Friday, October 15, 2010

Are progressives intending to "teach the Democrats a lesson"?

Robert Parry thinks so. And he argues against the notion in The 'Teach-the-Dems-a-Lesson' Myth Consortium News 10/15/2010 by recounting at some length Republican skulduggery back to 1968.

He cites real examples of something like this occurring, notably Ralph Nader's Green Party in 1980:

To this day, very few Nader supporters will admit that they contributed to Bush’s tainted victory, although it should be obvious that Nader’s votes in Florida – if most would have gone to Gore – would have put the election too far out of reach for Bush to steal.

A Gore presidency also would have taken the country in a far different direction. Most significantly, he might have made significant progress in getting the United States to face up to the crisis of global warming, an existential threat to mankind that Bush studiously ignored.
His column is a good explanation of the dilemma of groups, especially on "the left", who dissent in significant ways from the policies of both Democratic and Republican Parties. It's the blessing and the curse of a two-party system that an alternative party can only succeed on a national scale by destroying one of the two major parties and replacing it in the two-party system.

The only time that occurred in US history was with the Republican Party in the 1850s, which displaced the Whig Party. Despite all the changes and controversies and ideological fluctuations since then, the US today still has the same two major parties it had in 1856. (The earlier Federalist Party wasn't displaced by a different party; rather, it just blew away into the dustbin of history.)

Parry's historical sketch is useful. But, in an uncharacteristic moment for him, he builds his premise for 2010 on what seems to be quicksand. The only people he mentions from "the Left" actually wanting to "teach the Democrats a lesson" in 2010 by seeing the Republicans gain Congressional seats are these: "If my e-mail inbox is any indication, many American progressives plan to use the Nov. 2 election as an opportunity to 'teach the Democrats a lesson' by either not voting or casting ballots for third parties ..."

Third parties always get a certain number of votes. I've haven't seen any polls indicating an upsurge of voter support for any third parties this year, "left" or any other kind. And among even the Democrats most critical of the Obama Administration's shortcomings on health care reform, financial regulation and the Afghanistan War - criticisms which I share - I don't know of anyone pushing for an election boycott or third party protest voting. No labor unions that I've heard of. None of the major progressive bloggers, like Digby or the folks at Daily Kos or even those at Firedoglake, whose Jane Hamsher is often mentioned as one of Obama's harshest critics on "the left." Not The Nation magazine, or The American Prospect, or Salon, or In These Times. Not Howard Dean or Russ Feingold or Dennis Kucinich or Barbara Lee or Michael Moore.

In other words, if these is some large sentiment among progressives for "teaching the Democrats a lesson" at the polls in two weeks, it's remaining remarkably well-concealed. On the contrary, labor is pushing to get out the vote. All the other progressives outside the usual third-party political ghetto are worried sick that discouragement among Democratic-leaning voters will give the Republicans control of the House of Representatives. And have been begging the national Party to get aggressive with something - jobs programs, a foreclosure moratorium, anything plausible - to energize the Democratic base to go to the polls.

Those concerns are far from imaginary. Charlie Cook reports in House Flips. Senate Doesn't. The National Journal Magazine for 10/16/2010 (accessed 10/15/2010):

Democrats who were trailing by more than a few percentage points remain behind, but by smaller margins. Although Republican strategists are hardly panicking, they are noticing the tightening. As one Republican strategist put it, Democratic voters were so demoralized that their intensity had only one way to go, and that was up. Democrats still have a formidable challenge in getting their sympathizers to the polls, but their task may not be as difficult as it appeared a few weeks ago, when Democratic voters were even more despondent. [my emphasis]
Jesse Zwick reports in With Voting Rights Groups Reeling, New Registrations Decline Washington Independent 10/15/10 on the lag in registering new voters this year. He writes:

A four-year wave of attacks on voter registration drives, both in terms of state laws that either shut down voter registration drives or made it too onerous to do it, and other public attacks have certainly had an effect,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Project. ...

The most obvious cause for the decline in voter registration is the shuttering of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. At its height, ACORN had a budget of close to $35 million and was credited with registering approximately half a million voters in 2008 alone. Amid allegations from conservative activists that the group engaged in widespread voter fraud, Congress voted last fall to defund ACORN, which received approximately a third of its budget in the form of government grants. The rest of the group’s funding soon dried up, and ACORN was forced to cease operations at its approximately 75 field offices soon thereafter.
And the fact is that the Congressional Democrats facilitated the sleazebag smear of ACORN by running from the organization like scared rabbits when that bizarre punk James O'Keefe made his fraudulent video "sting" of the group. The Democrats are just rolled too easily on things like that. And that can't blame that one on "the left."

The Republicans' voter-suppression efforts that Zwick's article describes are right out of the old segregationist playbook. And they have become standard operating procedure for the Reps. The Democrats have got to start showing more fight in protecting voter rights. If it hurts their feelings to hear anyone say that, I would hope losing to Republicans hurts their feelings even more.

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