After the Midterm Elections: How Should We Think About the Democratic Party?

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We are reposting here two different perspectives on the elections. After one of the biggest defeats of the Democratic Party in history, amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, how should we think about the role of the Democratic Party?

Bill Fletcher, a founding member of Progressives for Obama, wrote this essay in the lead up to the recent midterm elections. It is taken from the website of Progressive Democrats of America.

For an opposing view we turn to the World Socialist Website below.

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Enthusiasm?: I Am Not Interested in Things Getting Worse!

by Bill Fletcher, Jr

There has been a lot of discussion about the apparent enthusiasm gap between Democratic voters and Republican voters.  While it is beyond question that the Obama administration has accomplished significant reforms in its first two years, the manner in which these have been accomplished, combined with the fact that they were generally not deep enough, has led many liberal and progressive voters to despair.

So, what should we think as we quickly approach November 2nd? First, there were too many magical expectations of both the Obama administration and most Democrats in Congress.  Many of us forgot that while they represented a break with the corrupt Bush era, they were not coming into D.C. with a red flag, a pink flag or a purple flag. They came to stabilize the system in a period of crisis.  President Obama chose to surround himself with advisers who either did not want to appear to believe or in fact did not believe that dramatic structural reforms were necessary in order to address the depth of the economic and environmental crises we face.  They also believed, for reasons that mystify me, that they could work out a compromise with so-called moderate Republicans.  

The deeper problem, and one pointed out by many people, is that the Obama administration did not encourage the continued mobilization of its base to blunt the predictable assaults from the political right.  As a result, many people sat home waiting to be called upon to mobilize. Instead, we received emails or phone calls asking us to make financial contributions, or perhaps to send a note regarding an issue, but we were not called upon to hit the streets.

Unfortunately, the main problem rests neither with the Obama administration nor the Democrats in Congress. It rests with the failure of the social forces that elected them to keep the pressure on.  Too many of us expected results without continuous demand.

Ok, so now that we have gotten this out of our system, we have to face the immediate challenge. I am not going to list the positive things that have been produced by the Obama administration. I am also not going to list the bad calls or stands with which I disagree. I am focusing on those on the right attempting to move in, and frankly they are an unsettling bunch.  You see, my enthusiasm for voting rests on the fact that I am not interested in people who worship ignorance, intolerance, war and the strengthening of a plutocracy increasing their grip on power and pulling this country any further to the right than it currently is.  In other words, the challenge for progressives is two-fold: one, to beat back the irrationalist right; and, two, to move against the right-wing of the Democratic Party and to push for real change.  

Liberals and progressives get called out every election cycle to defend the Democratic Party against the barbarians at the gates.  We often do that and then turn away in disgust.  Rarely do we either take on the right-wing in the Democratic Party or build up social forces that are energized about keeping elected leaders accountable.  We keep talking the talk, but we do not follow through with the walk.  When we get angry we talk about creating a third party, but we don’t move a strategy to put the heat under the Democratic Party.

Well, we are now facing a moment of truth.  This is not the boy who cried wolf.  In addition to the Democratic Congress as a whole being under assault from the Republicans, there are some liberal and progressive Democratic elected officials who are under siege, and about whom we should be concerned.  There is an energized, right-wing army waiting to turn back the clock. So progressives should be enthused right now; enthused to defend our friends, but also to defeat our enemies. But we should also be motivated to put into practice a different set of politics.  We have got to get off the defensive and promote a different sort of vision, an inspiring, progressive vision. That may mean that we part company with some elected leaders who call themselves Democrats, but the time has come when we cannot afford to simply push the button because we see a donkey.  Frankly, I am tired of being kicked in the ass.

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The following article is taken from the World Socialist Website

Republicans win sweeping victory in US congressional election

By Patrick Martin 


With many results still being counted or too close to call, the US congressional elections have produced a sweeping victory for the Republican Party, which regained control of the House of Representatives, gaining as many as 60 seats, and cut into the Democratic margin in the Senate.

