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Maybe the Humble Hyphen Could Stop the Democrats’ Death Spiral

As Sen. Bernie Sanders works a party-assigned eight-state mission (“Come Together and Fight Back”) this month to stop the Democratic party’s death spiral for the 2018 mid-term elections, it’s going to take a significant, uphill effort even for the nation’s most popular politician.

The Pew Center poll by mid-April indicated the party is on life support. Only 15% of registered Dems and 19% of all independent voters favored the Dems.

That’s why they made their primary campaign nemesis the “outreach” chair, hoping the tour and national TV would convince his 13,243,376 primary-election voters—and millions of disgusted, despairing, defecting Democrats like me—to return as their good-old-reliable base of 189 years.

To convince the faithful it’s still the party of plain folk instead of plutocrats, they also sent along new party chair Tom Perez, an Ivy Leaguer who’d been President Obama’s Secretary of Labor. A band-box neat dresser, he shifted to open-collar shirts and said “shit”a lot.

In following the barnstorming pair on the circuit, a CommonDreams’ writer noted the hyphenated chasm—Old Guard-New Deal philosophies—that will have to be filled in immediately to win in 2018:

Along the way, top party officials seem bent on returning to a kind of pre-Bernie-campaign doldrums…. Perez, can’t bring himself to say that the power of Wall Street is antithetical to the interests of working people…. [He] was a font of exactly the kind of trite empty slogans and worn-out platitudes that oiled the engines of the dismal Clinton campaign.

While Sanders was forthright, Perez was evasive. While Sanders talked about systemic injustice, Perez fixated on Trump. While Sanders pointed to a way forward for realistic and far-reaching progressive change, Perez hung onto a rhetorical formula that expressed support for victims of the economic order without movingappealacknowledging the existence of victimizers.

I can’t speak for my fellow Bernie campaigners, but long before someone leaked the emails of campaign chair John Podesta’s sneering viciousness to wipe out our candidate, thousands of us experienced the party’s contempt and even hatred at such conventions as Las Vegas and Philadelphia.

Donald Trump’s upset presidential win—and a Republican controlled Congress—showed that the party’s decades-old dependable majority of working-class and low-income voters were vanishing. If they stayed away for the 2018 elections, the Dems could become a third party replaced by a coalition of all its defectors, the independents, former non-voters—and even unhappy or Republicans either unhappy or appalled at the Caligula in the White House, his administration, or cohorts in Congress.

That’s what happened in Minnesota between World Wars when the party also stopped representing its 99% base. A coalition of vengeful farmers, the working-class, some businesses, and the jobless formed the Farmer-Labor party.

By 1936, it swept aside both Democratic and Republican parties to win the governorship, both Senate seats, five of the eight in the House, and most of the legislature’s two houses.

It kept winning elections throughout the 1930s and early 1940s until the Democratic leaders were frantic enough to dispatch Minneapolis’ popular mayor Hubert H. Humphrey to Farmer-Labor headquarters begging to get inside its tent. A pragmatic bunch, the F-L leaders even agreed to change the name to today’s double-hyphened Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. From that day to this, the “DFL” has dominated state politics.

True, the DFL has demonstrated that a coalition always has internecine squabbles and “circular firing squads” about policies, bylaws, and leadership, but shelve most differences in election years.

Whether Democrats can blend with Bernie-crats, and others and do the same in successive months depends on the party getting humble and become a “fellow among fellows and worker among workers.” For starters, stop insisting Bernie was a spoiler in the primaries and falsely claiming the Russians gave chairman Podesta’s hostile anti-Bernie emails to Wikileaks. It also would help to admit its many shortcomings revealed in the new book Shattered about the directionless campaign: essentially, arrogance from candidate to crew.

From the perspective of this former “Yellow Dog” Democrat who canvassed tirelessly with 40 teams for Bernie in Portland, one unmentioned, yet obvious, solution to the party’s probable defeat in 2018 is a fresh, untried approach, one well-known in European politics:

A hyphenated coalition like, say, a Democratic-Millennials-Progressives party.

It could gather up millions of voters that outnumber both leading parties. As the founders of a coalition “Peoples Party” just pointed out:

…91% of millennials, [are] people under 29, who actually wanted a major independent choice in this past election. And the majority of Americans actually wanted it, as well, and still do—57%. And so, those are staggering numbers in favor of a new party.

