Rebuttal To Sam Seder’s Insistence That Voting Third Party Would Setback the Progressive Cause
Sam Seder recently invited veteran activist and Naked Capitalism Contributing Editor Matt Stoller onto his radio show to discuss his recent piece on Salon, entitled “The progressive case against Obama.” The discussion turned a bit testy as they battled around the logic behind voting for a third party Presidential candidate. You can listen to their debate HERE (begins around the 12th minute).
As a follow up to that debate, Seder posed the following question to Stoller, Chris Hedges, and everyone else who believes that the best way forward for progressives is to support third party candidates:
How does voting for Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson speed up the building of a movement that is a counterweight to corporate power?
Seder contends that progressives became more conscious of the struggle between the people and corporate powers under a Democratic President (Obama) than they had under a Republican one (Bush). That these 99% vs 1% lines were essentially drawn BECAUSE we had a Democratic President, and that another term for Obama would only help to grow this populist movement. He adds that if Romney were to become President the “economic injustice” movement would just transform into an “anti-Republican” one.
I disagree with Seder’s arguments. I would contend that the party of the sitting President was irrelevant to the occupy movement. Rather, the timing of the movement was driven entirely by the economic pain, as it spread across the entire industrialized world.
It makes perfect sense that the movement formulated during Obama’s term, because the financial meltdown occurred in the final months of the Bush Administration. During those last few months, Hank Paulson terrified Congress into signing TARP, and the monthly unemployment numbers skyrocketed in a way not seen since the Great Depression. And as State tax revenues began to dry up shortly thereafter, severe austerity measures were imposed at the local level — resulting in laid off school teachers and other government workers. I.e. It took a couple years for the economic pain to spread and manifest into that progressive populist movement.
Though this movement against economic injustice would have happened regardless of which party occupied the White House, if there had been a Republican President, the crowd numbers would likely have been even twice as large. Why? Because THERE ARE many Democratic partisans whose entire socioeconomic POV fits nicely and neatly within the Democratic-Republican paradigm. These types would protest for any liberal cause — just as long as a Republican President or Governor could be linked to the blame. Many of these Democrats belittled occupy’s efforts BECAUSE they couldn’t co-opt the movement for Obama. This would have been a mute point if a Republican were in power.
For proof, one must look no further than the hundred thousand protesters who stormed the Wisconsin State Capitol under Republican Governor Scott Walker in protest of that Republican-dominated state legislature’s assault on collective bargaining.
As far as Seder’s central question: “How does voting 3rd party speed up the building of a movement that is counterweight to corporate power?” — what he refuses to acknowledge is that the populist ‘movement’ he speaks of has NO political representation in Washington. NONE. ZERO.
In fact, many in support of the movement he cites actually helped to usher Obama into the White House in 2008, and are now fully cognizant of the fact that Obama has been 100% complicit in the destructive policies that have rewarded moneyed interests off the backs of the American people.
The important question — the one that Seder does not want to ask — is how does a movement go about making a non-representative government more representative? Especially, when the party traditionally allied to that movement’s ideology — the Democrats — now operate with the understanding that there are no voter repercussions for anything they do — an understanding spawned by Seder’s very own “lessor of two evils” mindset.
Take Obama’s entire first term. He broke promise after promise — selling out to corporate interests, degrading our civil liberties, declaring war on whistleblowers, etc — BECAUSE of the calculations he made with regards to progressives having nowhere else to go. So, if voters reward Obama for having made this insidious calculation against them, how would that actually work to change his or future Democratic Presidents’ behavior?
It would achieve the very opposite by reinforcing the idea that Obama’s strategy in deceit is not only a winning one, but actually minimizes political risks. Why? Because unlike voters, the entrenched corporations — with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal — do have somewhere else to go. Republican, Democrat, … makes no difference to them.
The message an Obama victory would send to all future Democratic Presidential Candidates is: run and win on a popular progressive platform, and then, like Obama, pull a ‘bait and switch’ — with the goal of building up your campaign war chest in corporate money, and with impunity since progressives have nowhere else to go.
So my question to Seder would be: How successful can any peaceful populist movement be if it remains completely loyal to a political party that feels free to cavalierly ignore their wishes, while reaping tens of millions of dollars in political donations for having done so?
Politicians must be conditioned to understand that there is a political price to be paid for selling out the voters’ best interests. This underlying principle is the essential cornerstone for all representative democracies. If the voters are too timid to punish the politicians for betraying their interests — as Sam Seder argues they should be — then politicians will naturally continue to betray their interests.
