Anyone who has ever had the yearning to vote for an alternative, independent, and progressive third party candidate only to cave in the voting booth and vote Democrat—haunted by voices saying, “You’d be throwing your vote away”—must surely be asking these days, “What if?” After seeing what just a few elected officials can do to the whole political process, each and every one of them has to be saying, “If only we’d voted with our hearts.” After all, as Kevin Drum points out at Mother Jones, “So who was driving the absolutist view in Congress over the past few months? If it was the no-compromise wing of the tea party, that's less than 10% of the country.”
Less than ten percent. No doubt, at some point in the last few decades all those people wishing they could break out of the tired two-party system and vote for a truly progressive-minded candidate could have reached a number in Congress that could rival the number of Tea Partiers taking the country hostage now. What then? What would this country look like had we known that so few could do so much? We’ll never know.
Still, if we must try and find a silver lining in this nobody-wins model of government, maybe it’s this: It turns out we might not being throwing our vote away if we vote more progressively than we previously thought possible. Or, at the very least, form a political base with some teeth, able to make Democrats believe they may be ousted for a more progressive candidate if they continue to woo the Almighty Independent Vote in lieu of actual liberal ideals. This is the conclusion behind recent articles in Dissent and Change-Links.
In “Stopping Obama’s Next Betrayal” Mark Engler has little time for debating whether or not Obama is a true liberal or a centrist. Such discussions don’t “lead very far in terms of suggesting a political response,” Engler writes. Obama is what he is and, no matter what else you say about his administration, it will listen to opposing sides. The problem, according to Engler, is that progressive movements aren’t doing their part in making the president or Congress work for them.
Obama is willing to compromise and cave because progressive movements are not strong enough to enforce discipline among politicians. Nor are they strong enough to consistently outweigh corporate influences within the Democratic Party….
Until a vocal, dedicated, progressive grassroots, taking a page from the Tea Party, can show that it’s far more effective to reposition the center of the debate than it is to forever triangulate in hopes of appealing to “independents,“ Democratic politicians will continue to do the latter.
Similarly Shamus Cooke, in “The Rich are Destroying the Economy,” calls for a strong, organized movement to make politicians respond to progressive ideals, though he is suspect of Democrats being willing or able to rise to the task:
Organized labor needs to bring masses of people in the street all over the country in order to get attention and pressure the government to respond to these demands. And it can succeed, especially if it organizes a serious, protracted campaign and especially if this campaign does not get funneled into supporting Democratic candidates, the surest way to kill campaign momentum.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently spoke in favor of a strong, independent labor movement. This is the direction it must take, rather than relying on the Democrats. The labor movement must get its act together, unite to put up a fight and demand specific policies that can concretely address the crisis faced by millions of working people.
So, the silver lining is that maybe we aren’t really stuck with a two-party system. Maybe we wouldn’t be throwing our votes away if we voted the way we actually wanted to vote. At the very least, we’re (oddly) reminded by the Tea Party of what Margaret Mead said about a small group of committed citizens changing the world. (Though she did also use the word “thoughtful.”) That said, if there’s gridlock now in DC, can you imagine what it would be like if the left side of the aisle was actually full of progressive politicians bent on staying true to their ideals instead of caving for the “betterment” of the country?