As noted, a hyphen has provided overwhelming success for Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor party and many foreign parties. “Doubling up” provides visible representation attractive to a multitude of diverse voters unlike the usual single name. Take those in Europe for example:

 Germany’s Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands and Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern

Italy’s Articolo 1– Movimento Democratico e Progressista

Belgium’s Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie and Christen-Democratisch  en Vlaams Partij

Portugal’s Pessoas-Animais-Natureza and Centro Democrático e Socia–Partido Popular

Austria’s Die Grünen-Die Grüne Alternative

Denmark’s Venstre-Danmarks Liberale Parti and Enhedslisten-De Rød-Grønne Switzerland’s Bürgerlich-Demokratische Partei and Christlich-Soziale Partei Obwalden

Ireland’s Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit

Russia’s Liberalno-Demokratičeskaja Partija Rossii

Iceland’s Vinstrihreyfingin–Grænt framboð

Romania’s Partidul SocialDemocrat

Slovakia’s Partidul Social-Democrat

Even Bernie is with the hyphenated Democratic-Socialists in this country, but because Vermont has no such party (yet), he’s a registered Independent.

The humble hyphen could serve as a test of unity for Democratic survivors to win future elections. A new party name for this huuge tent has a lot of possibilities:

Democratic-Independent Party • Democratic-Progressive Party

Progressive-Democratic Party • Peoples-Democratic Party

Democratic-United Party  • Democratic-Alliance Party

American-Progressive-Democratic Party

Democratic-Freedom Party • Reform-Democratic Party

Democratic-National-Progressive Party

Liberal-Labor-Democratic Party  • Occupy-Democratic Party

Democratic-Millennials-Progressive Party

Democratic-Commons Party

The Democratic-Millennials-Progressives Party (DMPP) has a strong, inclusive ring to it, though I favor Democratic-Commons Party (DCP). That’s because media pundit Thom Hartmann constantly uses that historic term for ordinary Americans. It would look like a reformed party and response to the electorate’s disgust with choice limited to the doddering, vastly outdated two-party system.

Given the unpopularity of the Democratic party finally unmasked in the 2016 election, what’s to lose in a name change strongly indicating it is inclusive and has returned to its electoral roots?

Beyond a hyphenated name, lie the policies long denied to today’s electorate of the disenchanted and downtrodden. Yes, it will drive out party diehards and the 1% with their deep pockets and influence. But the 99% and their $27 contributions will make up for it, as Bernie’s primary campaign demonstrated. And a host of benefits like these would be possible:

+ Restoration of all programs, agencies, and staffs terminated by Trump in 2017.

+ Among new benefits would be everything from single-payer health insurance, low-cost housing, and poverty programs to increased allocations for Social Security, veterans programs, public schools, environmental controls, and a public works program covering all infrastructure projects.

+ Tax increases for the wealthy (60%) and businesses (53%) to fund global military actions, as was the case in World War II. Decreases for middle-income workers (10%)—plus a $15 per hour minimum wage—to generate economic growth by goods/services purchases.

+ A guaranteed annual wage pilot program for the highest-poverty areas.

+ Significant budgetary cuts to the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Homeland Security’s Agency pending audits and a report to Congress covering cost-benefit justifications for line-item purchases.

+ Foreign aid cuts by 66% across-the-board with the savings transferred to domestic programs.

+ Free-tuition at public colleges/universities funded by a 3% transaction tax on securities, bonds, and other financial instruments.

+ Discontinuance of taxpayer revenues for charter/parochial schools.

+ Restoration of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Law separating banking from investing.

+ Replacement of the FISA court by district courts for issuing warrants for surveillance or illegal immigrants.

+ Strict adherence by the Executive branch to the Constitution’s stipulation that Congressional approval is required to engage in war and/or war-like missions. Enforcement will be subject to immediate withholding Pentagon funding.

+ Sales and donations of surplus military materiel will be terminated.

If the Democratic party chooses to do nothing about its perilous situation, hoping that departed voters somehow will return to the fold, it’s doomed. As a Guardian columnist recently put it:

The neoliberal vision of the Democratic party has run its course. The corporate wing has made it clear that the populist wing has little power or place in its future. The discipline of the party is strong on self-preservation and weak on embracing new voices. And party leaders too often revel in self-righteousness and self-pity rather than self-criticism and self-enhancement. The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto.

The humble hyphen could be a principal tool to prevent the party’s demise in that its officials are in such chaos that no remedy is at hand. It’s high time to at least try it or either join the Republicans—or become a third party.

Barbara G. Ellis, Ph.D., is the principal of a Portland (OR) writing/pr firm and a professional writer. A long-time writer and editor (LIFE magazine, Washington, D.C. Evening Star, Beirut Daily Star, Mideast Magazine), she also was a journalism professor (Oregon State University/Louisiana’s McNeese State University). Author of dozens of articles for magazines and online websites, screenplays, she was a nominee for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history (The Moving Appeal) And today contributes to TruthOut, DissidentVoice, Counterpunch, Global Research, and OpEdNews, as well as being a political and environmental ( activist.


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