Seder’s strategy of voting Democratic, no matter what, trades away all long-term progressive opportunities for little more than a slight reduction in speed of this nation’s rightward acceleration. Like a CEO forever focused on meeting next quarter’s earnings estimates, while paying no attention to the overall degrading health of the organization he runs.
Voting third party is a strategy that works to re-align the interests of elected officials with the interests of the people, by making them understand that progressives do in fact have somewhere else to go. Governments which believe themselves to be unaccountable to the people they govern are not democracies. And that is the crisis we face.
Is The Coffee Party Shilling For The DNC?
I was intrigued by the news that a counter-Tea Party movement was formulating on the Left, calling itself the Coffee Party. I envisioned a group perhaps better educated than the misguided Tea Partiers, though driven by a comparable populist anger. After all, many on the Left feel royally duped by their supposed change-agent, President Barack Obama.
He has broken A LOT of promises — ones which were VERY IMPORTANT to his once energized supporters, leaving them thoroughly demoralized. Here are just a few of Obama’s broken promises:
- He would not come to Washington and cut back door deals with entrenched interests — there would be complete transparency during health care negotiations (on C-SPAN), and everyone would get a seat at the table. Nope.
- He would not allow lobbyists nor those with conflicts of interests to serve in his administration.
- A public option would be a key component of any health care bill, and he promised not to mandate that Americans purchase health insurance from ‘for profit’ health insurance companies. He then did the very opposite once elected.
- Americans would be able to buy their medicines from other developed countries if the drugs are safe and priced lower than in the U.S., and he’d allow Medicare to negotiate for cheaper drug prices. Nope, instead he cut a back door deal with the Pharmaceutical Industry agreeing to ban it.
- As President, he would recognize the Armenian Genocide (he used very strong language on this matter). However, once elected he refused to acknowledge it as genocide (when asked by reporters) in Turkey, and he then proceeded to lobby Congress this week to deny a vote on Resolution 252 that would have made such an acknowledgment.
- He would close Guantanamo Bay immediately, and to restore habeas corpus. Nope, he plans to keep suspects imprisoned indefinitely without trial, and Guantanamo Bay remains open for business.
- He would reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees. Nope.
- In the spirit of transparency he would amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public. Nope.
So naturally, I would have expected to see some of this mentioned on the site of this new ‘grass routes movement’ calling itself the Coffee Party. On the contrary, they don’t seem to advocate for a single issue or policy proposal; the group seems completely void of substance.
Take the Coffee Party’s Mission Statement:
The Coffee Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.
“Cooperation”?! That sounds A LOT like “BI-PARTISANSHIP” to me. You know, the term Obama uses as a means to promote corporatist (anti-populist) policies under the cover of “a need to compromise with Republicans or ‘Centrists’.” Let’s face it, President Obama has rhetorically opted for bi-partisanship as a means to crush meaningful change since the very first day he took office. And yet this Coffee Party is ironically parroting Obama’s key talking point in their ‘grass routes’ mission statement? Could this group be shilling for Obama’s political arm — the now crumbling Organizing For America?
There’s nothing in that Coffee Party’s mission statement that suggests a move towards populism or an effort to pull Obama further to the Left (back towards the promises he ran on). Wouldn’t that be the equivalent to what the Tea Party is trying to accomplish from their end? Aren’t Tea Partiers, as delusional as they may be, trying to pull Republican politicians towards populist policies important to them?
Whereas Tea Partiers seem disenchanted with both the Republican party and the government, Coffee Partiers seem contented with the Democratic Party and the government. The only issue that seems to resonate with the Coffee Party is Republican obstructionism. In fact, I couldn’t find a single criticism of the President, nor a mention of Democratic betrayals on their entire site. Some ‘grass routes’ movement!
The group asks every Coffee Party member to sign the following Civility Pledge:
As a member or supporter of the Coffee Party, I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest, and respectful toward people with whom I disagree. I value people from different cultures, I value people with different ideas, and I value and cherish the democratic process.
It appears this group is more interested in making a statement about the ugliness they see at Tea Party gatherings than they are in actually promoting policies that might improve Americans’ lives. Their elected Democratic representatives (who control all branches of government) have been selling them out for one year now by putting entrenched interests above their own, and Coffee Partiers don’t have a single thing to complain about with regards to their own party?
Watch this video (off their home page) which the Coffee Party is using to sell themselves, and then tell me if you believe these people are issue-driven:
If this were a Tea Party video, you’d hear a lot of passionate — admittedly crazy-sounding — angst about how their party and government is disappointing them. Tea Partiers joined together as a ‘grass routes movement’, because they feel very strongly about specific issues. The Coffee Party doesn’t seem to stand for anything, beyond getting together to sip lattes.
