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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/2/14

The Left's Dangerous, Self-Defeating Lie: Democrats = Republicans

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Before broaching my title subject proper, I need to ward off some possible misimpressions, especially for those unacquainted with my other writings.

First off, when I criticize "the left" here, I do not write as some rightist wing-nut, nor even as a "moderate" critical of leftist "extremism." As I've said in comments to others' OpEdNews articles, our oligarchic, increasingly fascist status quo is itself extreme, and any apologist for it sailing under the false flag of "moderate" is an unwitting extremist, defending the indefensible.

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee--Similar, but FAR from the same
Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee--Similar, but FAR from the same
(Image by Doug Kline)
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I myself am of the left--and proudly of the left--virtually certain any conceivable remedies to our moribund republic's grave ills must come from the leftward end of the political spectrum. In my more precise self-designation (specifying what sort of leftist I am), I normally style myself a progressive. I do this (1) to indicate that I don't take any hard stance on capitalism per se; I find capitalist economic systems sufficiently tempered by strong, responsive government and a sturdy social-safety net (neither of which we now have) potentially quite livable. And I wish (2) to distinguish myself from mere liberals, who, focusing on social issues like abortion or gay marriage, seem to have given up the struggle for economic justice, environmentalism, and world peace. I take progressives to be left of liberals politically, retaining concern for all the issues the left has traditionally cared about. That's why, I feel, liberals are almost automatically identified with today's Democratic Party, whereas progressives are often quite uncomfortable with that party, and tend to bristle at being stereotyped as "typical Democrats." When in fact we may not belong to the Democratic Party at all; many progressives don't.

And anyone even vaguely acquainted with my writings knows I can be quite scathing on the subject of Democrats, to the extent I once gave fellow OpEdNews progressive writer Eric Zuesse the impression that I hate Democrats lock, stock, and barrel. And I've even written articles berating progressive or environmentalist big kahunas like Thom Hartmann and Bill McKibben for what I perceived as sacrificing principle for the sake of protecting Democrats. So, despite what I'm about to say here, no one can with the least justice accuse me of being a Democratic Party shill.

What I've consistently been, and remain, is a progressive, preoccupied to the point of obsession with the extremely difficult question of how to get progressives--marginalized by both major parties--represented in U.S. government. And if I here take the firm stance that Democrats are not the same as Republicans, it's solely in the interest of sane progressive strategizing. For no successful progressive strategy can be built based on such a blatant, batshit-blind mistruth. What's more, stigmatizing Democrats under the same general anathema as Republicans may block all avenues to the most promising progressive strategy of all--a hostile takeover by progressives, under outsider Bernie Sanders' aegis, of today's Democratic Party. More on that later.

No, today's Democratic Party is not a uniform, monolithic entity, but subject to deep fracture, a fault line so deep it risks tearing today's Democratic coalition apart. And therein lies progressive's enormous potential opportunity. For what in fact has kept the party together recently is a common front on so-called social issues, where most mere liberals strongly agree with most progressives--circling the wagons against today's Republicans on such issues as abortion, gay marriage, gun control, or school prayer. But, demographically speaking, Republicans' "God, guns, and gays" constituency is rapidly disappearing, for, as evidenced by poll after poll, younger people simply don't care about these issues. To the extent that Republicans will soon need reinvent themselves or die, since the party's deep agenda--fulfilling plutocrats' every wish--simply can't maintain a large enough base to remain competitive in elections. Which probably substantially explains Wall Street's heavy spending on corporatist Democrats--the likes of Obama and Hillary Clinton.

I recently read an excellent article by Michael Lind in Salon on this subject (; I'd suggest Lind's article be made mandatory reading for progressives interested--as every progressive should be--in questions of strategy. Now, perhaps the most insightful part of Lind's article is his pointing out that that the demographic demise of Republicans' "God, guns, and gays" base is not, as one might expect, an unmixed occasion for celebration by Democrats. For, as Lind emphasizes, the disappearance of a common enemy is likely to unveil the real, hidden discord in the Democratic household: between the party's corporatist and populist wings. Or, in terms of the vocabulary I've been using here, between mere liberals and genuine progressives.

