I’ve been inundated with tons of stories extolling the virtues of Bernie Sanders as a presidential candidate in 2016. To their credit, most at least acknowledge that Sanders has no chance of ever actually becoming president. They envision his candidacy as one that would shake up the race and get candidates to talk about issues they don’t normally talk about. Unfortunately, most of these stories contains an element that is very disturbing. They envision Sanders running as an independent, or as a third-party candidate. Too often, these stories include a phrase similar to “putting aside the Democratic Party,” and imagines the establishment of a viable third party.
I’ve seen at least three stories this week. That means, with less than two weeks to go before an election Democrats have to win, prominent progressives are ignoring the 2014 election, which Democrats have to win. Even worse, they’re sowing the seeds for screwing up the 2016 election, as well.
We really need to focus on understanding two basic concepts:
1. We’re not getting anything progressive done as long as we have a Republican majority in Congress.
2. There is no “putting aside the Democratic Party,” if we ever hope to gain a foothold in, and actually running the government.
First of all, it’s a week and a half before an election that we have to win. And by “we” I mean the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is not an enemy of progressives. In fact, the vast majority of progressives are Democrats. Therefore, when a progressive uses a concept like “putting aside the Democratic Party,” these people, who are mostly white and have enough wealth to build a name for themselves, have placed themselves on a plane of existence above the vast majority of progressives, including union members, African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants, the poor and others. They are essentially pinning their hopes on a minority of a minority. In a democracy, they are doomed to a fate that is far less than even mediocrity by doing so. Unfortunately, they have such loud voices, they are dragging everyone else with them, by ensuring a Republican-dominated government.
This is not about Bernie Sanders. I’d like to see Bernie Sanders run for president, even though he has no chance of winning. He would have to run as a Democrat. In the debates, he would be a welcome voice and would perhaps inject viewpoints that wouldn’t otherwise be there. He could make people think. Unfortunately, if he ran as an independent or representing a nascent “third-party,” he can only do damage.
Do the people who fantasize about “putting aside the Democratic Party” remember what happened in 2000 and 2004? One of the worst presidential candidates in US history was able to steal two elections because these progressives essentially split the progressive vote. They also chose to run against Democrats instead of their natural political enemies in the right-wing-dominated Republican Party. There was nothing politically clever about the George W Bush campaign. The reason we ended up with the Bush disaster was because the same people who are now fantasizing about Bernie Sanders “putting aside the Democratic Party” and winning, did the same thing with Ralph Nader.
There is nothing particularly startling in what I am saying. It is simply not possible to have three viable political parties. The reason is basic math. The Republican Party is currently made up of far right wing wackos who will always vote for whoever is running as a Republican in every race possible. Since about 90% of them show up to vote in every election, we have to counter that by getting more people to show up and vote Democrat. We can do that if a small but very loud contingent of the progressive movement is always going off to do their own thing, while they badmouth the Democratic Party. when you have members of an ideology voting monolithically for whomever their party puts up, splitting the rest of the electorate is rather stupid.
If Bernie Sanders and the rest of the far left contingent who adore him succeed in any way, what you will have is a one-party electoral system, and that party will be the GOP. There is no way that can be seen as anything other than a disaster.
There is nothing to be gained by progressives whining about Democrats, especially with the odious GOP running things. Democrats are our natural allies. Besides the fact that most progressives are Democrats, our record of success was better when we worked with Democrats than it has been since we stopped doing so. The most progressive period in our history came between 1933 and 1970, when progressives worked hand-in-hand with Democrats to make major changes in our economy and our society. Progressive politics does not work well when some of us are standing off in the corner and playing with themselves. Progressives only make up perhaps 15% of the electorate, in total. That is simply not enough to win a majority in the House and Senate and the presidency, which is what we need in order to get progressive things done in this country. It is pure fantasy to think that 15% of the electorate can become a viable third party completely on their own. Worse, most of that 15% works hard for the Democratic Party; it’s only perhaps 15% of that 15% who fantasize about creating a progressive country simply by force of will. Do the math; that means approximately 2% of the electorate actually imagines having control of the entire government and forcing them to change everything they do in a way that appeals to them.
See the problem? The loudest and most obnoxious element of the progressive movement are essentially ants who think they’re elephants. Instead of working with Democrats to form a coalition that can win elections and move the country to the left, these arrogant “progressives” imagine the rest of the electorate giving in to their demands and bending to their will. What they actually accomplish is to help Republican Party decrease turnout, and making the 90% GOP turnout more powerful. Keep in mind, Republicans are only about 24% of the electorate. That means when they show up at 90%, that represents about a 21% turnout overall. Again, do the math. If we can get overall turnout in midterms up to 50% or more, Republicans literally cannot win a majority. So, any progressive who isn’t working to increase turnout isn’t really being progressive.
We have an election in 10 days. In 10 days, we have to muster up enough voter enthusiasm to increase turnout well above where it was in 2010, because we have to get rid of the GOP majority FIRST. That is the most important thing right now, and that means advocating for Democrats. When we dismiss the 2014 election as being unimportant, which is what we do when we look past it to the 2016 election, we encourage people to not show up on Election Day. When we dismiss the Democratic Party as being just as bad for America is the GOP, which is what we do when we use phrases like “putting aside the Democratic Party,” we encourage those who want an alternative to the disastrous Republican party to stay home on Election Day. Neither of those things is progressive.
Get a clue. The key to a progressive movement comes with electing the best people possible, not by advocating for the perfect candidate and losing every time. When do we get tired of losing?