Incumbent Senate Democrats Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas were defeated, and Republicans took open Senate seats in Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Indiana. The Republican candidate was leading early Wednesday in the contest for Barack Obama’s former Senate seat in Illinois.

In the House of Representatives, Republicans took at least four seats from Democrats in New York, two in New Hampshire, one in New Jersey, five in Pennsylvania, five in Ohio, two in Michigan, two in Indiana, three in Illinois, and two in Wisconsin, for a net gain of 26 seats in the industrial Northeast and Midwest. The Republicans also captured at least 15 Democratic-held seats in the South, including three each in Florida, Virginia and Tennessee, and two in Georgia and Mississippi.

Some longstanding congressional Democrats lost their seats, including House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt in South Carolina, Appropriations subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher in the coal-mining region of Virginia, and Ike Skelton of Missouri, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Republican candidates won the lion’s share of the 39 state governorships, taking control of Democratic-held statehouses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Tennessee and New Mexico, while retaining Republican-held statehouses in Florida, Texas and Georgia. The Democrats retained New York and Massachusetts and were leading in Illinois and California.

The electoral debacle is a devastating indictment of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. Two years after an overwhelming victory in the presidential election, four years after the Republicans lost control of both the House and the Senate, the right-wing policies of the Democrats have created the conditions for a massive comeback by the Republicans.

Read the rest here

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In many ways the One Nation Rally, held in early October by the trade unions and liberal organizations in Washington D.C., anticipated these debates. The following was a 2 part interview was conducted by The Real News with leading members of Progressive Democrats of America.


More at The Real News


More at The Real News

The World Socialist Website has another view of the One Nation Rally.

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5 thoughts on “After the Midterm Elections: How Should We Think About the Democratic Party?”

  1. Will – Can you elaborate on your question?

    I would say that if bourgeois leaders are dominating both the legislation and, to a meaningful degree, the popular political conversation all over the country, wouldn’t a thorough, updated, and even locally relevant analysis that accurately attacks them be very useful to revolutionaries? Isn’t it good to have clear targets to aim at?

    I thought the World Socialist article on the One Nation rally did a good job at showing how these elections (and rallies) point out the fundamental failings of the Democratic Party.

    Also, less than 40% of Americans over 18 voted in the recent midterm elections. Almost half of Americans eligible to vote didn’t vote for anyone in the 2008 presidential election. The elections themselves point out important basic problems – that the majority of the country isn’t satisfied with either of the mainstream ruling parties. While this problem might be obvious to revolutionaries, the reported but unanalyzed statistics of the elections, in my opinion can make for compelling illustrations of how clearly bankrupt the current form of American capitalism by a bickering ruling elite actually is. I haven’t heard the kind of analysis of the incredibly low voter turn out, and in my mind therefore, incredibly low voter satisfaction, that I would like to hear from the left. To me, bourgeois elections are like the ruling elite publicly making complete fools out of themselves, but somehow still getting away with it.

  2. Yo

    I agree with you Joe. You definitely get at some of the reasons I think are important to pay attention to elections. You need to have a clear analysis of what you are up against.

    When I was asking this question, I was thinking about it from exactly the reason of why revolutionaries should care. After all revolutionaries argue that true power lies amongst the working class. So if that is where power lies, why pay attention to the elections? Some other questions which come to my mind are: What is the fundamentally at stake in terms of elections, bourgeois democracy, and revolution? What can a revolutionary analysis of elections over time show to working class people who have some faith in the electoral system? What do elections say about bourgeois democracy? What is the relationship of the failures of bourgeoisie elections to revolution? Or what is the relationship of bourgeoisie society’s ability to solve the problems of a country to revolutionary consciousness?

    Anyways I have been thinking about these points lately…

    Will

  3. A separate but related question we might ask is why so many self-professed revolutionaries participate in campaigns to “get out the vote” and get people registered and so little time discussing precisely those issues Joe and Will have raised here.

    Here in Durham, cadre members in revolutionary organizations have been at the forefront of “get out the vote” campaigns alongside self-professed anarchists. On Facebook, those and many other people who profess commitment to revolutionary ideas urged people to go vote (at the same time noting that it’s important to organize at the grassroots).

