Rebecca Juro

The Case for a Truly Progressive Third Party

Filed By Rebecca Juro | April 21, 2011 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Democratic Party, progressives

If there's anything progressives have learned over the last generation or so, it's that the Democratic Party Reid_and_Obama_3.30.09.jpgcan't be trusted to lead on the issues its members campaign on any more than the Republican Party can. The vast divide between the public political agendas of Barack Obama the candidate and Barack Obama the president simply underscores the problem. Like Obama, many Democrats are very good at talking the talk of progressivism, but consistently fail miserably when it comes time to actually walk the walk.

While generally speaking our political views could not be further apart, there's nonetheless an important lesson to be learned from the rise and fall of the Tea Party movement. They've successfully pulled the GOP even further to the right than they were already and they're managing to drag many still-spineless do-nothing Democrats along for the ride.

Whether it's bigoted state senators calling protecting transgender citizens from discrimination "anti-family" and kowtowing to the completely unsubstantiated right-wing fiction that protecting a socially and politically disadvantaged minority such as transpeople will somehow open the door to sexual predators being given free reign to commit assaults in women's bathrooms (as if such an offense were not already illegal nationwide) or so-called "progressive" Democrats in Congress remaining silent as unabashed hatemongers within their own party such as Ike Skelton make up issues out of whole cloth to justify not supporting the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the Democratic Party has consistently demonstrated to anyone paying attention that when it come to issues they claim to support, such as equal rights and treatment for all, that support can and will only come when and if the Democratic Party leadership sees a significant benefit for themselves in doing so.

The truth is that the Democratic Party isn't really very democratic at all and it hasn't been for quite some time now. Anyone who paid attention during the 111th Congress knows that when push comes to shove the Democratic party leadership is perfectly fine with throwing the poorest and most disadvantaged minorities under the bus in the name of political convenience and expediency and then trying to apologize for it by attending solely to the concerns of the wealthiest and most politically connected on the left.

Obama, while a terrific spokesperson for progressive values, actually governs as a centrist, constantly seeking agreement and conciliation from those who have clearly been proven to have little or no interest in working with him instead of actually standing up and fighting for the ideals and values he asked the American people to elect him president in order to protect and defend.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is even worse, caving in to Republican demands so often and on so many issues important to true progressives that you have to wonder if he can even be legitimately called a Democrat anymore, much less a progressive or the leader of anything other than a stampede away from the Party's publicly-promoted values and cowering in whatever political hidey-hole happens to be most convenient for himself and his party at that particular moment.

Worst of all, though, is Democratic House Minority "Leader" Nancy Pelosi. It continues to be nothing short of amazing to me that a woman who represents a district in San Francisco, the city with the largest population of LGBT people in the entire country, can be as cavalier as she is about continually and casually throwing the rights of LGBT American workers under the bus, particularly when America's economy and job prospects are as bad as they are right now. Pelosi, most of all, needs to be forcibly removed from office and replaced with someone who understands that basic civil rights are the birthright of all Americans, not just those who offer the most financial and political benefit to the Democratic Party.

What these so-called Democratic Party "leaders" offer, particularly to those of us in the lower and middle classes, is not leadership but rather cowardice and capitulation to the unreasonable and un-American demands of the far right, and it's long past time we the people began putting a stop to it.

Right now, we're in a time when such a possibility is not as much of a pipe dream as perhaps it used to be. Thousands have been pouring onto city streets to protest the stripping of worker's rights by Republicans, and Democrats in those states are trying to make what political hay they can out of it to help themselves in the upcoming election.

Yet, none of the states where most of these pro-union protests have been taking place protect the rights of their transgender citizens to hold a job without fear of being fired or denied employment entirely just on the basis of their being trans. Once again we see Democrats doing what Democrats always do: pandering to the wealthiest and most politically connected on the left while ignoring the needs of the poorest and most harshly oppressed in our society. You could call it relatively liberal I suppose, but one thing it most certainly is not is progressive.

