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Do We Need a New Democratic Party?

There’s a movement afoot to begin a new Progressive Party, the core of which would be Bernie Sanders supporters who are either dismayed by the Democratic Party’s reluctance to move to the left since the last election or who believe that the Democrat’s ties to big business, Wall Street and corporate America forever prohibit the party from becoming a true representative of the people. Within the Democratic Party there are those who are fighting this movement by trying to get the party to embrace a more progressive stance in both its national presence and in its championing of progressive candidates in elections at the local level.

There are lessons from the past worth considering.

In 1972 George McGovern was the Democratic candidate for president. McGovern’s Republican opponent was Richard Nixon, not as flamboyant or ill-prepared to be president as Donald Trump, but nearly as polarizing. In the previous election, the anti-war sentiment of many young people in the country had almost succeeded in nominating activist Senator Eugene McCarthy as the Democratic presidential candidate, but had instead picked the more centrist, incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey had lost to Nixon and progressives were saying “I told you so” by choosing another McCarthy-like figure in the person of anti-War Senator George McGovern.

The silent majority who favored the status quo proved to be larger than expected and the strength of the progressive anti-war movement weaker than those who nominated McGovern had thought. Nixon received 61% of the popular vote and McGovern 37%. The difference of 18 million in the popular vote was the largest recorded before or since, including in the lopsided victory of Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater (the difference in the popular vote between Nixon and Humphrey had only been 500,000 votes).

This is not 1972, but there may be a lesson from that election of over 40 years ago that popular progressive sentiment, expressed in vocal protests, mainly by young people, may not signal a viable base of voters in a national election.

Democratic values, such as protection from climate change, achieving affordable healthcare for all, reining in the pharmaceutical industry, not deporting illegal immigrants who have not committed a serious crime, allowing refugees into the country without regard to their religion, decreasing income disparity and increasing wages of common working people, addressing racism in the criminal justice system, allowing women to choose whether or not to have an abortion, protecting the freedoms of LGBT citizens and avoiding war are favored by the majority of Americans and particularly by those who identify themselves as Democrats. A mainstream Democrat can easily run on a platform favoring all of these positions. What seems less possible is to find a mainstream Democratic who will seriously seek to eliminate the role of money in politics, who will insist on a single-payer government health care system, who will pursue climate protection even if it hurts American businesses, and who will find a way to pursue an international trade policy that will not give undue power and authority to corporate interests over the interests of the common citizen (the real problem with the TPP). These latter progressive positions need to be adopted or else support for the more mainstream liberal positions will not turn them into policies, because the American political system is too ruled by those who control the country’s wealth and industry. This is exactly why Bernie Sanders made repeal of Citizens United, Medicare for all, and regulation of Wall Street the centerpieces of his campaign. Without taking big money out of politics, even a limited progressive agenda will never be instituted.

The Democratic Party needs to address the core issues that Bernie Sanders addressed in order for it to work as a vehicle for progressive change in America. A breakaway Progressive Party is not necessary when most Democrats and Independents already agree on most of the issues that are endorsed by progressives. Furthermore, a breakaway Progressive Party runs the danger of focusing on issues of identity politics and self-righteous liberal elitism, which turns off many mainstream voters, even if they support the rest of the progressive agenda. The result will be to take voters away from the Democratic Party and secure more wins for Republicans and conservatives. The Democratic Party needs to embrace the mainstream positions that coincide with liberalism and progressivism, but also boldly address the systemic issues of corporate control over politics and policies, which prevent progressivism from being a reality. By  sharpening the party’s focus along these lines, the Democratic Party can harness the sentiments of the majority of Americans and take back the country.

Reader Comments (1)

We need NO Democratic Party!

February 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterK.C. Fontaine

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