Just looking at the video images of the two conventions — the Republican one last week in Tampa, Florida, and this week’s Democratic convention in Charlotte, NC — one can see the fundamental contrast between the rank-and-file of the two parties.
They are really and truly different cohorts.
Scanning the Republican delegates and convention-goers in Tampa, one labors mightily to find even one black face, or even an obvious brown latino face or an asian face. It is a white, and predominantly male, crowd that one sees. It is also an angry crowd, cheering at the venom spewed against Democrats, welfare recipients, immigrants and others who are not part of the “real America,” of allegedly self-reliant white men.
Scanning the Democratic convention’s delegates and attendees, meanwhile, one is immediately struck by what an ethnic stew it is, with blacks and latinos, whites, asians and even Native Americans all mixed together, with straights and gays standing side by side. And these people are cheering passionately when speakers talk inspiringly about the need to take action to support those who are less fortunate — the poor, the immigrants who came to the US with their parents as little children, and grew up in the US, who could now be deported to countries of their birth where they may not even speak the language, the disabled, the unemployed.
The big difference between these two groups of people, and the masses of rank-and-file supporters of the two parties across the nation, is clear: Republicans are, by and large, a selfish, smug, and angry group of white people who don’t want anyone cutting in on their turf, who don’t want to have the government do anything to help the less fortunate with their tax dollars, and who, by the way, want their own taxes lowered, but also want all kinds of benefits from the government, like tax credits for their businesses, and to send their kids to private schools. Democrats are, for the most part, a multi-racial group who believe that government should help the less fortunate, whether it’s getting access to health care, paying for food, sending small children to daycare so the parent(s) can work, getting job training, ensuring access to clean water and clean air, or having good schools for their kids. They are generous people who are concerned about others, not just themselves.
What is different about the Parties themselves is also apparent.
The Republican Party, in terms of both its organizational leadership and its elected officials, is closely aligned with its rank-and-file membership. The membership wants immigrants deported and wants a military-style policing of the nation’s borders to prevent illegal entry. Its elected officials also favor such action. The membership wants more military funding and more wars. The elected leaders from that party also want those things. Its members want lower taxes for the wealthy, and that’s what the elected officials in Congress want to give them. There is a strong congruity between what the Republican base favors, and what the elected officials push for in Congress.
With the Democrats, something else is going on.
The Democratic base wants to cut military spending and end the wars, but the Democratic President, Barack Obama, and most of the Democrats elected to Congress, support more war, support a militarist foreign policy, and keep pouring money into the military budget, which is at this point about as large as the rest of the world’s military budgets combined, and consumed half of the tax dollars collected each year, when the cost of military-related debt interest, veterans’ care and benefits, and intelligence costs are added in. The Democratic base wants more funding for schools, action on global climate change, a public jobs program, a national health care program, more scholarship aid for college students, a break-up of the big banks, a strong defense of Social Security and Medicare, new laws protecting and expanding the rights of unions to organize and bargain with management, and other such progressive change, but the Democratic president and Democrats in Congress won’t give them any of that.
What they do instead is promise at the convention and on the campaign trail to do such things, but then when they get elected, or re-elected, they forget all those promises, or just enact tiny largely meaningless changes in some of those areas, or in other less significant areas, to try to appease their membership.
Evidence of the split between the Democratic base and the party’s leadership became apparent Wednesday, when the party leadership introduced a motion to re-insert into the party’s “platform” document a phrase saying that a “unified” Jerusalem would be seen by the Party as the real capital of Israel — a change which under party rules required a two-third vote. When the matter was put to a vote of the delegates, the chair of the convention called for a voice vote. When it seemed clear to all that the “No” vote was far louder, thus rejecting the change, the chair called for a second vote. When that one also resulted in a much louder “No” vote, the chair tried one more time. When the “No” vote remained louder, the chair simply declared that the “Yes” vote had won. The platform now says that the Democratic Party believes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It was a shameless display of corrupt power ignoring the wishes of the party rank and file. But the only thing unusual about it was how obvious it was.
In short, while the Republican Party and its elected officials do a fairly good job of representing its troglodyte voter base, the Democratic Party is a gigantic fraud. It pretends every four years to be representing those voters that it needs to keep going to the polls and electing its candidates to office, but time after time, it turns around, once the election is over, and betrays its voting base.
President Obama and the people who ran as Democrats for Congress in 2008 and 2010, promised to defend Social Security and Medicare, to help make it easier legally for workers to organize unions in their workplaces, to re-regulate the banks that caused the financial crisis, to act aggressively to combat climate change, to end America’s pariah status by closing the Guantanamo prison and bring an end to torture, and to end George Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Except for winding down (but not really ending) the war in Iraq, none of those things were done over the course of the last four years. The Afghan War is bigger and more violent today than it was when Obama took office. So are the Wall Street banks. The president appointed a commission on the budget that recommended cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits. Democrats gave up on even trying pass legislation to protect labor unions. And not only was nothing done about climate change, but the Obama administration actively worked to prevent the reaching of a new international agreement on limiting carbon emissions.
It is a sorry spectacle, indeed, and not one that is likely to change anytime soon.
The Republican Party has become almost a brown-shirt party of the white race in America, fearful and bitter about gradually losing its primacy in a nation that is becoming one of the most multi-ethnic societies in the world. What should be a cause for excitement and hope is being fought tooth and nail by a dangerous movement that seeks to roll back the clock by 100 years to a time when black people had to drink from separate fountains, go to separate schools and hotels, and use separate bathrooms.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is basically run by and in the interest of large corporate interests, but since those interests don’t bring many votes to the table on election day, has to keep pretending to be the party of the people, so that it can send its deeply compromised or outright bought-and-owned candidates back to Washington to do the bidding of those corporate interests.
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.
COMING IN SEPTEMBER
A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch
Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …