unions, and looking at a breakdown by interest group or industry, the largest contributor is retirees, followed by three labor unions and then by lawyers. Kucinich did take in some money from PACs representing the Finance, Real Estate and Insurance industry ($7000), Healthcare ($3500), lawyers ($7500) and the Transportation industry ($1,000), but their combined contributions are dwarfed by the $114,000 contributed to Kucinich by labor PACs. That’s a ratio of 1:5.
Similarly, the socialist Sanders counts three labor unions among his top five contributors, these being the International brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($18,500), the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union ($17,000) and the Communications Workers of America ($16,250). The other two contributors rounding out Sanders’ top five list were eScription Inc. ($25,200) and Baron & Budd ($18,500).
Not surprisingly, both Rep. Kucinich and Sen. Sanders have been unwavering backers of the interests of working people and their labor unions.
In what could perhaps be a hopeful sign of the future, the 11th biggest donor to the Democrats, the International Association of Fire Fighters, which last year gave the party $2.4 million through its PAC, announced that it was no longer going to be a campaign contributor to the Democrats, having decided that the Party was not defending the firefighters’ interests. Saying that the firefighters and “all public workers” were under attack by “Tea Party politicians,” this union, in a public announcement, said, “Too few Democrats are standing up and fighting for us.” As a result, it is “turning off the spigot.” If other unions, like the two big teachers unions, the AFT and the NEA, would take similar action and pull away their financial support for the Democrats, perhaps we could see a real Labor Party spring up as a political alternative to the two corporate parties. If that ever does happen, we could also see the Democratic whither away and die a deserving and long-overdue death.
Meanwhile we’re kind of stuck. Voters will keep telling pollsters they’re sick of both parties, and both parties will continue to run the country into the ground in the interests of the rich and powerful.
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-supported (supposedly!) online alternative newspaper.