Now, if my main allegiance were to the Democratic Party, I'd find Lind's analysis a cause for genuine worry. But as a dyed-in-the-wool progressive, I find it in cause for celebration--celebration based on progressive opportunity. But to cash in on that opportunity, progressives must distinctly see it. Which leaves me little patience with the vision-destroying idiocy--rather like opting to have cataracts--that "Democrats are the same as Republicans."

If Democrats really were the same as Republicans, an article like Lind's would never have been possible. For first of all, he never would have been able to identify the common difference-- roughly, on "God, guns, and gays" social issues--that unites today's Democrats against Republicans. Now, if progressives who claim "Democrats are the same as Republicans" ignore this difference, it's probably because they take it for granted, in the course of their deep frustration over Democrats behaving too much like Republicans on other issues--issues, like climate change, war, and economic inequality, of far greater import. On this point I share their frustration, but not to the extent of blindness to crucial differences among Democrats. And in these lies progressives' potential greatest opportunity.

See, again, if there weren't crucial differences among Democrats--a deep fissure within the party fold--Lind could have never written his article. For, acknowledging that Democrats do differ from Republicans of "God, guns, and gays" social issues (a fact I don't think anyone denies), he would have been forced to write a different article. An article that would have stressed the ongoing demographic collapse of Republicans' base as an occasion for universal celebration by Democrats. But instead, he rightly analyzed it as occasion for collapse of the troubled Democratic coalition itself, since the differences between corporatists and populists--between real progressives and mere liberals--can no longer (without a common enemy) be patched over. In identifying this fault line within the Democratic Party, I believe Lind has identified the basic fault line of future U.S. politics. One that could potentially split today's Democrats into two separate parties. And if the corporatists let that happen, their party is likely to soon be as endangered demographically as today's Republicans. For are Americans really going to rally en masse to the plutocrats' party in a class war being fought--to their great detriment--against themselves? Democrats' increasingly evident fault line could be progressives' greatest opportunity.

Now, I didn't need Lind's article to prove that Democrats aren't the same as Republicans, or that the Democratic Party isn't a single, monolithic thing. I could have cited the radical differences between many/most Democrats and virtually all Republicans on the existence of climate change or the importance of preserving the social-safety net. I also could have pointed to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, or to progressive Congresspersons like Elizabeth Warren, Alan Grayson, and Raul Grijalva, who differ radically from anyone found in the Republican Party. The problem, as I perceive it, is that the Democratic Party leadership is so corrupted by Big Money that the voices of Democrats' genuine progressives are marginalized, and, for the sake of party unity against genuinely dangerous Republicans, they're overly timid in their criticisms of the leadership and its regressive minions, like Obama and Hillary Clinton. But organized progressive voters, hell-bent on deepening the rift between corporatists and populists within the Democratic Party, may well be capable of--and find our own best prospect for power in--emboldening them. Warren, Grayson, Grijalva, and their ilk hold one trump card Jill Stein and the Green Shadow Cabinet are unlikely to have anytime soon: they actually occupy the seats of national power. What better hope have progressives than persuading them that their future in those seats--and the very future of their party--depends on their becoming ever more boldly progressive?

And a Bernie Sanders presidential run--as a Democrat--could be a mighty persuader. For Sanders, an outsider unbeholden to the official Democratic Party establishment, could rally around himself a vast coalition of passionate progressives. A dangerous coalition for Democrats, for whatever Sanders' fate as a candidate--and whatever he personally chooses to do if he loses--he's likely to unite a wide variety of progressives, reflecting the real desires (per polling) of the American public, who could, once unified, potentially walk away from Democrats and form their own party. Even potentially uniting with Greens. I suspect the progressive wing of the Democrats would have a strong interest in pleasing that progressive coalition and keeping it in the party, since it essentially constitutes progressive Democrats' own base.

With such a promising prospect for progressive's long-overdue representation on the table--through a progressive revolt that exploits the very real fault line within the Democratic Party--I find it willfully blind and deeply irresponsible to smugly assert that "Democrats are the same as Republicans." So irresponsible do I find it that felt obliged to delay my promised article illustrating how an "Occupy for Bernie" movement could build at least part of the coalition Sanders would need to have major beneficial impact. For he can never that impact if we blindly and stupidly assume "Democrats are the same as Republicans." Repulsive as Obama and the party leadership are, Democrats are not-- and Lind's article shows that they may soon be forced to be less like Republicans than ever.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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