This past Thursday, Americans Elect – a group whose stated goal was “creating more choice in our political system, giving candidates unaffiliated with the nominating process of either major party an authentic way to run for office and giving the American people a greater voice in our political process” – announced that it had failed. Specifically, the group explained that, despite spending tens of millions of dollars, and despite being hyped by Thomas Friedman (does Friedman do anything BUT hype?) as the next Amazon.com/blogosphere/iPod/drugstore.com/etc., “no candidate achieved the national support threshold required to enter the Americans Elect Online Convention in June.” In other words, #FAIL for this effort to create a…well, something or other that isn’t either Democratic or Republican, probably in the “middle” of the two (whatever that means, and this group certainly loved to perpetuate false equivalencies), but who the heck knows. I’ve been pondering this the past few days, and I have a few thoughts to share in case you’re interested. In no particular order:
1. First off, I just finished reading a fascinating book by Geoffrey Kabaservice entitled, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party, whose main thesis is that “moderate Republicans’ downfall began not with the rise of the Tea Party but about the time of President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address,” and that today, “moderates are marginalized in the GOP and progressives are all but nonexistent.” After reading the book, I’m not sure I agree with the continual decline since Ike theory, but I definitely agree with Kabaservice (and also with Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein) that today, the Republican Party has lurched so far to the right that it’s almost unrecognizable as a normal American political party. Instead, Republicans today have purged their party not only of progressives (and yes, there is a long, rich tradition of “Progressive Republicans,” which is a big part of the reason why I started off as a Teenage Republican in the late 1970s in Connecticut) but also of moderates and even solid conservatives like (former) Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah and (soon-to-be-former) Sen. Richard Lugar. Today, as former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) argues, even Ronald Reagan “wouldn’t identify with this party.” Instead, Reagan – who raised taxes many times, who approved a mass amnesty for “illegal immigrants,” who negotiated with the “Evil Empire,” who massively grew the debt and the government – would almost certainly be considered a RINO, a traitor, even a “liberal” or a “socialist” by the John Birch Society-like Teapublican Party of today. It’s a frightening thought, especially since it’s almost certainly true. Today, there is simply no place for progressives, moderates, or (increasingly) traditional conservatives in this far-right-wing extremist Republican Party.
2. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has not, as those on the right (and their cowardly, lazy lackeys in the corporate media) would have us believe, has not – repeat NOT!!! – moved to the left from the days of FDR (New Deal), Harry Truman (Fair Deal), LBJ (Great Society), and George McGovern (liberal by almost any standard). Anyone who says that is either displaying utter historical ignorance or being willfully misleading. For instance, Barack Obama, who loonies like Newt Gingrich claims is some sort of “radical,” is demonstrably/empirically to the right (significantly so, I’d argue) of every one of the aforementioned Democrats. Thus, Obama pushed a health care reform package which was almost exactly identical to the 1993/94 Republican alternative to “Hillarycare,” as well as to “Romneycare,” with the conservative “individual mandate” idea at the center and the private/for-profit health insurance industry continuing in firm control of our health care in this country (note: no public option, no Medicare for all, no “single payer”). Obama also supported, albeit lukewarmly, a “cap-and-trade” proposal for carbon emissions; again, “cap-and-trade” is a core conservative idea, one used to deal successfully with the acid rain problem, but now demonized by the John Birchers/Teapublicans. And, of course, Obama has cut taxes multiple times, extended the Bush tax cuts, kept U.S. tax revenues at their lowest levels since Ike, and maintained top marginal U.S. tax rates at their lowest point since Herbert Hoover’s administration. Oh, and he’s also pushed ahead with free trade agreements and generally extolled the private sector and free enterprise. Real “radical” there, huh? Yeah, right, don’t think so. The point of all this is simply that the Democratic Party today is a corporate/centrist/Clintonian “third way”-type party, to such an extent that it’s almost impossible to imagine it agreeing on a “New Deal” or “Great Society” or anything of the sort.
3. So, combine #1 and #2, and what you get is a political spectrum today that runs from far-far-right (Tea Party) to far-right (Republican) to the center or even center-right (Democrats). Note what’s missing here? That’s right, today in American politics, there is simply no serious left wing at all. Ever wonder how it is that Democrats (e.g, Mark Warner) can get away with bashing progressives, environmentalists, liberals, etc. with impunity, while Republicans would have their heads handed to them on a pike if they did that to conservatives, pro-lifers, conservatives, etc? There are several reasons for this, but what the phenomenon clearly illustrates is the absence of any kind of serious progressive movement that can pose primary challenges to right-leaning “Democrats,” deprive them of funding and other support, and defeat them where necessary. Without that, there’s simply no incentive for Democratic politicians to move left, but every incentive for them to move to the “center” (which, again, has moved significantly to the right in recent years).
4. Just to demonstrate how little, real political diversity there is today in America, let’s look at recent elections in other advanced, industrialized countries. In Canada’s 2011 federal elections, they had five parties winning seats in the House of Commons, ranging from Conservative to New Democrat to Liberal to the Bloc Quebecois to the Green Party. In the 2011 U.K. elections, there were three parties that won seats in the House of Commons – Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat. In the 2012 French national elections, major first-round parties included a Socialist (28.6% of the vote), center-right UMP (27.2%), far-right National Front (17.9%), Communist Left Front (11.1%), centrist Democratic Movement (9.1%), and Green Party (2.3%). The Australian House of Representatives currently has 8 parties represented (Labor, Liberal Party, Liberal National Party, Greens, etc.). We could go on and on, but the point is obvious: there is much, more more political diversity – at least in terms of the number of viable, national political parties – in other advanced, industrialized countries than here in the United States.
So, getting back to the failure of “Americans Elect,” what this tells me isn’t that there’s no market in the United States for other political voices, but that the center-right is basically filled up (Democrats on the center/center-right, Republicans on the right, Tea Partiers on the John Bircher far right). If anything, the United States is lacking a left wing of any significance at this point in it history: no serious Communist Party (the left equivalent of the Tea Party; I just wish that neither were serious political forces in this country, as both are utterly heinous), no Socialist Party (as exists in most advanced, industrialized countries), no real Progressive Party (Teddy Roosevelt style being my preference; I’d join in a heartbeat!), no “Social Democratic” or “Christian Democratic” party (as there are in Europe), etc. In other words, Americans don’t need an amorphous, false equivalence, devoid-of-ideas faux-“centrist” non-party/joke like Americans Elect, we need real political choice. Right now, we don’t have it, either at the national level or at the state/local levels (Congressional districts are mostly “incumbent protection” by the Democrats and Republicans; state and local politics are also monopolized by those same two parties). That, in turn, is not a good thing in any way.