Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Progressives and Liberals, Movements and Political Parties – Part 2

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on April 22, 2008

Cross-posted from my blog at Campaign for America’s Future.

In my previous entry I laid out the differences between liberals and progressives, movements and political parties. For those of you who haven’t time to read through it, a brief recap:

Liberals believe in socio-economic justice, whereas progressives believe the same thing but also in taking it to the next step—using government as a powerful tool with which to achieve it by making Big Business behave. The Progressive Movement, much like movement conservatism, has a definite set of goals, and the Progressive Party is the political force through which we can reach them.

Today I’m going to touch upon short and long term strategies. As I pointed out in my last entry, the Progressive Party exists in a handful of states including Vermont and Washington. These chapters have made noticeable headway in the last five years. In the Green Mountain State, six Progressives have been elected to the legislature, and this year the party is running what is shaping up to be a viable gubernatorial campaign in absence of a Democratic candidate (for more information, see the Wikipedia entry). Meanwhile, Washington’s chapter is making headway at the local level.


Both of these chapters have formed within the last ten years—Vermont in 1999, and Washington in 2003. Given these results, it isn’t so difficult to believe that the same cannot be accomplished throughout all fifty states. But why do this?

There are short and long term reasons. In the long term, of course, the purpose is to eventually give rise to a political party around which the Progressive Movement must eventually rally. With the Democrats increasingly beholden to corporate interests (having been preceded by the Republicans), disorganized at the national level, and broken as an opposition movement to conservatism, efforts to reform it from within are unlikely to succeed because of the monetary infrastructure that keeps the leadership “safely” away from heeding the voices of the progressive base.

While this does not mean we should give up trying to restore the party to its New Deal-era roots, we must alter our strategy for the short term. If Democrats insist upon running corporate-conservative candidates (I refuse to call them centrists, because I don’t believe a consistent political center exists), and reneging on promises such as ending the occupation of Iraq, drastic measures must be taken. This means building up a viable third political party.

The purpose of this in the short term, I should point out, is not to try to compete with two large and very well-funded major parties. Sun Tzu admonishes the wise commander to avoid fighting multi-front wars, and it would be political suicide to attempt to compete with both of them. Instead, progressives should follow the Vermont and Washington strategies of running against Republicans and corporate-conservative Democrats (CCDs for short), and offering support to Progressive Democrats and independents.

A large enough bloc of Progressive votes may move CCDs to adopt progressive platform positions during elections, and continued pressure in between cycles can keep them there. Consider the examples of CCDs Al Wynn of Maryland, and Leonard Boswell of Iowa. Wynn had been forced to move to the political left following a 2006 primary challenge from Donna Edwards. But even then, he had not moved far enough to suit the needs of his constituents. This year Edwards soundly defeated him in the Maryland-4th primary. This put the fear of electoral ruin into Boswell, who pretends to represent Iowa’s 3rd District, so much so that he signed onto impeachment efforts against Dick Cheney.

Running Progressive candidates, therefore, can serve to help bring Democrats in line as a genuine opposition party to the GOP. In states and districts such as California’s 8th, where Democrat Shirley Golub is running to unseat Nancy Pelosi in the primary, efforts may be a little trickier because of the independent run of Cindy Sheehan. But it’s still worth trying. The point isn’t necessarily to win against Pelosi, though given her performance of the past year and four months, a victory would be nice. The point is to send a message to the incumbent that cowardice and complicity in the face of Bush-Cheney crimes will not be tolerated.

Many would argue that such a strategy would only serve to hand victory to Republicans, but this thinking is flawed for the simple reason that history does not support it; John Kerry ran a granny campaign in 2004, not daring to appear liberal, and Al Gore in 2000 ran such an indistinguishable campaign for president in 2000 that he failed to muster enough votes even to win his own state of Tennessee. Both of these Democrats ran to the political right, out of fear of offending the mythical center, only to end up in tight races in which George W. Bush was able to steal victory through electoral fraud. Similarly, as blogger David Swanson points out, Barack Obama this year appears to be making the same mistake—with the result that once again a Republican will manage to steal a victory out of a close contest.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Since voting for the “lesser” of two evils hasn’t achieved results, the only real solution then is to embrace the a strategy that has. And there is cause for optimism in thinking a Progressive challenge to the senator from Illinois (such as that mounted by Ralph Nader) might get him to listen and take heed. In 2003, Black Agenda Report applied pressure to Obama to restore the text of his supposedly anti-war speech from 2002 on this senatorial campaign web site. And in the recent dust-up over the apparent purge of anti-war delegates in California, pressure from outraged supporters led to their reinstatement a day later. Making Obama run to the political left would ensure a wider margin of victory, such that McCain’s vote-fraud machine could not credibly claim to have won the election.

By creating a political party through which the Progressive Movement may reach its desired goals, and by running strategic campaigns against targeted politicians, elected officials from the major political parties can be brought to account. It’s a matter of creating and implementing effective strategies and tactics.

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