It's time for true progressives to draw a line in the sand, just as the Tea Party has done for Republicans. We need to run our own candidates under a truly progressive banner, not one beholden to the pathetic "leadership" of the Democratic party. We need to run real progressives for offices held by members of both major parties and become a part of the national debate, even if we know perfectly well from Day One that it's unlikely, if impossible, for our candidates to actually win those elections. True progressives need to start pulling the Democratic Party back toward the left by rallying fellow progressives to our cause and threatening Democratic majorities and careers at all levels of government, in much the same way as the Tea Party has done on the right.

Since after the 111th Congress we now know with certainty that we can't depend on Democrats to lead on the issues which are important to progressives in the face of even the slightest resistance from the right-wing even when they enjoy strong majorities in Congress, no matter what they say at election time, we have to take that responsibility out of their hands and place it in the hands of those who can be trusted to actually speak for American progressives lead and legislate in concert with the values they run for office on, not just when it's personally politically convenient and advantageous for them to do so. We need to run truly progressive candidates at all levels of government, and we need to do it in every election. There's plenty of untapped money and volunteerism waiting for the right candidates to take advantage of and we shouldn't hesitate to make it available to those who truly deserve it.

The biggest mistake true progressives have been making for far too long is trying to seek success within the Democratic Party structure. As long as the Democratic Party continues to be led by cowards, compromisers, and hypocrites, truly progressive values will continue to take a back seat to political convenience and craven self-interest at the expense of of those least able to effectively advocate for themselves in the political arena, just as they have for over a generation now.

The Democratic Party and the Tea Party both have taught us that the only way to reliably get our issues on the table is to force the issue and put them there ourselves, not to continue relying on others to do it for us.

Once again I have to ask: Have we finally had enough yet?

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Brad Bailey | April 21, 2011 11:02 AM

I admire your anger against the status quo in Washington.

It took anger against a 14 trillion dollar national debt to create the tea party. It took anger over the loss of union bargaining rights in Wisconsin and other states to create a Democratic backlash.

What will anger enough people into forming a progressive third party? Which single issue do you think best fits the bill? Foreign policy? Civil rights? The budget?

The strongest movements seem to form by themselves from the sheer injustice of a situation. And they all start at a grassroots level.

What is the biggest injustice in this country to you? Start there.

Growing up in Canada and now watching the Canadian election from the US, I am concerned that starting a progressive party would split the vote and keep the Republicans in power. The progressive vote is split between the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens in Canada. The conservative vote is united behind the Conservative party. Even though the Conservative party is only polling at ~40%, it looks like they will win the election anyway because of the split between the other parties. I hope I'm wrong! In the 90s, the situation was reversed. The conservative vote was split between the Conservative party and the Reform party, and Jean Chretien, the Liberal party leader, won several easy election victories.

What to do??? I don't know! I'm frustrated by the current situation too. I think the we can try to take over the Democratic party from the inside, similar to how the Tea Party and the Christian Right have taken over the Republicans. The other thing we need to do is to stop running away when attacked. The number of self-identified conservatives has been growing since Reagan and the number of people who are proud to call themselves liberals is shrinking. Americans like liberal policies (social security, medicare, environmental protection, minimum wage laws, and yes LGBT rights too), but they don't like liberals. I'm sick and tired of people running away from the liberal label, to call themselves progressive, only to have Glenn Beck turn progressive into a new pejorative. Liberals need to show some guts and some fighting spirit.

Have you heard of Tommy Douglas and his story called "Mouseland?"

We mice need to stop electing cats to run this joint!

I have been a registered Democrat since 1975, but I recently switched my affiliation from the Democratic party to the Green Party. I wrote letters to the President, my two Senators (Boxer and Feinstein), my congress representative (Barbara Lee), the new head of the DNC (Debbie Wasserman-Schultz), and the leader of the Green Party (Brian Bittner) letting them know I will no longer be supporting them because they do not support me.


Oops! I meant to say I would not be supporting the Dems; I didn't mean to include the Green Party leader in the "they do not support me" clause.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | April 21, 2011 5:04 PM

Not to "never say never", but the history of third parties in the U.S., at least in more recent times, isn't exactly encouraging.

