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Thursday, January 27, 2011


John, you make a really good point (one I've not seen or heard elsewhere). I'm glad you've elaborated on your comment in the "Obviously" posting because there I thought you meant the threat of the Tea Party, not that the Tea Party was an example.

I guess the major stumbling block is the fuzziness of goals (I love mixed metaphors). Seems to me we need to concentrate on the big one: reining in the war horse. We get all involved in adding items to the agenda: single payer, social security, incarceration, and, for all I know, freeing little puppies from the pound. If we could just concentrate on fighting the big one--murder abroad--I believe we can do it.

That definitely applies to protests, but I'd say the opposite is true of parties. Protests need to be focused because they're one-off events that imply a strong degree of commitment by the protesters, so a message that's too diffuse necessarily reduces the number of people who'll be willing to participate. But a political party that wants to endure needs to have a general set of goals. If it's too specific or limited, people won't want to give it their support (and that's reasonable; why back a political party that's going to be rendered obsolete by the realization of its platform?). That's one of the stumbling blocks the Greens have faced--people think they're just the environmental party, and don't understand the broad set of issues and principles they support.

Obviously there's a danger for political parties of becoming too diffuse as well, but generally speaking the more inclusive, the better. For a genuinely left party, I'd say that means that the organizing principles have to be bedrock principles of the left (like the Greens' ten key values).

Very well said John. I have some grudging respect for genuine conservatives due to their adherence to principle (never mind how odious these principles usually are), but I have only contempt for liberals.

As I see it, the problem boils down to the fact that the right wing knows what it wants and tenaciously pursues it. Generally speaking liberals do not know what they want (less wars? kindler, gentler wars? wars if they're led by members of Our Team?), and on the rare occasions where they are able to articulate a common goal, they capitulate at the first hint of opposition and mask their cowardice with a veneer of "pragmatism".

Little wonder, then, that the American working class has no use for liberals. As Walter Benjamin put it, every fascism is an index of a failed revolution. The Tea Party (and the parallel rise of the right wing in Europe) is a marvelous example of this. Politics, like Nature, abhors a vacuum.

Hmm, I am not sure I see how the Tea Party proves the viability of third parties - at least third parties worthy having - when you consider that they all ran as Republicans.

If they argue the case for anything, it's for insurgencies within the duopolistic system, waged for more extreme versions of what the duopoly already represents. It's not an argument I agree with, but it's the only argument they indisputably make. The 'dismissive handwringing' about the Koch brothers and Fox News is not without substance. The difference between an insurgency with the backing of rich right-wingers and television networks and one without it is the difference between apples and oranges.

The difference between an insurgency with the backing of rich right-wingers and television networks and one without it is...

...the difference between the right and the left--and it will always be the difference between the right and the left. That's why I said the Tea Party isn't (and can't be) a model for left organizing.

But as I also said, this has nothing to do with the underlying point. The simple fact is that Tea Party candidates wouldn't have won if they hadn't received a sufficient number of votes--and if left candidates received a sufficient number of votes they'd win also. Unless we assume that Tea Partiers outnumber disaffected liberals who're voting for Democrats against their genuine desires, there's no reason that couldn't happen.

I'm still not seeing your point and if you restate it a second time, as declaration without additional information, I doubt I will see it then, either.

The Tea Party candidates were not running against Republicans. They were running as Republicans and at least 80% of the people who follow them, call themselves Republicans. In other words, they're not a third party. Picture Move On with more street theatre and you have a would-be equivalent in the Democratic Party.

Perhaps I'm really dense, but I don't see how Republicans in libertarian/populist drag winning elections provide an obvious inducement to left organizing around third parties, much as I would like to see a persuasive argument made. LIke I said, the argument seems to be much stronger for agitating within the Democratic Party. It is not my preference, but it is the argument that all right-wing organizing within the Republican Party since Reagan seems to make. All the various factions of the right-wing: Christian fundamentalists, militias, anti-choicers, libertarians and now the Tea Party clearly have made a tactical decisions to mold the Republican Party rather than compete with it. One thing these people don't do, however, is pledge unconditional support in advance of making demands.

I didn't just restate it, I explained it: if a sufficient number of people can vote for Tea Party candidates to put them in office, a sufficient number of leftists and left-leaning liberals can do the same for genuine left candidates. All that's required is that enough of the left actually commit to doing it, as right-wingers were willing to do. The rest is just details.

They were running as Republicans...

If a large group of Democrats openly (and in many cases primarily) identified themselves with the Green Party and committed themselves to Green Party principles, supplanting DCC-favored candidates in various races and otherwise co-opting Democratic ballot access to win 40 House seats and 5 Senate seats, that wouldn't mean that the Green Party wasn't actually a third party, and it wouldn't mean that it wasn't a major victory for the Green Party as well. (And again, I'm not suggesting this as a model; I'm just addressing your point.)

...and at least 80% of the people who follow them, call themselves Republicans.

Michael Moore and Norman Solomon call themselves Democrats, but that wouldn't negate their votes for (say) Green Party candidates or mean that if Green Party candidates got their votes those votes would be too tainted to reflect genuine support for the Green Party. In fact I'd guess that most people who've voted for Green Party candidates (myself included) have been registered Democrats, particularly in 2000.

In other words, they're not a third party.

I'd agree that they're not a fully-formed third party, but I think this is overstated, and I think most of the public would disagree with it as well--most of the public that I know personally, at the least. They're (widely) perceived as being an independent third party, and that perception is critical.

Shhhh. Don't talk so loud. The "left" might hear you & have to reconsider their obdurate opposition to any attempt at independent thinking. Plus their heads might explode, which makes an awful mess.

One of the other things I give the "tea party" folks credit for - they're at least know enough to be angry. Oh, sure, they're angry at all the wrong people and largely over the wrong things (although I'd argue what's driving their anger is fear over the right things - that they fear their economic future - and that's right). Then I compare it to my friend who supports lefty policies but then gets furious with me when I say Obama is a lot like Bush and lectures me on what a good man he is and how he's blocked by the GOP at every turn. I'm not sure the tea party people are really any "dumber" than she is and they're a helluva lot more likely to take actions that might bring about the policies they say they want than she is.

I use "say they want" because I think a lot of Tea Party people just want things to be "better", meaning not to be under so much economic stress, and they have a list of policies they've been told for at least 30 years will get them that. In fact, those policies won't. Which brings me I guess to the big question - which is worse, taking action for the wrong policies (because you don't know what the right policies are after 30 years of propaganda) or doing nothing while espousing the "right" policies? This seems to be the division in this country we have right now. Oversimplified, of course. And, of course, there are people on the right who actually want the bad policies and people on the left who don't really want the good ones.

Good points. And I ask myself that same question (and only wish it weren't academic). What good are good intentions if all you do is support people who actively undermine them, and then try to rationalize what they're doing?

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