As I keep saying, idealism is wonderful… in moderation. But while it should inform your stance on the issues, it should not infect your politics. Note the difference between issues and politics. They are not the same; they are very different. Issues are the things we claim to care about, while politics consists of the strategies you use to get there.
One of the worst aspects of idealist thought comes with the notion of “third parties.” Somehow, a number of progressives have decided that it is politically possible to ignore the two major parties and set up a third alternative, which they can then vote for and feel better about themselves.
Unfortunately, as a practical matter, your choice is limited to creating a second party to replace one of the existing parties, not putting a third out there. And that party has to start with school board and mayoral races, not president and Congress. More practical would be to infiltrate an established party and push it left. It’s pure fantasy to imagine that you can create a third alternative and win an election in a winner-take-all system.
Let’s be clear; in every election, the Republican base will vote for their candidates at a rate of at least 80 percent, and often more than 90 percent. Do some math; Republicans make up about 24 percent of the electorate, which means if 90 percent of them show up, that’s 21.6 percent of voters. Since the dawn of the neocon era, turnout in midterms is usually around 37-38 percent. That gives Republicans a built-in advantage, unless we can get turnout up. Even if “only” 80 percent of Republicans turn out, that’s still 19.2 percent, which is tough to beat when turnout is only 37 percent.
It’s just like everything else in politics, if you want to follow your ideals, you have to win elections. You will NEVER get campaign finance reform, election reform, a public option, a better student financial aid system, a living wage, or any of the good stuff we claim would save the country if we can’t get the party of idiots out of power. That means increasing voter turnout, by encouraging people to vote, by making them realize their vote is enormously important and that Democrats can make their lives better. Can we guarantee they’ll do everything we want? Of course not. But I can absolutely guarantee we’ll get nothing we want as long as Republicans are n charge.
If you really want an alternative to the two major parties, then you will have to get turnout up so high that the Republican bloc of votes won’t have a chance. You’re sure as hell NEVER going to get a viable third party as long as 37 percent of voters show up. You would have to get turnout up to at least 60 percent plus for midterms to even have a shot, and ALL of those extra voters would have to vote your way. We haven’t done the work necessary to accomplish anything close to that to date. In fact, for 40 years, Democrats have only controlled the government twice, for two years each, precisely because we figure out a way to win the presidency, but we’ve largely given up on winning midterms, which is ridiculous. If you just give up and simply assume that no one will show up every other election cycle, you’re essentially ceding the electorate to the GOP, and how progressive is that, really?
Where did this notion come from that, somehow, national presidential elections are simply more important than midterms? That is just ridiculous. Of course, why wouldn’t they think that way? The “media,” the professional left and political junkies all have a tendency to blow off midterms in favor of speculation about who might run for president two years hence. Check your Facebook feed and your Twitter timeline. Check out how many have been sporting “Hillary 2016” on their profile and feed, and have been for most of the year. What the hell difference does it make who might win the next presidential election, if you can’t give her a House majority and Senate supermajority? While you “idealists” are fiddling and farting around with trying to find the “perfect” Democratic candidates, by blowing off a House majority and possibly giving away the Senate majority this year, you are actually makingi it next to impossible for the next president to do anything progressive.
Forget the fact that speculation is not news and is almost always wrong two years out. The same number of fedeal offices are up for election every midterm as are up in presidential years, except one (and one Senator every six years). And while who becomes president is somewhat important, just as important is the makeup of the Congress that president will have to work with.
You know who doesn’t think that way? Republicans. Their base treats every election as important, and they will faithfully vote for anyone representing their party and ideology. And because many so-called “progressives” and others simply don’t take the electoral system seriously, Republicans keep winning. Think about it. In 17 election cycles, Democrats (who are the best viable candidates we have) have been in control of the government twice, for one cycle each time. We won great victories in 1992 and 2008, and in 1994 and 2010, we blew the momentum, and handed the reins to an ever-radicalized Republican Party.
You can’t build a progressive government if you’re only going to try to win every other time. You have to do what’s necessary to win every single time. You can’t blow off midterms and expect to have a government that does progressive things. You have to build momentum, and you have to build to a majority and then a supermajority. Unless you have a supermajority, it makes absolutely no political sense to attack Blue Dogs. Once you have 300 seats in the House and 68-70 in the Senate, then you can start picking off (some) Democrats who are “too conservative.” When you go after them when they’re in the minority, you’re just cutting off your nose to spite your face. And handing the reins of government to the bad guys.
Democrats are the best of the two viable parties, without a doubt. Every vote that isn’t cast for a Democrat makes a GOP win all the more likely, and that includes a third-party vote in almost all cases. There are a few exceptions, but very few.
Play politics smarter. You have to push midterms as hard as you push presidential elections, and we need to build Democratic momentum. There is no choice. Politics is a process, and there are no shortcuts.