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Why Democrats Will Lose in 2012

Michael Kwiatkowski's picture

Salon.com has a piece up urging Democrats to dump Obama and go with a candidate who will restore their party to its New Deal era politics. According to the column by Matt Stoller, there are a number of reasons why they should, including:

If would be one thing if Obama were failing because he was too close to party orthodoxy. Yet his failures have come precisely because Obama has not listened to Democratic Party voters. He continued idiotic wars, bailed out banks, ignored luminaries like Paul Krugman, and generally did whatever he could to repudiate the New Deal. The Democratic Party should be the party of pay raises and homes, but under Obama it has become the party of pay cuts and foreclosures. Getting rid of Obama as the head of the party is the first step in reverting to form.

This is an institutional crisis for Democrats. The groups that fund and organize the party -- an uneasy alliance of financiers, conservative technology interests, the telecommunications industry, healthcare industries, labor unions, feminists, elite foundations, African-American church networks, academic elites, liberals at groups like MoveOn, the ACLU and the blogosphere -- are frustrated, but not one of them has broken from the pack. In remaining silent, they give their assent to the right-wing policy framework that first George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, cemented in place. It will be nearly impossible to dislodge such a framework without starting within the Democratic Party itself.

In other words, party inflexibility has a price. If the economy worsens going into the fall, and the president continues as he has to attempt to cut Social Security, Democrats might be facing a Carter-Reagan scenario. Reagan, at first considered a lightweight candidate, ended up winning a landslide victory that devastated the Democratic Party in 1980. Carter wasn't the only loss; many significant liberal senators, such as George McGovern, John Culver and Birch Bayh, fell that year.

Stoller nails it by pointing out the extreme inflexibility inherent in the Democrat Party today. Its leaders have decided that they want it to be the party of Big Business, and they don't care what base voters think — so long as the Republicans are content to be the party of overt extremists, as opposed to the Democrats' "covert" extremism, they reason, voters will at the end of the electoral season either shut up and vote for them anyway or else not vote at all. Either way, that suits Democrat Party leaders just fine, wanting all the perks of power but none of the responsibility. Stoller continues toward the end of his column by writing:

Obama has basically endorsed every major plank of George Bush's administration, yet Democrats still grant their approval. What we're finding out is that Obama's pathologically pro-establishment and conflict-averse DNA was funded by party insiders and embraced by liberal constituency groups in 2008 for a reason.

Political parties need to be flexible enough to allow for new ideas to come into the process, or else third parties or civil disorder are inevitable. All it would take to provide this flexibility are well-known Democratic elders who understand that rank and file Democrats deserve a choice, and a few political insiders who realize that they can increase their own power by encouraging a robust debate. I don't think this will happen.

Stoller rightly points out that the disastrous presidency of Grover Cleveland necessitated the removal of him as the Democrats' candidate in 1896 in favor of William Jennings Bryan, who pressed for many populist reforms and began laying the groundwork for both the Progressive Era of the early 1900s and the New Deal Era of the 1930s and 1940s. But for that to happen, there had to be widespread acknowledgment within the party that the path being taken could only lead to its ultimate collapse — self preservation instinct had to take over in order for the party to save itself, and in the 1890s, that realization rose and was accepted by party leaders.

Many disaffected Democrats still presume to think that they can take back the party from the corporate interests that have seized it. But not one of them has dared come up with any serious roster of candidates willing to risk political suicide by running against Obama next year. Corporate money, and therefore corporate influence, is so entrenched within the Democrat Party that it is now beyond all hope of repair. Thomas Hartman does offer advice for retaking the Democrat Party from the corporatists, but it's probably far too late for that. The party has so alienated and disillusioned voters with its pro-war, anti-labor, anti-civil liberties, pro-corporate, anti-democracy nature that it is now highly unlikely that enough citizens trust that their activism will result in any significant reforms.

A serious effort to build a strong, viable third party organization can send the needed message to Democrat leaders that they can no longer take voters for granted, that we do have alternatives and we will turn to them if Democrats keep refusing to live up to their obligation to represent the public interest. In 1992, H. Ross Perot's strong showing of nearly nineteen percent of the vote in that year's presidential election demonstrates that it is possible within our own era to gain significant votes to fundamentally alter the political landscape. Progressives, laborers, and traditionally oppressed citizens can and should begin building that third party effort now, while the iron is white hot. While we are doing that, remaining progressives within Democrat ranks can begin their takeover of the party by gaining precinct committee seats, especially executive committee seats, to obtain more control over the candidate-nominating process. Sun Tzu admonishes students of warfare not to fight on multiple fronts, but to instead force the enemy to do so, thereby dividing his forces. In World War II, Nazi Germany lost because it faced the dual military threats of the Allied forces in the West and the Soviet forces in the East, each of which operated in tandem with the other to close in around their mutual enemy and destroy him. In politics, the same strategies and tactics apply.