    I think we need to seriously engage the arguments these folks make, for they are the other side of the problem of the revolutionary left in the US today – they care way too much and are way too invested in this political process.

    One of the things that really frustrates me is that after these elections are over, so many of these kinds of folks simply blame money for the loss of the Democrats. They say, “the Republicans just threw money at the elections; no wonder they won.” What they consistently fail to examine, or refuse to examine, is the failure of the Democrats (and themselves, and US ALSO!) to pose a real alternative that can inspire people to either get to the ballot box or support their front groups in whatever they want people to do.

    To be clear, I absolutely agree that we need to pay attention to bourgeois elections to understand what we’re up against, make calculations, and gauge popular sentiment. It is particularly significant that so few people vote, and I think Joe is right on in the significance of this for revolutionary political projects.

    I also don’t think our whole point should be to inspire people to support our own front groups.

    So what is to be done in our era? Support the democrats? “Get out the vote”?

    What relationship do these kinds of initiatives have to notions of direct democracy, of ordinary people themselves deciding how to run workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods? Not “participating” in facades of democracy alongside mayors and captains of industry, but running things themselves, on their own terms?

    Anyway, good discussion so far.

  4. Folks,

    I think Joe is right on showing the majority of folks, even in 2008, don’t vote. I would say quite of few know voting offers them little to nothing..it’s not apathy but for some a conscious disengagement.

    As usual, the Democrats were largely outorganized by grassroots elements supportive of the Republican party like the Tea Party. The Democrats really don’t have a mass, longterm grassroots campaigning strategy. Mikey points to left groups getting out the vote for Democrats…and not to say unions too, spend our hard-earned dues on these fools over building strikes and strike funds.

    I think this was key with people of color and young folks who came out to vote for Obama, pushing the Democrats to support progressive agendas that the party and really Obama don’t support. Look at the whole Progressives of Obama group: http://progressivesforobama.blogspot.com/ which has now changed its name to Progressive America Rising as their position of critical left support of Obama is becoming increasingly contradictory. So the Democrats abandoned these supports, some who saw Obama’s election as a national liberation moment of sorts, as they’re afraid of poc and young folks pushing them to the left. They’re more worried about being the supporters of business interests that “still feel the pain”of working folks…although this is a lie. It’s been clear since even Jimmy Carter, and especially through Clinton, how far to the right these “New Democrats” have gone, especially in austerity measures of basic public services. Your just as likely to hear Democrats push for charter schools than Republicans, and many are spearheading these efforts. As the Republicans push further right the Democrats feel they have to keep up with them to represent this mythical “center” in American politics to keep in the good graces of the “middle class” and business interests. But instead they ignore working people and people of color, and some live up to the “latte liberal” label of out of touch elitests. John Kerry played that role to perfection in 2004. I’m reading Joe Bargent’s Deer Hunting with Jesus in which he talks about how much Democrats have ignored the working poor in the South, with many voting for Republicans against their class interest.

    To conclude, I ran into a number of folks in left groups who put a lot of emphasis on elections per the mood of working people. It can be a bellweather like in2008. But again as Joe pointed out the majority of poc and working folks don’t vote. A growing number can’t, be convicted by the state of felonies, many minor drug charges. This is not to say working folks don’t want to vote. Many do, and defense of working and especially POC choice to vote against state repression is important from a direct action way like some groups in Florida did in 2004 as opposed to only legal efforts ala the NAACP. But then the perspectives we throw out there is what are the limits of voting when the choice is the two sides of the same coin of capitalist interests embodied in the Democrats and Republicans, both nationally and locally. The reaction to working folks to these elections gives a glimpse into the social forces currently at play in the US. And from reading especially Bill Fletcher’s piece there is the sense of always have to defend progressive Democrats and rarely ever going on the attack. This is the Democrats and their core supporters and Obama as well…always trying to weather the storm and be a caring friend to business. But when working people are attacked (which is daily) they give lip service at best.

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