Friday, July 29, 2011

Progressives vs. Democrats who oppose Social Security and Medicare

William Greider gives a judicious assessment of the position of progressive Democrats in the current situation in which the Democratic President is what Greider calls a "conservative reformer" (The Nation 07/27/2011):

The White House evidently thinks it's good politics for 2012 to dismiss the left and court wobbly independents. Obama no doubt assumes faithful Democrats have nowhere else to go. It’s true that very few will wish to oppose him next year, given the fearful possibility of right-wing crazies running the country. On the other hand, people who adhere to the core Democratic values Obama has abandoned need a strategy for stronger resistance. That would not mean running away from Obama but running at him — challenging his leadership of the party, mobilizing dissident voices and voters, pushing Congressional Democrats to embrace a progressive agenda in competition with Obama’s.

To be blunt, progressives have to pick a fight with their own party. They have to launch the hard work of reconnecting with ordinary citizens, listening and learning, defining new politics from the ground up. People in a rebellious mood should also prepare for the possibility that it may already be too late, that the Democratic Party’s gradual move uptown is too advanced to reverse. In that event, people will have to locate a new home — a new force in politics that speaks for them.
Of course, by resorting to a vague formulation like "new force," he avoids having to get at all specific about what the alternatives to the Democratic Party might be.

The progressive groups of today can be identified, such as labor unions, LGBT rights groups,, feminist groups, environmental activists, various netroots organizations like FDL and Netroots Nation, peace activists, etc. But to affect actual laws and policies, progressives have to be able to exert clout with a political party that can effectively contend for elections.

I've written here before about third parties. Given the binary nature of our partisan politics, with the winner-take-all electoral districts in the US, the only way for a third party to become an effective electoral force is to destroy and replace one of the existing two parties. The only way I see that happening is for the current Democratic Party to split. That is not likely. But at the moment, I would say that it's more likely than at any time since 1948, when the Party actually did splinter in the Presidential election between the Dixiecrats and Henry Wallace's Progressive Party.

It's still not likely. But Social Security and Medicare are critical programs for the vast majority of Americans when we reach our senior years. Those are essential components of what most Americans think of a "middle class" life. With the Democratic President now having come out in opposition to Social Security and Medicare, proudly bragging in public about how he's angering his own voters by doing so, and a large segment of his Party in Congress willing to support his attacks on Social Security and Medicare, a pro-Social Security, pro-Medicare faction of the Democratic Party would have a solid base for seriously contesting elections.

I'm not trying in this post to touch all the bases on the problems of third parties in the American electoral system. I'm making the point that with the Republican Party and the Obama wing of the Democratic Party now opposing two programs as critical to the public and as strongly-supported as Social Security and Medicare, the Democratic Party is more vulnerable to a substantial and enduring organization split that it has been in decades. To say it a third time for this post, such a split is not likely. But it is more thinkable than it was at the beginning of 2011.

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