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The Politics of Triangulation: Surrender or Resist?

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Triangulation is the two-party system’s master strategy for perpetuating its power.  Both Democrats and Republican are already minority parties. As they continue to lose popular support they confront an increasingly challenging problem:  how to win elections without representing the interests of the majority of Americans.  While the resort to voter suppression and election fraud signals desperation and weakness,  triangulation remains an effective instrument compelling compliance.

While each of  the movement’s existing electoral strategies accommodates triangulation in crucial ways new developments provide hopeful examples of how a counter strategy might develop.

Lesser of Two Evils

While the leading segments of the labor and social movements often employ all sorts of creative and inspiring tactics and can master hard-knuckle negotiations with the boss, their electoral programs lack innovation or forceful negotiations. We act as if the New Deal coalition or the mid-century social contract is still with us, while both have been history since 1975 or so. [1]

The “lesser of two evil” voters in movement organizations are told by their lobbyists  to “get in early.” Early support for Democrats is supposed to enhance the power of the movement organizations. Has this worked? While this might produce valuable results in local or state elections, it has produced little on the national level.

Obamacare was the only important reform, but one a better use of our resources should have won many decades ago. President Truman called for national health care in 1945.  After many millions of dollars spent and decades of extensive GOTV efforts we are over half a century without meaningful labor law or electoral reform.

The “get-in early” approach of the lesser of two evils unions and movement organizations assures the Democrats that they do not have to work for our votes and deprives us of any real opportunity for hard bargaining. It turns our leaders into beggars. We are weak and humble before the strong when what we need, with so much at stake, is daring and bold action.

From the perspective of the inside/outside strategy, the lesser of two evils voters who desire real social change undermine their own power when they lash out at third parties or dissenters.  Every pole of power — all the opposition — is necessary for us to make credible threats of exit. Threat of exit says, “Meet my expectations or I take my business elsewhere.”  Triangulation insists there is no alternative for a reason:  threat of exit amplifies our voice and power.  If we have the courage to negotiate, then dissent and “voting with our feet” are indispensable resources. Unlock the exits.

Of all the many reasons that Gore lost the 2000 election, why were Nader and the Green Party singled out for all the shame and blame?  And why has this bit of mythology passed so easily into “common sense” as the election draws near?   Spoiler arguments are not based on facts but fear and power. The strategy of triangulation compels surrender only when there is no alternative.

And, it’s always easier to kick the dog than kick the master.

If Democratic candidates do not offer compelling visions or persuasive programs, or do not invest in massive voter registration then the failure is theirs.  Blaming third party candidates for Republican victories — while distancing ourself from independents and non-voters — is a flimsy cover for our failure to organize and plays directly into triangulation.

With 70-90 million non-voters and millions more independents there is no spoiler — just our failure to contest power.

If we want change we will have to take risks — we unlock the exits and we organize. Setbacks and losses will occur in any event and already have. I think the history of the last 50 years is clear: lesser of two evil voting has enabled corporate ascendancy and contributed more than its fair share to loss.

Fear of Trump should not be an excuse for the simple-minded support of corporate Democrats, since those Democrats have contributed in significant ways to the rise of the Trump and the rightward shift in the Democratic party.  Political machines — and the Clinton machine is the most powerful of our time — value their own power and control over the greater good of their party, nation or world.

Its a terrible dilemma but a vote for corporate, pro-war and drug war Democrats, to ward off the short-term attack from the extreme right, may well be winning the battle to lose the war. The human cost will be high in any event.  Will the people take losses in the struggle to resist the machine or will we take losses to enable the machine to continue?  Sorry, but there is going to be hell to pay one way or the other.

Bernie Sanders and millions of Sanders supporters points a way out of that dilemma.  Voters can restore representational democracy by voting only for candidates and parties that actually represent their views and interests.  Think of the current trend lines of climate change, mass extinction, income inequality, racism, and war — just for starters. What are the risks involved in maintaining conventional political wisdom, given the likelihood that if we continue to act the same, the same situation will be reproduced? Where in the historical record is a single example of great changes occurring without great risks?

