Joyce L. Arnold: Liberal, lesbian, Independent, equality activist, writer.
I’m introducing my “Liberally Independent” column today, which will include the Two Parties = Too Few Choices series. I wanted a way to look more broadly, and LI will allow that.
In considering the Two Party Front for the Oligarchy in this column, I’m primarily using two, recent articles. Both offer criticisms of the Democratic Party and Obama. But both, from my perspective, do so within the confines of the Duopoly.
The perpetuation of the two party system is a necessity for most Insider /Access status holders. When they talk about “change,” it’s almost always defined by the existing system. My take: any actual reform, any new or third party, requires working to break out of that structure.
One way of considering how the Democratic party relates to its critics on the Left is by looking at the words they use when talking about them. In general, “liberal” is bad; “centrist” and “progressive” can be good, bad, or simply vague. Challenges to two party thinking are met with words ranging from condescending to hostile.
Matt Stoller’s article “What Democrats can do about Obama”, has received a lot of attention. He writes: (all emphasis mine)
Democrats may soon have to confront an uncomfortable truth, and ask whether Obama is a suitable choice at the top of the ticket in 2012. They may then have to ask themselves if there’s any way they can push him off the top of the ticket. That these questions have not yet been asked in any serious way shows how weak the Democratic Party is as a political organization. Yet this political weakness is not inevitable, it can be changed through courage and collective action by a few party insiders smart and principled enough to understand the value of a public debate, and by activists who are courageous enough to face the real legacy of the Obama years.
Asserting that questions haven’t been asked in “any serious way” is to dismiss the many people — including “activists who are courageous” — who have, in fact, been questioning. Stoller’s way of changing the Democratic half of the Duopoly relies on “party insiders.” This attitude is one reason Obama doesn’t need to consider stepping down, as some say he should / will. It fits the Insider goal of perpetuating the existing system. Stoller continues:
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. But just imagine if it did.
I read somewhere that this is Stoller’s “wake-up call” to the Dem Elites. But his protective use of Insider framing can muffle any non-Insider alarm bells.
Another recent article is by Jonathan Chait, “What the Left Doesn’t Understand About Obama”. I read this as an apologist, “you non-Insiders don’t know what you’re talking about” framing. And here is where that use of language I was talking about is explicit.
This has been the summer that liberal discontent with Obama has finally crystallized. The frustration has been simmering for a while – through centrist appointments, bank bailouts and the defeat of the public option, to name a few examples. But it has taken the debt-ceiling standoff and the threat of a double-dip recession to create a leftist critique of the president that stuck.
It’s “liberal,” “leftist” discontent he characterizes as “magical thinking.” He acknowledges that “Obama underestimated the depth of the (economic) crisis in 2009,” but then goes here:
And yet the wave of criticism from the left over the stimulus is fundamentally flawed: it ignores the real choices Obama faced (and the progressive decisions he made) and wishes away any constraints upon his power. …
The most common hallmark of the left’s magical thinking is a failure to recognize that Congress is a separate, coequal branch of government consisting of members whose goals may differ from the president’s. …
His criticism isn’t of Obama, or the Democratic Party, or the Duopoly. It’s the non-serious “left,” with their “liberal indictment of Obama.” He concludes:
Liberal critics of Obama, just like conservative critics of Republican presidents, generally want both maximal partisan conflict and maximal legislative achievement. In the real world, those two things are often at odds. Hence the allure of magical thinking.
… Chait trots out Opologists’ straw man du jour, the claim that lefties who critique Obama’s conservative policies imagine that Federal government is a one-man band … .
Vastleft calls Obama’s policies what I think they are, “conservative,” not as Chait characterizes them, “centrist” — a Duopoly framing. In fact, there are those who are challenging that system, seeking party and issue focused reform, and new / third parties, as I’ve highlighted in this series. Publicly, the Two Party Front for the Oligarchy usually ignores such things, but the 2012 election polls reveal the need for some condescending condemnation.
Paul Street’s essay, Four Heretical Thoughts and More in the Wake of the Obama Disaster provides a non-Insider perspective. A sample:
What really matters is that citizens and activists develop the capacity to build energetic rank and file social and political movements whichever party ‘rules’ and beneath and beyond the ‘two party system’ and the narrow spectrum big money big media candidate-centered ‘electoral extravaganzas’ (allow) … .
Street provides a partial list of
many reported and under-reported examples of popular resistance that have occurred this year — U.S. Uncut’s actions against corporate tax breaks and loopholes enjoyed by … bailout recipients, the Midwestern public worker rebellion sparked in Madison …, the … Verizon strike, … Latino protests against the Obama administration’s, mass-deportation-ist ‘Secure Communities’ program …, the … protest of the Keystone project, and … a forthcoming October convergence against war and corporate greed in Washington.
The self-perpetuating Two Party system is characterized by what might be considered as “magical thinking” : if we Insiders don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t happen. What’s Left to do includes rejecting such framing, and defining our own realities.
Posts in this series:
Grading the Electoral College
Two Parties = Too Few Choices
Two Parties = Too Few Choices, Part II
Two Parties = Too Few Choices, Part III
Two Parties = Too Few Choices, Part IV
Two Parties = Too Few Choices, Part V
Two Parties = Too Few Choices, Part VI
( Photo via WatchingFrogsBoil )