Is it true? All it takes to fracture the Democratic Party is for Hillary Clinton to speak at a DLC conference and ask for a cease-fire? No matter that we have been kicking Bush’s ass for several months running. No matter that the GOP is playing defense for the first time since 1996. No, NOW is the time for the progressives to begin thinking about splitting for a third party?
Let me tell you something. This is America. We have a two-party system. In the entire history of this country the Presidency has been occupied by a Whig, a Democrat, or a Republican. Splinter parties have affected some election outcomes, most notably Woodrow Wilson’s and George W. Bush’s success. But they never have a lasting effect.
The Dixiecrats became Republicans, members of George Wallace’s American Independent Party became Republicans. Scoop Jackson’s entire staff defected to the Republican Party and became neo-conservatives. As the Democratic Party took the lead on civil rights, women’s rights, human rights, environmentalism, multilateralism, gay rights, and disarmament, the center kept peeling away until the country fell firmly in control of the Republican Party.
I’m 35 years old and I have experienced only twelve years of a Democrat in the Presidency. Four of those years can be chalked up to Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon.
The idea that the left can do better in Presidential politics by having its progressive wing splinter away is fundamentally insane.
We have winner take all elections. In 1912, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose schism, the Republican nominee Howard Taft took all of two states: Utah and Vermont. Wilson became the only Democrat to get elected in a 36 year window.
The debate rages on about why the Democrats keep losing elections. On the left, it’s a certitude that we lose because we don’t stand up for what we believe and differentiate ourselves enough from the Republicans. In the center, it’s a certitude that we lose because we are too far ahead of the rest of country on gay rights, or we are perceived as too soft on national security issues.
We have DLC governors in the following states: Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, Delaware, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Kansas, Iowa, and Virginia. They are all either Bush states or swing states in Presidential elections.
The DLC’s philosophy is annoying. Their constant attacks on the left-wing of the party are insufferable. Their propensity to run interference for George W. Bush is absolutely deplorable. But the solution is not to cede our party to the centrists by splitting for some wasteland of irrelevancy where our only realistic ambition is to increase the GOP’s margin of victory.
No, the solution is to beat the DLC by out organizing them, by out fundraising them, and by tolerating them where they have success, as we expect them to tolerate us where we have success.
The Civil War was the only event in American history so divisive as to allow for the death of one of the two ruling parties, and the birth of a new one. We live in a divisive age, but we are not about to take up arms against each other.
The Democratic Party has its policy and ideological fault lines. We cannot unite around trade policy, or gay marriage, or the unilateral withdrawal from Iraq, or opposition to the Patriot Act, or universal health care, or even, it appears, the absolute sanctity of Roe. But what we can unite around is our opposition to the kleptocracy and corruption running rampant in the highest reaches of the Republican Party. We can unite around clean and open government.
Progressives are entitled to stand for something positive, even if we can’t get the consensus of the centrists to sign onto our platform. And we have the right to call for universal health care. We have the right to call for fair trade policies. We have a right to insist on the sanctity of Roe.
We should recruit primary challengers for Democrats that refuse to stand with us on these issues, and others. Perhaps our candidates could appear on the ballot as Progressive Democrats, but still be members of the Democratic Party. But, in the end, all this talk of leaving the party is self-defeating. This is not parliamentary democracy. If we lose by one vote, we might as well have lost by a million, or fifty million.
Third parties have a role to play in American politics. That role is to punish the dominant party when they begin to stray from the mainstream consensus in this country. Their role is not to fracture the minority party, when the majority power is out of control. The only third-party movement we should be seeing in this country should be made up of disillusioned Republicans that want the party of Lincoln, Teddy, and Ike to act like a Grand Old Party again.