Tag Archives: political parties

When Political Parties Lose Control, Welcome to Crisis

New Orleans   Big ideas and popular demands move political parties, pro or con.  Politicians have to put their fingers in the air and see how the wind is blowing, especially if they lack core principles and convictions.  How do they navigate the cultural issues of guns, gays, and abortion?  What’s with Medicare for All and the Green New Deal for the Democrats?  What happened to free markets, free trade, and no deficit spending for the Republicans?  The president seems to want to rebrand his outfit as the Trump Party and might be thinking of a name change where half the country will live in the United States of Trump and rest of us will live in misery and pain to hear him tell it.

A recent issue of the Atlantic seemed to wonder if we were on the verge of civil war and the end of democracy.  One article began by stating that for a democracy to survive it “depends on the consent of the losers.”  It seems hard not to note that the Republicans under Senator Mitch O’Connell’s leadership did exactly that in Obama-time, most pointedly in refusing to allow him to appoint a Supreme Court Justice.  Trump certainly is obsessed with the fact that the Democrats and the resistance have never fully conceded the legitimacy of his election.  What happens when as a country we’ve “lost that loving feeling” that allows us to live and listen to each other?

Cedric De Leon addressed some of these questions on Wade’s World recently while talking about his new book, Crisis!  When Political Parties Lose the Consent to Rule.  As both a historian and a professor at the University of Massachusetts Labor Center, he takes the long view and marries it to a bottom-up, rather than elite perspective in addressing the proposition.  He notes that there is a “crisis sequence” at play, and it is often triggered by parties’ “failing to deliver on the promise of white privilege.”  When the Whigs’ success in taking peoples’ eyes off the ball demanding abolition of slavery to focus on manifest destiny and getting land in the west broke down, it led to the end of their party, the rise of the Republicans under Abraham Lincoln, and eventually the Civil War.  De Leon argues that political parties use a strategy of “absorption” to sponge up the peoples’ demands and interests. When elite and party reabsorption didn’t work after the Great Depression, in his argument it pushed Franklin Delano Roosevelt to deliver the sweeping changes of the New Deal.  Getting closer to today, he argues that the party establishments were able to coopt President Obama’s New New Deal and herd him back to the mainstream successfully, but not enough to avert the crisis sequence exploited by Donald Trump and his candidacy.

De Leon argues that there are three paths in such crises: “Caesarism” or looking for the one authoritarian leader, no doubt the path Trump is offering; absorption or “sleight of hand” by the elites and establishment to coopt the demands; or, finally, a new political program.  De Leon votes for door number three, and believes a revived labor movement is central to making this happen. In our conversation I couldn’t stop myself from noting the current weakness and division within institutional labor, but he’s absolutely correct that we can’t envision change without working people being part of the frontline making the demands.

We’re all facing hard questions in tough times, but with De Leon, we have to conclude there’s no escaping the fact that in this crisis we’re going to have to choose a path and get on with it PDQ.


To Host a Bigger Crowd of Our People, We May Need a Better Party

third_partiesNew Orleans   There were moments in the 2016 presidential race when observers thought that the candidates for President from the Libertarian and Green Parties could experience significant gains, perhaps even be spoilers. As both major parties presented candidates disappointing to many voters and when Bernie Sanders, a Democrat-Socialist, had inspired such fervor, many felt, there was a larger opening for alternative parties than we had seen in recent cycles. The results at the top of the ticket for the Libertarians and Greens did not prove that, though nationally they did garner a fair swatch of votes, and a favorite son candidate in Utah polled double-digits, almost throwing that state in a new and different direction.

But, wait a minute. David Brooks, conservative Republican die-hard op-ed columnist and part of the Never-Trump caucus, has now argued twice in the matter of days that he and his ilk need to organize a third party where establishment, traditional Republicans can land and feel comfortable since the Democrats are center-left, and the Republicans are now white working class and middle class.

Furthermore, even in a ruby-red state like Louisiana, it never ceases to amaze, given the barriers to success for alternative parties, the surprisingly lengthy list we are offered when we close the curtains on the voting booth on Election Day. Not just Green and Libertarian, but also the Constitution Party, Courage Character Service Party, It’s Our Children, Life Family Constitution, Socialism and Liberation, Socialism Equality Anti-War, Socialist Workers, and Veterans Party. The Greens and Libertarians accumulated 50,000 votes in Louisiana. Of course Trump-Clinton did 1.9 million, but still, 50,000 is 50,000. The other small also-rans added another 20,000. Hey, David Duke, running as a Republican got 58,000 and came in 7th of more than 20 candidates for the US Senate from Louisiana. There are a lot of divergent views in a big, wild ungainly electoral rodeo like we run in the United States.

My bi-coastal colleague, Steve Early, with a home and heart in California and his mind often still in New England, noted that alternative parties going local, rather than national, works if you look at the success they have had in a Green-Workers-Community alliance in Richmond, California and the continued success of eclectic green and worker friendly operations like the Vermont Progressive Party, both of which we have covered extensively in Social Policy. Concentrating on the top of the ticket may not be a winner. The Green Party reported only 20 to 21 local winners on Tuesday out of 279 state and local races, he noted.

The “nothing out there for me, it doesn’t really matter” nonvoter population is growing though, as turnout goes down and population goes up, and its huge. Yet, Trump, Sanders, and others around the world, and, they are not all conservative no matter what you are reading please remember Spain, Italy, and Greece for example, are proving that where there’s a real movement and a messenger that embraces its issues, people will respond.

How can it be that a David Brooks is calling for another party, and we’re not hearing the call from and for progressives? It means going local for a long while and constructing the building blocks, but as Vermont has taught that can also develop independent candidates that can contend nationally as well. It’s all hard work. When does consensus congeal that it is time for more shoulders on that wheel?