Thursday, April 13, 2017

Toeing The Line Between Blind Faith In The Democratic Party And Complete Aversion Towards It

The refrain continues to be heard frequently from a great deal of leftists online and elsewhere: all efforts to change the Democratic Party from within are doomed to fail. At least, that's how it could typically be described at first. A while ago it seemed to have in many cases gone from a refrain to aggressive and often assumption-making counter-blows, such as "you're sheepdogging for the DNC" or "anyone who supports the Democrats is a sellout."

Granted, such extreme sentiments aren't quite the standard message from those in the DemExit crowd these days, but they aren't far off from the attitude the vast majority of them seem to have adopted, which is that of utter certainty any effort to bring revolutionary goals into the Democratic Party will be shut down by the party bosses and then possibly co-opted into another campaign of lip-service liberalism. It's easy to see how one who holds this view can lead themselves to assume everyone that aligns with the Democrats is corrupt or a useful idiot for the oligarchy; if these DemEnters really cared about bringing change, they would acknowledge it simply can't take place within the Democratic Party.

As for their belief that reforming the party is an unwinnable game, there's a lot of truth to what they're saying. Early last year, Counterpunch's Patrick Walker stepped past the "leftist dogma" that there's no changing the Democrats and instead gave the believers in party reform an ultimatum, saying that if Bernie Sanders was unable to get the nomination because of the Democratic elite's mechanisms to shut out insurgents, the dogma would become scientific fact. The party bosses, of course, were able to do just that, and with methods at subverting democracy which went far deeper than simply rigged debate schedules or efforts to sabotage Sanders by the corporate media-actual voter suppression and electoral fraud took place throughout numerous Democratic primary contests.

And even after the 27-year-old Ohio veteran Samuel Ronan gave us some hope in February by joining the race for DNC chair and openly calling out the rigging of the primaries at a public forum (as he's pictured doing above), the party's agenda appeared not to have budged an inch. Ronan received no votes from the Democratic insiders who decided the DNC chair election while pro-TPP, pro-corporate political donations Tom Perez got the seat instead. At the same time, the DNC accepted zero Sandersists into even its lower ranks. Indeed, the Democratic Party's top dogs have no interest in changing their ways, and in addition to the two big instances just mentioned of their capability to shut out progressives, Jacobin's Kim Moody has written a very thorough piece illustrating the formidable mechanisms which exist to keep Berniecrats from successfully primarying elections within the Democratic Party.

But does this really justify the assertions from so many DemExiters that all efforts to get non-corporatists into the party are inherently doomed to failure, as well as the accusations from not just many DemExiters on social media but Counterpunch writers that Bernie Sanders and others who choose to work within the Democratic Party are "sheepdogs" who have sold out to the corrupt establishment? Here's where it gets complicated, and where it becomes important to seek out a nuanced line between the perception that the Democratic Party is an ally and the view that it's a total and irredeemable enemy.

Firstly, I think there are some big misconceptions among both those who think DemEnter will be a cakewalk and those who think building a third party is the only viable option. What virtually every DemExiter I've encountered has seemed to have entirely overlooked is the fact that America's electoral system is perhaps even more rigged against third parties than the Democratic primaries were rigged against Bernie Sanders.

While building a progressive third party in the current political conditions would indeed be fairly easy if this were a century or so ago, due to America's unreasonably demanding ballot access laws and the unusual freedom American election officials from the two dominant parties have to sabotage third party or independent candidates, bringing about a major third party in this country is a virtual impossibility. Or at at least that's been the case since those conditions were brought about in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And even the editors of publications like Counterpunch and Jacobin agree, with both having approved articles that confirm America's current electoral process simply isn't habitable territory for small third parties seeking to become much bigger.

So when DemExiters charge Sanders and what appears to be the majority of his followers with supporting the two-party system by working within the Democratic Party, they're not being fair. Of course we don't want a system where only two facets of the population get their views represented; but until ballot access laws are loosened, the third party-hostile Commission on Presidential Debates is deprived of its current power, and measures like ranked choice voting are normalized, we for the most part have no other electoral option than the Democrats.

And even amid this seemingly insurmountable dilemma of an electoral system that gives us little choice but to work within a similarly rigged Democratic electoral system, the left has been making a great amount of gains. While the DNC has so far been immune to reform, when one looks a little below the surface, progressive have been successfully storming virtually every local and state Democratic Party they've come across for the last several months. Even the Wyoming Democratic Party, which infamously cheated Bernie Sanders out of several delegates a year ago, has succumbed to the efforts of the invading left.

Especially after the drastic reduction of Democratic superdelegates that the DNC agreed to last year, if Sandersists can continue this streak of taking over increments of the Democrats' state and local structure going into 2020, the next Bernie Sanders will be able to take the party's presidential nomination in the absence of state party officials who feel inclined to rig the game for the establishment candidate. And the obstacles put in front of Sandersist Senatorial and Congressional candidates can be just as easily overcome by the fact that while the DNC doesn't want to help said candidates, alternative institutions are being quickly built which can help them out where the party leadership refuses to.

In other words, when one is willing to look at more aspects of this situation than those which warrant the popular argument among DemExiters that "the DNC won't give progressives an inch," it becomes clear that we really can win this.

On top of all that, whether or not any DemExiters reading this are persuaded by my case for reforming the party to be the best option, I think it's an objectively reasonable request that DemExiters give party reformers credit where credit's due. Even if I'm wrong and changing the Democrats on the national level is not possible, the Berniecrats who have already proven the state and local Democratic parties are absolutely vulnerable to reform by taking so many of them over should be congratulated and worked with by DemEnters and DemExiters alike. So is the case for the other good, principled people who have decided to align with the Democratic Party, such as Tulsi Gabbard with her efforts to resist the insane recent push for a war with Syria/Russia. To label these individuals enemies because they call themselves Democrats is as irrational as assuming all Democrats are inherent allies.

Finally, I for one have refrained from acting self-righteously as a DemEnterer. Understanding that working within the Democratic Party has limitations, I've promoted a "Hybrid Option" of running candidates both within and outside the Democratic ticket, and thus volunteered for both Green and Democratic candidates. I've never acted like I possess the one true solution (like I said, maybe I'm wrong about the Democratic Party being scale-able), and I've certainly never assumed someone is a sellout or a fool because they're DemExit. Such a nuanced and open-minded attitude should become typical in discourse between Demexiters and DemEnterers, or the goals that they share won't stand as good a chance as otherwise of being brought about.


  1. Interesting blog. I agree that we need to work inside and outside the democratic party to achieve our progressive agenda. Your " successfully storming link says that the resolution to decrease the power of the super delegates was non binding and the link you have to the wall street journal only shows the first few sentences in the article about how successful sanders supporters have been in storming the democratic party locally.

  2. Really hit the nail on the head.