Since I posted my call two days ago for registered Democrats to re-register as independent voters (and to sign the petition here which will be sent to Democratic Party leaders when it's big enough to make an impression), I have received some complaints from progressive Democrats that it risks handing the 2008 election to the Republicans.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The Democratic leadership strategy of continuing to fund Bush's War in Iraq, and of keeping impeachment "off the table" — that is, of avoiding a frontal challenge to the two key disasters of this administration, the war and the attack on democratic government and the Constitution — is what threatens to hand the White House and maybe even both houses of Congress to Republicans next year.
It is clear that the reason Democrats won control of House and Senate in November 2006 is that they campaigned on a promise to protect civil liberties and to end the war. That promise brought independents in record numbers across to the Democratic side. But Democratic election strategists don't get this. They still harbor the illusion that unaffiliated voters are middle-of-the-road or conservative-leaning people who only care about so-called wedge issues, not the big issues of our day. In fact, my travels across this country have taught me that the unaffiliated voter is usually someone who is cynical about politics, believes that there is little difference between the two parties, and that he or she is being screwed, by corporations, by government, and by his or her own political leaders.
The sad truth is that the current Democratic Party deserves that opinion. They briefly managed to convince these skeptics that they were better than that, but in office, they have reverted to form, and these voters will not be back in '06.
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So what we need to do is give the Democratic Party a jolt. We may never convince them that they need to be more aggressive about the big issues if they want to win over the unaffiliated voters, but we can convince them that they can no longer simply count on the support of the progressive wing of the party, which they have taken for granted since the end of the New Deal.
The way to do this, quickly and unambiguously, is for progressives, enmasse, to resign from the party, officially at the voter registrar's office. If Democratic Party officials see a fall off in Democratic registrations, they will be thrown into a panic — especially if those de-registrations are accompanied by comments, as on this petition, explaining their reasons for resigning.
As I explained earlier, a de-registration campaign will also be powerful because the ones who will notice it first will be local Democratic political officials, who usually face very low-turnout elections and count on using Democratic Party registration information for their campaign and get-out-the-vote mailings and door-to-door efforts. If those lists start to shrink they will positively freak out, and when they learn that it is because progressives are angry, they will send the word to their congressional delegations that something has to be done to placate the alienated progressives.
This is the way things ought to operate, but in the top-down Democratic Party of today, the system has broken down. I was recently at a meeting of the Bucks County (PA) Democratic Committee, invited by a member to give a brief talk in support of a resolution calling on Congress to impeach the president. I asked for a show of hands of who in the room supported impeachment, and nearly every hand went up, but at the end of my presentation, when a member proposed such a resolution, the committee chair refused to consider it, using parliamentary rules to block it. He went further to argue against the idea, saying "We don't want to embarrass our Democratic Congressman, Patrick Murphy," who has said he opposes impeachment.
This is, of course, an ass-backwards notion of how democracy should work. It's the grass roots of the party that should be telling members of Congress how to vote, not the grassroots asking their elected representative what it is okay for them to support.
Progressives have talked for decades about "taking over" control of the Democratic Party, but this has never happened. The closest we came was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but even then it was only a partial success and in the end the leadership sabotaged the party's own presidential candidate, George McGovern, in 1972. Reforming the party, even if it could be done, is a major project that will take years of concerted effort at the grassroots. We don't have time for that now. With the Bush administration hell-bent on war with Iran, and on gutting democracy and trashing the constitution in favor of executive rule, we need something faster.
Nothing would be faster than having hundreds of thousands of progressive Democratic Party members simply quit the party. In doing that, they would not, in many if not most states, forego their ability to vote in primaries. Nor would they be prevented from voting for a suitable Democratic candidate in November 2008. But they would be putting a real fear in the hearts of Democratic leaders and elected officials that they could no longer be counted on to vote Democratic. And that's the fear we have to engender.
It should be clear by now that until Democratic Party leaders really have to contemplate losing the progressive vote, they are going to play to the right, avoid the big issues, and simply ignore progressives, while undermining their favored candidates.
It's time for action. Quit the Party!
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