Now, Democrat Party loyalists will cry foul, claiming that any attempt to run a primary opponent against Obama or draw voters to third parties will almost certainly result in a Republican victory next year. But the way their party is doing things now, that result is practically inevitable regardless of what progressives do. Obama and corporatist Democrats at the top are leading their party off a cliff, and no amount of hope will cause them to deviate from their chosen path. What's more, Republican vote-rigging is already well underway with highly restrictive ballot access and voter ID laws to prevent poor and minority voters from exercising their right to vote. By running as the party of continuation with George W. Bush's extreme right-wing policies, Obama and his sycophants are guaranteeing a close enough electoral result that Republicans will easily be able to steal 2012, just as they did in 2000-2006. That they have such enthusiastic help from Democrats themselves makes GOP electoral "victories" all but inevitable.

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DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

but they need to acquire the discipline of winning. If we could election just a few emergent party congressional representatives in 2012, we could shift the national discourse to the left. But we need to start winning, at least at the municipal level.

Michael Kwiatkowski's picture
Submitted by Michael Kwiatkowski on

The Greens in my area refuse to engage in any activities that might actually build their political party. I volunteered to work the table at the Labor Day peace show this year in my town, but no one else has bothered to offer help, distribute literature, or be physically present at political events. I was expected to do the work of showing up, not even being informed as to whether or not we had a registered table at the peace show, and represent the party. This is not the way to organize, build awareness, or attract new members.

Eureka Springs's picture
Submitted by Eureka Springs on

that begins with abandonment/abolition of the D's, voting for outsider who will likely lose for now... along with the other building blocks. Rejection / delegitimization is key too.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

The demagogic red-baiter Joe McCarthy was the first pol to refer to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Party." Bob Dole reintroduced that taunting mispronunciation in the 1970s. All of right-wing talk radio uses the "Democrat Party" construction these days when referring to the Democratic Party which was first established in the 1820s by members of the Jacksonian wing of the Democratic-Republican Party.

[And in that '08 The Real News clip you link to, surprisingly, Hartmann displays more than a bit of ignorance in describing Lyndon Johnson as a politician who "rose to power as a right-wing racist cracker in the south and was that all the way up until he became president for all practical purposes." That's an absurd description of Johnson's career and sentiments before he became president.]

Submitted by jawbone on

--well, suggested gentle correction.

To me, people using the McCarthy/Repub construction is like nails on a blackboard (indicates my age). Think rubbing together of certain styrofoams for another comparison. I shudder just thinking about it!

Democrat Party was used to be disparaging and insulting. I cringe at that, and also the unpleasant rhythm and the emphasis on"crat" which rhymes with "rat."

However, I've also heard Democratic Party officials and spokespeople use the Republican construction, which really sets my teeth on edge. It sure shows the power of repetition.

nomad2's picture
Submitted by nomad2 on

Maybe a third party will have to build momentum over time by winning municipally, or with the third party presidential candidate sacrificing himself. Maybe not. How do precedents get started in the first place? By doing something that hasn't been done before. This is a new era. The presidency might actually be taken by a progressive third party. After all, what do we have now but an unprecedented situation. Perhaps the corruption itself is not unprecedented. But the extent to which it has been revealed, thanks to the net, is.

gizzardboy's picture
Submitted by gizzardboy on

I'm always getting petitions from this or that group to sign, urging Obama or the Obama Administration to do something, or not do something. The petition I would like to sign would be to Obama asking him to step aside and let some real Democrat (if there is such a thing anymore) emerge to offer the electotate a real choice. It would probably be about as effective as the other petitions, but a large signature count might make the news.

Another kind of email I get, wants me to contribute to running some political commecial. I had the idea the other day that a great commercial would be a good Obama impersonator making a realistic announcement and giving all the failures and broken promises as reasons why he was withdrawing ("I will not seek and will not accept..."). Then an end voice-over saying "Wouldn't it be great if that was the real Obama? Wouldn't it be great if we had a better choice?" I would contribute to putting that commercial on the TeeBee!

Submitted by mwfolsom on

With all due respect to Thomas Hartman he's wrong. Anybody remember what happened after the Dean Campaign and Kerry's loss to Bush the Lesser? Many of us dug into the Democratic Party and became very involved and took over the roots of the Party. Remember the 2006 election and how well the Dems did? But it still didn't matter. When the Big O showed up first thing he did was trash Dean and move the old Elites and Oligarch back in.

Frankly there are other reason that this isn't possible mainly caused by Party Structure and Rules at a State level. Ultimately doing what Hartman wants is a decade long exercise. Anything else is just giving the establishment free labor to do more damage to the middle class. The quicker way to shake the power structure is to withdraw involvement. The Dems depend on huge amounts of free labor - without it the Party will collapse.

lizpolaris's picture
Submitted by lizpolaris on

Gee, why won't anyone be the candidate to primary Obama? Duh, because even if he or she succeeds, the Dem leadership will rewrite the rules so His Oliness can claim the nomination, just like last time. And there aren't too many Dems out there who could campaign as well as Hillary. It would be a massive waste of time and effort.