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Reforming the Democrats -- Or a Third Party?

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The Democratic Party, with its current cast of characters in charge, has refused time after time to stand up and fight for its underlying principles. Its recent incoherent or wimpy positions on the Iraq War, electoral fraud and the Alito nomination make clear that it's stuck in a self-destructive rut and isn't terribly eager (or can't figure out how) to climb out of it.

As I see it, we have two options in dealing with this deficient, bumbling, weak-kneed crew. 1) We get rid of them, work to take over the party from the grassroots up (similar to what the Republicans did after the Goldwater debacle of '64), and eventually bring some coherence and dynamic initiatives back into the party. Or, 2) We give up on the Democrats as an embarrassing joke, and begin thinking seriously about joining with others, similarly disenchanted with the political choices offerred, and found a viable third party.

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There is another option: doing nothing, just continuing on as a rag-tag, undisciplined, weak OINO -- that's "Opposition In Name Only." But I think we all know that simply makes no sense. Being rolled regularly by the Republicans, or refusing to fight them in ways other than symbolic, gets old real fast.

OPTION#1: REFORMING FROM WITHIN

The first option, in a sense, is already happening. Folks like Paul Hackett in Ohio and Bernie Saunders in Vermont, both running for Senate, Diane Lawrence in a Florida Congressional district -- plus Cindy Sheehan thinking about a Senate race in California -- are willing to put themselves out there. Good people, good Democrats, willing to step out and step up in an effort to try to change the face of party, and American, politics.

So it's possible that many young, and not-so-young, activists from the Democratic base can start reforming from within -- starting at the precinct and municipal level, emerging from state legislatures, moving into statewide offices, taking the leap to running for Congress and so on.

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That kind of activist movement, whether coordinated or run on the fly by individuals, takes a tremendous amount of energy, courage, money, and clear-headed planning. It may require a decade or so to even begin to see demonstrable results. Can the Democratic Party afford the luxury of the decade or more it might take? Can the country handle the amount of Bush-like corruption, authoritarianism, wars, torture, moral lassitude that will transpire during that period while the foundation is being laid for a new, re-energized Democratic Party?

Perhaps more important, will the big bucks (George Soros? Peter Lewis? show-biz wealth?) see what needs to be done and provide the required financing and political infrastructure building? When the conservatives got over their '64 humiliation, they didn't sulk; they started a decades-long campaign to take power by buying or creating media organs to get their message out, established think-tanks where policy and philosophies and strategies could be developed, created ways to get college-age youths involved in conservative politics.

EDUCATION COMES FROM EVERYWHERE

In short, they were dead-serious about changing the system that had locked them out for so long. Their big-buck magnates and foundations (Coors, Scaife, Olin, et al.) footed the bill. And, eventually, as we know, they wound up taking over the Congress, the White House, much of the media -- and now are in the process of locking up the Judiciary as well.

Am I suggesting that we imitate the rightwing tactics and strategies -- and smash-mouth politics -- that brought them to power? No way. But, while not abandoning our morality and principles, we have much to learn from that level of commitment and tenacity and patience.

Are we in the Democratic "base" ready to sign on, to sign up, for that level of work and the dedicated slog it will take? Or will we remain a base that energizes itself every four years and then wonders why we keep getting blind-sided by an organization (Rove Inc.) that thinks, breathes, acts politics every waking second? Take your pick.

I think it's not necessarily too late to make the attempt to reform the party from within. But it is late, and it will require a humongous amount of toil, sweat, and lots of tears to turn this supertanker around and then bring this party back to speed and coherence and courage. We must first make the Democrats into a true party of opposition, and then convince the American people that it's capable of governing.

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(We're talking about elections here, which means that the Democratic Party is going to have to step out and point out forthrightly that our current voting system is a corrupted mess. It outsources ballot-counting to private corporations with secret software easily open to manipulation from the companies that own the e-voting machines and vote-counting computers, or to hacking from without. Those corporations are Republican-supporters at present, and key recent elections probably were fiddled with, according to scholars and other experts who have examined the shoddy system. If we can't overhaul the current manner of voting and ballot-counting, taking corruption and partisanship out of it, it won't matter how clean and transparent and dynamic our refurbished party is. We'll still contine to "lose," even when we win.)

OPTION#2: REFORMING FROM WITHOUT

I can't tell you how many liberal friends have expressed the same thought to me in recent months, in variations of these words: The Democratic Party is, and probably will continue to be, an embarrassing disaster, and it's time to at least start thinking tentatively about political life without it. That is, a viable third party.

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www.crisispapers.org
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
 

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