Comparing US and Canadian systems doesn't always translate well, but Vivian points out one major issue, that of vote splitting.

We originally had a center-right (Progressive Conservatives) and center-left (Liberals) party.

A third truly left party (New Democrats) materialized in the 1960s. A fourth party (Bloc Quebecois, also quite left) formed in the '90s which runs only in Quebec and is primarily devoted to protecting French Canadian culture. A fifth (Green Party, also left) has started to be a factor, although they haven't won any seats, yet.

Vivian refers to the Reform Party and a split right wing vote, and that did happen. The two merged about 6-8 years ago into the current far-right (no longer progressive) Conservatives.

So yes, we have one choice on the right, and 3 or 4 on the left, although there is still some perception that the Greens and even the NDP will never have the support to form a government.

This gives rise to strategic voting, and a multiplicity of choices: "who has the best chance of defeating the Conservatives in my riding," "who has the best chance of forming a government," "who provides the most effective opposition..." and rather than engage Canadians, it has caused many to withdraw from the electoral process. Our last federal election had the lowest turnout ever.

@Rowdy: did you know that Tommy Douglas was the first leader of Canada's left-wing party (NDP) and father of medicare?

It's an interesting parallel, since in 1962, when he proposed it, the medical system revolted, made all sorts of wild claims that there would be loss of incomes, an insurance industry would be destroyed, communism (or socialism -- they were used somewhat interchangeably at the time) was taking over government, foreign doctors would be brought in with less training, and there was this massive racist campaign mounted in opposition.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I am looking for a more moderate third party which is where most people are on issues.Let the left have the Democrates and the conservatives can have the Republicans. But for now no such party exists here in the US.

The Bloc also supports Independance from Canada always has always will I have cousins who are card carrying memembers in Quebec.They only speak Englsih when there aroud there Ameican cousins.

Politics is a contact sport with no rules!

To add to what Don said above:

People should really stop saying that the Tea Party is a success as a "third party." It's not. They ran Republicans and voted for Republicans. Sure, they had some primary challenges and even a Republican or two who went independent against their favored candidate, but that's it. They're simply not a third party.

The main reason for their success, and why progressives can't repeat it, is their deep funding. The left is generally poorer than the right, even in deeply confused America, and that's because the left, by definition, is against securing wealth and privilege in the hands of the few while the right, by definition, is in favor of such things. That means that they will have more resources than we do and can do things like run a re-branding campaign and make people think, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they created a new party.

If the left needs more money to run more candidates, they will turn out the same. I'm willing to believe that Obama, deep down inside, has the values he professed during the campaign. But the reality of being a politician, with the tons of cash dumped into elections by conservative forces, made him shut his mouth.

That's the corrosive effect of that money, and asking for that money to go to progressive candidates is basically asking for those candidates to stop being progressive.

I disagree Alex. I think Howard Dean, the first major party Presidential candidate to publicly come out in favor of both trans rights and gay marriage, proved that a true progressive can raise money effectively. It's more a matter of having the right candidates, the kind who actually stand up for their values instead of equivocating and avoiding those issues entirely.

The Dean campaign showed that the progressive money and volunteers are out there, but they have to be given good reason to donate and take action. We've been burned too many times by pseudo-progressives like Obama to just take it on faith anymore. Dean got that support because he wasn't afraid to take on those issues publicly. Obama got some of it but not as much as he could have if he'd been more open and specific on those issues. Hilary got the support of the six-figure lefties but not that of the grassroots because she was much too cautious and avoided the issues that were most important to us.

I read a comment on another site that compared the political situation in the U.S. to professional wrestling (think WWE), which I found to be spot on. In pro wrestling, there are always certain wrestlers whose primary function is to lose. Once in a while, to show the system isn't rigged, they'll get a victory, but mainly they're there for people to hate.

Likewise, the Dems serve the same purpose in American politics. I don't believe for one second that they can continually be this incompetent.

Face it - for all the fears about 1-party communism, we have ONE political party in the U.S., with a far right wing (the Republicans) & a center-right wing (the Dems).