December opened up with another escalation in Afghanistan. Then there was the sabotage of binding carbon reductions in Copenhagen. On Christmas Eve, there was the Insurance Company Entitlement Act masquerading as health care reform.
By the end of the month a sharp debate had broken out in the progressive media and blogosphere. The number of progressives airing their nagging doubts about the wisdom of putting all their eggs in the basket of the Democrats reached a critical mass.
It is not enough to say that Obama and the Democrats have betrayed progressives, or that, as always, the path to change begins with grassroots mobilization. A critical part of the solution is a progressive third party. Without the political independence of progressives, both major parties ignore progressives who are left holding their nose and voting for the Democrats as the lesser evil.
All the doubts in the back of progressives' minds are coming into sharp focus. The recycled Bushies and Clintonites appointed by the administration. The trillions for war and Wall Street while unemployment, foreclosures, and economic stagnation deepened. Single payer "off the table." Card check union recognition abandoned. Complicity in Bush-era war crimes by refusing to "look back" and prosecute. New crimes committed with the continuation of extraordinary rendition, secret prisons, torture by proxy, targeted assassinations, indefinite detention, habeas suspension, state secrets, military commissions, and warrantless wiretapping. Tacit support for the Honduran military coup. "Secret" wars in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The list goes on.
We shouldn't be surprised. History shows that for more than a century the Democrats' role in the two-party system of corporate rule has been to co-opt, absorb, weaken, and defeat movements for progressive change, as the late Peter Miguel Camejo laid out in his 2004 Avocado Declaration. Right now, the evidence for this corporate function of the Democratic Party is as stark as it has ever been. The Democrats swept the election and the corporate agenda swept the Congress.
Most progressives spent the 2000s working to put the Democrats back in charge of Congress and the White House. They can't blame the Republicans now. The Democrats have the power. Progressive Democrats got what they wished for, but what do they have to show for it? It's a year later and their mandate for change is fast eroding. Democratic politicians and progressive leaders were merely cheerleaders who never made demands and backed them up with action. The Democrats' corporate backers weren't so naïve. They demanded and received their IOUs.
The Democrats are pursuing corporatist policies across the board, using big government to subsidize big business in return for big campaign contributions. It's just a rebranding as Democratic of Republican policies of corporate welfare for the rich, which is supposed to "trickle down" as jobs and income for working people, but never does. Even before the election, it was the Democratic leadership in Congress, with Obama's outspoken support, who pushed through the $700 billion TARP bailout for Wall Street just days after it was at first defeated in the face of popular outrage.
The Democrats are not only alienating voters on the Left, but also independents in the Center. Polls now indicate that these independents are swinging back to the Republicans as the lesser evil because their small government rhetoric at least promises to cut taxes. Many voters realize they are being ripped off by both major parties. They correctly understand that Democratic power brokers don't look out for the little guys anymore than Republicans do. If the Left doesn't offer a progressive alternative to the Democratic corporate liberals, the Republican corporate conservatives will be the only alternative that angry voters will have in 2010 to get back at the party in power.
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