Surely they must have a strong feeling about some issue of importance to Americans (in the midst of two wars, a horrific recession, and a government that is no longer responsive to the people)? Issues drive movements, not Kumbaya gathering. It’s as if the DNC itself has choreographed a “grass routes movement” void of the populist fervor that once drove Organizing For America.
Obama’s Betrayal Of The Left Spells Problems For The Democratic Party
Back when Candidate Obama was working the campaign trail across the country, his message of hope — of overcoming entrenched interests in pursuit of meaningful and necessary change — inspired and stirred a nation. He marketed his message in an ingenious mantra, “Yes we can,” that conjured up the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.; one who by sheer will, determination, and inspiration had overcome monumental — institutionalized — adversity.
Obama’s message, his symbolism, and his command of issues awoke a sleeping giant in this country: a grass-routes movement high on populism, and deeply suspicious of beltway elites and special interests. He’d effectively tapped into this spirit across people of all ethnicities, races, religions, and economic backgrounds. He resonated with them in a way that helped to distinguish himself from his opponent Hillary Clinton, a centrist, whose brand had long been associated with special interest influence.
What Obama effectively stirred up in this country has turned out to be a mixed blessing for the Democratic Party, a party which had strategically repositioned itself to the center as far back as the 1990s, by embracing many of the same corporate interests that had historically backed Republicans. Since the Clinton years, Democrats successfully placated the Left by throwing them a few bones here and there, while doing the bidding of entrenched interests on more significant and complex issues (like trade, health care, credit card legislation, bankruptcy laws, etc).
Obama made the mistake of believing he could run as ‘Obama the populist,’ to then transform into and govern as ‘Obama the centrist’. Perhaps he’d merely allowed himself to get sucked into championing populist positions he wasn’t sincerely passionate about during the long and contentious campaign. Let’s face it, of the three major contenders in the Democratic Primaries, John Edwards started out as the quintessential ‘populist candidate.’ Obama moved more and more in that direction as the primaries continued, and Obama’s delivery of these populist messages became so well received, that I sometimes wonder if at some point he and his campaign just made a strategic decision to ride out the populist wave. You can see how he might have gotten caught up in it all — the exhilaration of “moving” and “inspiring” the masses; seeing tens of thousands of people queued-up enthusiastically in the rain for hours, to hear how you’re going to finally take them to the promised land, and deliver meaningful change. I admittedly was one of those waiting in line, in the rain, for five hours, in Chapel Hill (ruined my shoes, btw). 🙂
President Obama and the Democratic Party have a big problem on their hands. They awakened something of a populist giant, only to betray their hopes, and to leave them feeling more cynical about their government than ever before. Thomas Jefferson astutely said, “An injured friend is the bitterest of foes.” I can think of no better expression that more accurately captures the feeling on the Left towards the Democratic Party at this very moment.
Few on the Left blame Republican obstructionism for Washington’s inability to pass a robust public option, or for any of Obama’s other broken campaign promises. We expect nothing more from the Republicans — our lying, propagandizing, obstructive foes. We have watched the President and the White House very closely since his election, and are perplexed by his lack of conviction, fortitude, and leadership; his refusal to advocate strongly for his own — supposed — legislative priorities; his nonexistent efforts in getting his campaign promises pushed through two Democratic houses. Obama had been awarded an overwhelming mandate to implement the change HE PROMISED, and he’s clearly not up to the task. No, the Left lays the blame squarely at Obama’s feet.
And that may prove to be calamitous for the Democratic Party in the 2010 and 2012 elections — a party whom the Left resented for eight long years, as they signed their names to some of the most catastrophic — often illegal — Bush initiatives imaginable. Obama and the Democratic Party are still actively covering up Bush’s war crimes — immunizing these neo-cons from ever being held accountable; most likely to cover up Democratic complicity.
The grass-routes enthusiasm for Democrats in 2008 was mostly wrapped up in a hatred for Bush/Cheney and a love of Obama — what he represented; and more importantly, what he advocated for: CHANGE. Obama, for a moment in time, had reinstated the electorate’s enthusiasm for what had been a complicit, impotent, subservient Democratic Party. Now that Obama and the Democrats have taken the easy route — tossed meaningful change on several fronts over board in order to accommodate entrenched interests — I suspect Left-leaning populists will abandon voting Democratic across all candidates, something they were all too happy to do in 2008.
Just a hunch …