As the crisis deepens we will likely approach a shift in the equation of risk. The dangers we face to make the big changes will become less threatening than the dangers we face in continuing on the current course. Perhaps we are already there.

The lesser of two evils vote has, after all, been the most popular and well-funded approach and we should recognize its contribution both in terms of local and partial victories but also in its failure to produce significant social change. The lesser of two evils can occasionally win important concessions but never touch the core structures of power, social control and exploitation: the corporations, the war machine, mass communications, mass incarceration and the coming environmental disaster. And, we have to face the facts that the lesser of two evils strategy shares responsibility for the rightward drift of American electoral politics.

Non-voters

Non-voters comply with one of the basic tenants of triangulation consistent with old style machine politics. Machines want only predictable and ”politically reliable” voters and prefer small voter turnouts. Triangulation prefers the few undecided centrists and writes off the non-voters and new voters as not worth the effort.

When progressives simply stay home the two-party system cheers because the non-entity of 40% of the American people have followed the game plan of the two-party machine. Keeping 40% of the voters away from the polls has been an amazing accomplishment for the elites—an accomplishment we should not be complicit in. The mobilization of non-voters is one of the most powerful latent threats against the existing electoral order. The radical non-voters lose the game by failing to use elections as a political opportunity to do education or to articulate why they think elections are a fraud.

The Third Party and the Movement

The third party voters have also accommodated triangulation by failing to come up with a compelling strategy that can convince people that a Green Party vote is not simply a protest but a path to power. Third parties need to debunk the spoiler argument and lesser of two evils, in discourse and practice, not internalized it.

Without a pathway to power the protest voter experiences only the pale imitation of resistance. A political strategy will win more new voters and new members to the alternative parties than fine principles alone. At least that is what the last 20 years suggests since many lesser of two evil voters usually prefer the Green Party platform but cannot bring themselves to “throw their vote away.”

Since Toward a Transformative Electoral Strategy was first published a year ago, the Green Party has created a powerful strategy well crafted to the conditions at hand.  With the leadership of Jill Stein, The Green Party has created “Plan B” to welcome disaffected Sanders supporters should Sanders not win the nomination.  The Green Party can continue the political revolution Sanders started. Stein has taken a giant  welcoming Sanders to run as president on the Green Party ticket.  Whatever Bernie Sanders does, Stein’s strategy will attract attention, new members and draw closer to winning the 5% necessary to gain the public funding that will make the Green Party a player in national elections.

The revolutionary edge of the Sanders surge — Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) — has revised the Bernie or Bust Pledge to include the Green Party.  Significant new alliances are being build between RAP and Popular Resistance, a Green ally promoting movement building.

As grievances from electoral corruption and media bias pile up on top of the already momentous political differences, movement activists are aiming for a massive demonstration at the DNC in Philly.

Just as important a wave of re-registration is occurring in the wake of California.   Democrats new and old are resigning their party membership and moving to the Green Party line, other third party, or independent.  Juneteenth, a day to celebrate freedom from slavery in the Confederacy is now a day to break free of the Democratic party by re-registering Green or third party #gogreen6/19.

California voters, still waiting to have their votes counted, and others will form a second wave following the Democratic convention unless Sanders is the nominee.

Even triangulation cannot live forever. As the people of the US grow ever more diverse and discontented, the more narrow, rigid, protected and uniform has the system become. Triangulation is already unstable and will allow, even in the short run, motion in the direction of the people: first the failed promise of Obama, then the potential good of  Sanders or the Green Party.

Heed the persistent calls for independence and opposition.

Notes

[1]Richard Moser, “Organizing the New Faculty Majority,” p77-84. in Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System. Ed. Keith Hoeller. See also “Autoworkers at Lordstown” Workplace Democracy and American Citizenship.” p289-292, in The World the Sixties Made, ends, Van Gosse and Richard Moser

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Richard Moser writes at befreedom.co where this article first appeared.

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