“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is the merger of corporate and state power.” ~ Benito Mussolini
There are only two real parties in American politics, but perhaps not the ones you think. Our system promotes a two party state because of the mechanics of our elections. The winner take all system that we employ causes any major third party challenge to split votes off from the dominant party who’s views most closely match their own, thus throwing victory to the party most opposed to their views. This is why it is extremely unlikely, and exceedingly rare, to have a third party candidate win. I’m all for making changes to the winner take all system, but while we have this method, we need to figure out how to deal with the reality of how it works in order to elect more progressives.
Simply put, our issue is that we have one party that is a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporations and another is a partially owned subsidiary of corporations. It’s not so much the Republicans and the Democrats as it is the Corporatists and the Progressive-Populists. Or as Alan Grayson put it in reference to Occupy Wall Street on Real Time with Bill Maher:
…they’re complaining about the fact that wall street wrecked the economy 3 years ago and nobody’s held responsible for that. Not a single person has been indicted or convicted for destroying 20%, 20% of our national net worth accumulated over the course of two centuries. They’re upset about the fact that wall street has iron control over the economic policies of this country, and that one party is a wholly owned subsidiary of wall street, and the other party caters to them as well. That’s the real truth of the matter…
This is why even when we get reform, it’s usually watered down and full of corporate welfare (wealthfare). The much hyped and touted Affordable Care Act with its individual mandate is a huge giveaway to the health insurance corporations that are the problem in the first place. Yes, there are some good parts of the law and in the long run it may help move us toward a Medicare for All type solution, but with 60 Senators, a solid 257 seat majority in the House, and the Presidency, why couldn’t Democrats pass something better? Likewise, why was there such a struggle against creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Why were the Dem’s so vexingly ineffective at creating real, lasting, and substantive change as a majority party? And why was 2010 such a bad year for D’s at the ballot box?
The simple answer is because the Corporatist still outnumbered the Progressive-Populists. Corporate Democrats like Max Baucus and the thankfully retiring Joe Lieberman (who was so Corporatist that the party activists kicked him out of the party in 2006) join with Corporatist Republicans (is there any other type?) to prevent progress. Progressive legislation is not only good policy, but good politics. When you pass popular legislation, people vote for you. I specifically refer to Progressive-Populists as such because it is the combination of popular ideas (ie. Populism) and ones that contribute toward social and economic justice, or progress, for the large majority (99%?) of regular people (ie. Progressivism) While this is a fairly simple idea, many Democrats either don’t get it, or are so busy collecting campaign donations from their corporate backers that they just don’t care.
This gets at one of the root causes of the problem. That we have a system that requires candidates to raise obscene amounts of cash in order to be heard allows those with obscene amounts of cash to simply buy the candidates. Generally speaking, the group of those with obscene amounts of cash include those in the top 1% and corporations. Corporations are mechanisms to aggregate wealth and therefore, the largest corporations usually have huge treasuries. With Citizens United v. FEC (pdf) giving corporations the ability to spend unlimited sums from their corporate treasury, the Corporatists will only become harder to beat. This is why we not only need a constitutional amendment making it clear that corporations are not people and overturning this atrocious ruling, but one that also allows for the creation of a publicly funded election system with matching funds, like Arizona’s original system before it was struck down by the Supreme Court.
This would not completely solve the problem, but it would go a long way toward that solution. One of the consequences of the publicly financed system in Arizona was that because it opened the doors to just about anyone to run for public office, it allowed a lot of extreme right wingers to take control of the state. There are three reasons for this, the first is that the right was/is more organized than the left in Arizona, the second being that legislators are paid a paltry $24K salary making it hard to recruit quality candidates, and the third is that most of the legislative districts are drawn in a way that whomever wins the primary in one party or the other will prevail in the general. This combination of factors allowed the right wing of the Republican party to take over that party and the state government because they found extremists who would be happy to make $24,000 that they could run and get elected in the primary and subsequently the heavily partisan general. The left has not been so organized as to take advantage of the system in a way that pushes their partisans to take more progressive stances. They have also had a hard time recruiting candidates in many areas that are winnable. Arizona has a system whereby each Legislative District elects 1 Senator and 2 Representatives. While doing some elections research, I came across many examples of elections when the Democratic party won a State Senate seat, but did not even contest the corresponding House seats. This has lead to occasional control of the Senate, but decades in the minority in the House. In fact, because online records only go back as far as the 1974 election, I can’t tell you when the Democrats last controlled the House.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, however, represents a new hope for Progressive-Populism. Many people have cautioned about outside forces, such as labor unions or Democrats, co-opting the movement, but why shouldn’t the movement co-opt the Democratic party?
It should. The party is ripe for a takeover. In poll after poll, large majorities agree with the policies advocated by OWS, yet many occupiers shun traditional politics, opting only to protest rather than protest and vote. Many believe it is time for a complete revolution, but the public is not ready for this and pursuing this path would be deleterious, leading to a 70’s style fizzle out. As Daniel Quinn put it in Ishmael in reference to the movement of the 60’s and 70’s:
“The revolt hadn’t been put down, it had just dwindled away into a fashion statement.”
OWS should still rally and protest in the streets, but in order to stay relevant and powerful, it must transition into the political arena. If the OWS movement funnels its energies into taking over the Democratic Party at the precinct committee person level and running its own candidates on the Progressive-Populist platform it espouses, it can take real political power to make the country over as it sees fit. Alternatively, OWS could endorse candidates and hold them accountable to their values. This will require taking on (and taking down) incumbent Corporatist Democrats who stand in the way of progressive reform and winning in places that are not currently thought of as winnable for Progressive-Populist Democrats. With the right candidate and the Progressive-Populist message, Democrats can win in every district in the country. While there aren’t many who’ve tried, I can point to bold progressives like Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson as examples of Progressive-Populist Democrats winning in heavily Republican territory. It may not be as dramatic as occupying Times Square, but occupying the chambers, halls, and offices of congress carries much more power to fulfill our common values of Justice, Liberty, and Equality.
Cross posted at Daily Kos