Thursday, July 29, 2004

How to Build a More Brittle Party

One of the worst things about the growing fascism of the Republican Party is that many Democrats have come to believe that to match the GOP’s seeming unanimity, we must eliminate dissent and diversity from our own ranks. Examples of this impulse have emerged during this Convention, and the result is discouraging.

Though the party platform is a withered appendage of the Convention process, largely by-passed by the personal agenda and credibility of the Presidential candidate, it remains an important symbolic gesture. It is estimated that as many as 95% of the delegates at the Convention are opposed to war, in favor of either immediate withdrawal, or setting a schedule for withdrawal. Yet the Democratic Platform plank on Iraq calls for a continuation, even a deepening, of our commitment in Iraq, pledging to "win the peace" and bring about a stable and peaceful (though thankfully not a 'democratic') Iraq. When the platform came up for final floor debate yesterday evening, Bill Richardson gaveled any debate to a close, despite most of the hundred or so candidates remaining on the floor expressing a desire for further debate. It is disturbing that the Convention Chairman would deem the rights of delegates so worthless. Mr Richardson just stepped off the gangplank of my esteem.

The atrophy of the American political process is one of the tragedies of the modern times. No single candidate is really responsible. The ever-present demand to streamline the political process, and to make it more efficient, is a response to the demands of campaigning in the modern era. Big money, the acceleration of the primary process, and the role of expensive media in politics, are all partially responsible for the decline. These factors have left us with a denatured, weak, deracinated, and increasing exclusionary, political process; one which cannot tolerate or withstand serious debate, nor accommodate enduring differences within a party, yet offers dissidents no where else to go.

The need to offer an ever more seamless, uncontradicted version of reality to voters is turning our parties into cults of personality, instead of tools of compromise and accommodation. That would not be so insidious were America’s electoral system not designed to foster and reinforce two major coalitional parties, offering dissenters nowhere to go but into the electoral limbo of ineffectual, practically irrelevant, third parties. The only real political clout of third parties comes from their potential to act as spoilers to the major party its members most sympathize with. The result is a brutal irony; dissent comes to help the dissenter’s natural political enemies. This is not the behavior of a healthy political system; rather, it is a symptom of a grave and debilitating political disease. A voter should not have to calculate the likelihood that voting in accord with her conscience will bring to power the political philosophy she most despises.

America has become too diverse a nation for just two political parties. What once was a unifying strength, is now a travesty. The brutal illogic of the two-party system has tricked rural people and people of faith into a self-destructive alliance within the GOP with the wealthy and corporations who are steadily devouring their own allies and covering the carnage with a cynical kulturekampf. A genuine Conservative party would awaken these constituencies to their true interests in no time. Instead, they remain blissfully unconcerned about the true intent of the GOP's succubus-like embrace. Democrats are only somewhat better, however. Similar treatment is being given to some portions of the Democratic constituency, but there is little they can do about it, if they even realize their betrayal.

At the Democratic Convention, major figures in the Democratic party such as Rep. Maxine Waters and Senator Russ Feingold, were denied speaking slots because they were not considered reliable in hewing to the Kerry line on important policy matters. No sour notes and no contradictions can be allowed within the Party’s public image during these critical days when so many undecided voters will be getting their first taste of Kerry and Edwards. No disturbing ‘radical’ views, no harsh criticism of the current Administration, no views too at odds with the current ‘status quo’ should be allowed to disturb the complacency of voters. This way lies stagnation. This way lies political irrelevancy. Even if this way lies election, what does it afford us if the Democratic Party comes to stand for nothing except the getting and keeping of power?

What cost, this artificial unanimity? In many ways allowing the presumptive nominee to script and shape the Convention to his needs weakens the party. Kerry’s message is carefully tailored to appeal to centrist, undecided voters. Kerry seeks to assure centrist voters that he can finish what Bush started through superior leadership, avoiding assiduously any suggestion that Iraq is hopeless and already lost. What of the many millions in the Democratic base who need reassurance that Kerry is open their view that Iraq is a tragic boondoggle? What of the hundreds of thousands contemplating a vote for Nader because Kerry seems uncompromising and unconcerned about their issues? We may be steering for a cliff to avoid a stone in the road.

Nearly every party member wants to defeat Bush. Every one of those is willing to make sacrifices to accomplish Bush's downfall. But if the Democratic Party gives up it’s mantle as the remaining democratic party to accomplish that, qui bono?

Addendum: Not only has there been an intolerance of any dissent at the Convention, but trying to express a contrary viewpoint could get you arrested. Just ask Medea Benjamin of Code Pink who was arrested and dragged off the floor for having the temerity to unfurl an anti-war sign.

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