Saturday, February 9, 2013

Why a third party

I had a twitter exchange with a lefty-education writer/activist type who insisted that a third party is not viable. The exchange was in regards to the CTU and the Democratic Party, and that if the CTU was to leave the Democrat party the members would instantly vote them out, conservative leadership would be voted in and they would be stuck with a crappy pension deal. I do not pretend to know all the ins and outs of the CTU leadership or the relationships between CTU and elected officials, this maybe exactly true.
I was one those people once, who insisted that a third-party was a waste of time, and the risk of voting in ______________(place the Republican of your choice here) was such a risk to humanity that I had to vote for ______________(place Democrat of choice here). On a federal level what has that got me? Some very half-assed health-care expansion, some poor financial reform, and recent budget deal that raised taxes for most of the population but made sure that Goldman Sachs could offshore money.  Immigration reform is being discussed, never mind that there have been far more people deported by Obama then Bush.
On a local level we have a city and state that is run by the same corporation the Democrats.  The current mayor is as hostile to pubic schools and the teachers that work there as any Republican. He is pushing students out of schools by claiming they are “underutilized” and pushing charter schools—transfer of public money to private corporations—to the hilt.  Like all good capitalists his donors know the real money is from the government. This mayor has imposed the most regressive kinds of taxes such as a for water tax while making sure large corporations get their share, whether it’s straight out cash or through TIFs. Supposedly there is a city council to provide some checks and balances but under this mayor and the previous mayor almost every initiative/budget has been approved with hardly any discussion or public comment let alone denied.
 On the state level there is something of a competition on who can cut pensions more—the Democratic leader of the State senate or the Governor.  In fact on pensions there has probably been greater leadership by Republicans to fight Quinn and to provide leadership on changes. Unfortunately Republican leadership is really not in favor of such things, so for political reasons and philosophy these moves have been underplayed and not really supported.
It is true that making a third-party—developing the infrastructure, supporting candidates, challenging the status quo—is hard. It is made harder by the myriad of elections laws put in place precisely for this purpose. But I would argue that the largest barrier is the mentality that says there is no alternative. What has become increasingly clear is that elected officials are elected to represent the money issues that support them. This has always been true, but in the last twenty years or so the gap between what-is-good-for-business–is-good-for-the economy has grown tremendously. This can be seen in the large amounts of capital that corporations are holding on while unemployment remains at record highs. Automation, off shoring, productivity gains have all combined to make the worker less important then ever before.  At the same time budget austerity is all the rage, to put money into people whether it is stimulus for employment or social programs—Social Security, health care—is considered wasteful.
The best way to address this would be through political organization, a party that could knit small local groups together to push for changes that would benefit everybody, at the level of the city, state, or federal government.  Another major source for organization would be through unions. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome, then union leadership in this country can be considered insane.  If union leadership insists on devotion to a party that uses it for photo-ops and meetings, and then can’t be found to push essential legislation to strengthen unions then what is the point? 
The common refrain to this is to reform the Democratic Party from within, as if the Democratic Party is any less beholden to corporate interests then the Republican Party is. The city council is as good as any example of this—the so-called reform-members elected in the past few cycles have barely registered any level of dissent. It is ironic that of the two parties it would appear that is the Republican Party that tolerates dissent more then the Democrats. The Republicans have run candidates at varying levels of defiance to national leadership; it is acceptable in the Republican Party to outright defy leadership.  True, the most radical of these candidates did not win, but they did not have to influence the power structure. If you read the national rag sheets you know that even established Republican candidates worry about getting “primaried”. Strangely, even though the Democratic leaders and the White House have pushed policies—cutting Social Security, tax breaks for large corporations, tax hikes for the middle class—that the majority of people do not support, most Democrats appear safe.
This is what makes the possibility of third-party most promising, that by and large, most elected officials have disregarded their constituents. Plenty of Republicans would like to see greater transparency all the way around, from city contracts to police abuse payouts.  Not all conservatives are anti-union, especially the classic working-class white male, who thirty years ago belonged to a union. If union leadership cannot leave the democratic party then union membership needs to consider involving itself with local movements where immediate concerns can be expressed and acted on, and be pushed through by a third-party that is directly accountable to them. The other possibility is increasing membership in areas where unions have not had a presence, i.e. service jobs. This may be the most promising area, as the movements to unionize/organize these workers are political in nature but untraditional and therefore less beholden to traditional political traditions.
“If you cannot see the bars you cannot know you are in a cage”
There are more of us, people who live in this city, state, and country who are not benefiting from the current system then are. But we have to see the bars first before we can have transformative change. 

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