Any piece on this subject needs to begin by conceding that most of those reading it won’t get past the title. This is because the left has by and large joined Noam Chomsky in regarding electoral politics and elections as “celebrity driven affairs unworthy of the attention of serious activists” — at best a circus and at worst a dangerous diversion of our energies.
I’ve tried to argue elsewhere that even in their mortally compromised state, we ignore elections and organizing around elections at our peril. This is one symptom of a generation-long flirtation with a pseudo-anarchist (in some cases authentically anarchist) contempt for leadership and organization which has a lot to do with why we are where we are — at the extreme margins of political impotence.
Given that those of us who have tried to argue these points have been unsuccessful, the following conversation will be directed to a minority. Namely, the minority among the left who seriously think about the kinds of a strategy required to make participation in electoral politics worth the investment in time, energy and (sometimes) money.
Rancid DLC Goods
The discussion needs to begin with the uncontroversial assumption that neither of the two Dem front-runners has any credibility among serious progressives. Both are hopelessly compromised, one supported by Rupert Murdoch, the other by George Will. The one a recipient of lavish contributions from hedge fund billionaires, the other stuffed to the brim by investment banking firms. One in the pocket of energy consortia the other bought and paid for telecommunications conglomerates.
For a brief period, the Edwards candidacy provided a flicker of encouragement for the much vaunted Democratic wing of the Democratic party but by this point it seems certain that (yet again) the strategy of working within the Democratic Party promoted by, among others, Norman Solomon, David Sirota and the Progressive Democrats of America has been a failure. Rather than throwing more good money after bad, the left needs to (yet again) recognize the traditional role of the Democrats as the graveyard of progressive movements, the Edwards campaign joining on the scrap heap the failed candidacies of Kucinich, Dean, Jackson, McCarthy among others. While this is all water under the bridge for the moment, it will be something to keep in mind in 2012 and before when a similar cast of characters will try to sell the same rancid meat in different packages.
For the immediate future, the question remains who should we be supporting. For what it’s worth-here’s how I’m going to direct my energies and dollars for the next few months.
Supporting Cindy Sheehan’s challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a no-brainer. It should have by now already become the focus of an major national mobilization and while the campaign organization has so far been flakier than I would have hoped, it appears that Cindy’s supporters are slowly getting their act together; a few bucks thrown their way will likely be put to good use. (An immediate order of business for the campaign needs to be Sheehan’s website which is unimpressive, to put it charitably. The campaign should also consider employing an editor to correct grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes in the regular series of “pensées” which Cindy has been circulating to the left blogosphere.)
The logic for supporting Sheehan does not require that she win-though that is not out of the question. A strong showing would send an unmistakable message to corporate Dems that even though they succeeded in locking down the presidential race forcing us into the usual lesser of evils choice, we have the will and the means to address the rightward drift of the party by cutting it off if not at the very head at least at the top level.
Another likely outcome of Sheehan’s run would be similar to that of the challenge to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his local constituency by Reg Keys, like Sheehan, the parent of a soldier killed in Iraq. While Keys did not win a majority, the campaign played a significant role in the subsequent unraveling of Blair’s moral authority. Nothing would be more appropriate than for Pelosi, the quintessential corporate Dem, who recently added “torture enabler” to an already long and bloody resume, to be humiliated by her constituents in a similar fashion.
The second idea is perhaps somewhat more controversial. Where it is easily done and where there are no significant contested Democratic primaries, leftists should registering as Republicans and voting for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in their states’ primaries. This a purely strategic vote based on two likely outcomes. 1) that Huckabee’s nomination (as William Kristol noted) “would drive the GOP base into therapy” and possibly fracture the party- a good thing, particularly if it were followed by the fracturing of the Dems. But more importantly 2) Huckabee’s economic populism (as phony as it is) would force the Democratic nominee to make rhetorical concessions on (for example) trade agreements, progressive taxation, bankruptcy protection, and various other bread and butter issues.
Of course, we know perfectly well that that whatever promises are made will be quickly jettisoned once the usual suspects set up shop in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget in January 2009. That said, what national candidates say on the stump along these lines will provide at least temporary legitimacy to ideas that had been (since Clinton I) relegated to the lunatic fringe. Of course, it would be ideal if the shift to the left were more than rhetorical but for that we will have to wait for a serious progressive candidate-likely from a progressive third party.
Now that the Edwards candidacy has been dispensed with by the media, the party leadership and their business class paymasters, there will be increasingly less pressure on the DLC frontrunners to even bother mouthing populist rhetoric. They will likely compensate for this vacuum by playing the race/gender card against the other-a vile prospect already materializing. A Huckabee nomination will be the only opportunity to re-inject a serious discussion of corporate dominance and criminality on a national level.
Also, for what it’s worth, those leftists invested in insuring a Democratic administration at all costs would do well to support Huckabee, as doing so will help the weakest, least viable challenger receive the Republican nomination.
Finally, as for Huckabee himself, yes, he’s a kook and a charlatan-albeit an amiable one. As he noted himself, he’s the kind of guy whom you would be more likely to work next to in the auto parts store. The other candidates, Democratic and Republican, fit the profile of the exec who will be signing your pink slip.