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Independence Is the Key

By       Message Jerry Kann     Permalink
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From Democrats and Republicans
Democrats and Republicans
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Sometimes an institution just goes rotten. Sometimes it just outlives its usefulness and needs to be swept aside. Worse, its frantic attempts to prove how necessary it is to the public good tend to make it a true menace to society. Such is the case with that two-headed monster we still think of as two separate organizations which we call the Democratic and Republican parties.

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It's possible that most of you reading this now are registered Democrats, and some of you might be offended by what I have to say. That is, it might sound like I'm getting personal. So it's only fair that I explain a few things about my own personal background and how it might have influenced my views about the two-party system, and especially about the Democratic Party.

We all have personal or emotional reasons, to some extent, for our political opinions. Very few of us have the patience of saints or the detachment of scientists when we talk politics. The question is, how much weight should we give to someone's personal history when sizing up his or her political argument?

I have no emotional attachment to the Democratic Party, even though I was a registered Democrat for 14 years and I've never voted for a Republican. I was a registered Green from 2000 to 2009. I'm now a registered independent.

I grew up in a house full of conservatives. My mother was an early member of the Libertarian Party and my father was a successful small-business insurance agent in the Cleveland area, and a lifelong Republican. Growing up, I generally had a lot of advantages that I didn't do a thing to earn or deserve. Like a lot of upper middle-class kids, I just had things too easy. (I have to add that I've lived most of my adult life in genteel, white-collar poverty--which, of course, is still a much easier situation than real poverty.) In short, I owe. For most of my good fortune in this life, I owe my family, I owe friends, I owe my country"but I don't think I owe any political party.

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However, I guess it's possible that other people might think they do owe something to their political party. This was undoubtedly the case for many people in some localities decades ago. Back in the days of Tammany Hall and other big-city political machines, small-time neighborhood bosses did real service for the residents on their turf. They'd help with immigration problems, intervene with the cops when folks got into trouble, even find jobs for people. In return, those residents--most of them--voted the right way on Election Day. This was mostly a practice of the Democratic Party, but Republicans might have operated similar machines in various districts around the country.

Organized labor was once a force to be reckoned with in America. The unions could expect at least a little help, some flexing of political muscle, from Democratic presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt. But FDR and Frances Perkins left us 70 years ago, and recent Democratic figureheads such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have given the labor movement not a helping hand but the back of their hands for over 20 years now. And as for Tammany-style constituent service, whatever might be left of it in 2015 is just a shadow of what it once was.

Considering all that, it's hard to see what anybody, of any social class, gets out of voting Democrat anymore. What do they get for their votes? They know they are basically supporting the same policies that they'd get from the Republicans. They know they're just handing over money and power to millionaires and billionaires--bankers, defense contractors, insurance company directors. They know they're propping up socialism for the rich and capitalism for everybody else. Second-, third-, and fourth-generation Democrats have hardly any reason to remain loyal to their party--I suppose because it isn't really theirs anymore.

Think about the Democrats in power--those in Congress, in state legislatures, the mayors and governors. What could they possibly have been doing all these years for their "base," their rank-and-file party members, that would convince those millions and millions of registered Democrats that they owed some kind of loyalty to their leaders? What have the leaders of either major party done for working people for the last 30 years except abuse them and deceive them and exploit them and laugh at them?

Maybe most registered Democrats--the pro-union, blue-collar loyalists and the middle-class, white-collar progressives--are still somehow tied to the Democratic Party by emotion or tradition or habit, and they just don't want to rebel. Maybe they have personal reasons for taking all that abuse and disrespect from their party leaders. I don't know. All I do know for sure is that I don't share that feeling of loyalty to the Democrats, and maybe that's because it was not drummed into me in childhood, as religion and other habits of thought are sometimes drummed into kids. And even though my Mom and Dad were both right-wingers, they were also freethinkers who believed that I should make up my own mind about politics and religion and all that. Maybe that explains why I have no sense of loyalty to the Republicans either.

I take time here to discuss the personal factor in our politics because we usually don't take it into account. I'm certainly nobody to talk, because I haven't shared my own personal history very much or very often. I guess I've always feared being rejected by other leftists, especially those who did not have all the easy breaks I had growing up, all those advantages that were mine just because of a lucky accident of birth. Maybe bringing it up for discussion will encourage others to ask themselves what their political loyalties are based on and whether or not those loyalties are justified anymore.

I hope this digression sheds some light on why I despise the phony democracy of the Democrats and Republicans. A combination of factors, I suppose, has led me to the conclusion that the two-party system is a bird with two right wings. It's clear as crystal to me that we progressives and populists and socialists need to give up on that corrupt system and create something entirely new.

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A truly progressive program--one that includes full employment, Single-Payer health insurance, a $15-an-hour minimum wage (for starters), real support for labor (organized and unorganized), an end to racist policing, cutting the Pentagon budget in half, bringing the Fed under the control of the Treasury Department and out of the control of the banks, and setting the goal of peaceably bringing together all the nations of the world into one nation under one free, democratic government--a program of that kind will never become law if we leave it up to the Democratic Party. We have to do it ourselves. We need our own major party to accomplish it.

We need our own political party.

One of the great lies of our times is the idea that the Democrats and Republicans are "hyper-partisan," that they just can't agree on anything, that they're locked in some fight to the death--that they're different. But they don't really differ very much at all. They have different names and use different talking-points, but they hustle for the same bribes from the same source, the Big Business bosses. Ralph Nader said it best, way back in 2000: "The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocity with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door."

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Jerry Kann was born in 1960 and brought up in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, the son of a businessman and a homemaker. A graduate of Cleveland State University with a B.A. in English Literature, Kann moved to New York City in 1987 with his long-time (more...)

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