I hate the Democratic Party. This plain-spoken assertion will turn off some readers, but we do not live in times that allow for squeamishness. The party went astray by adopting Third Way Liberalism, the political hodgepodge that believes that as long as we say the right things to special-interest groups, we can go on doing whatever corporations tell us to do. And my outrage has grow all the more as in election after election I am told that a must vote for the lousy centrist the Democrats offer because I would not want the other guy to win.
The party behaves like a drug addict who promises again and again that if only we will bail him out this time, he will reform at some point in the future. We could have had Bill Bradley in 2000, Howard Dean — back when he was a progressive — in 2004, and Bernie Sanders in 2016 and this year. Instead the party — whether the Democratic National Committee or the voters is irrelevant for this point — chose a Diet Republican and lost. Barack Obama ran as a transformational progressive in 2008 and won, then governed as the sort of politician who would have fitted in well with Eisenhower’s administration, and his re-election was the result of incumbent inertia.
Now that Joe Biden is the default nominee, having won by mostly staying silent and by promising the handwringing centrists that he will not bring too much change, the Democratic Party has adopted the strategy of 2016 for dealing with progressives. We are accused of being Russian trolls or secret Trump supporters, and our disagreement with the Democratic platform as it is likely to be is dismissed as mere rhetoric rather than genuine philosophical differences. That this approach failed in 2016 does not matter, apparently, leading me to believe that many in the party would rather feel virtuously resentful over being forced into adopting programs that would benefit everyone.
One particular approach that I have encountered on social media is the identity politics approach that picks out a particular minority group who is supposedly fearful of or disappointed in some progressive program. The good work of the New Deal gets rejected because Roosevelt did not offer its benefits to blacks. Medicare for All is unacceptable because Republicans could use the single-payer system to deny care that is uniquely required by GSRM (gender, sexual, and romantic minority) Americans. The facts that the Great Society reforms of Lyndon Johnson were meant to extend the progressive social contract to all Americans, not just whites, and that 68,000 of us die annually while many more suffer needlessly right now is apparently of no consequence. Pandering without progress is the current imperative.
The problem is that a great many Americans are complacent in their privilege. We needed open rebellion to convince us that slavery had to be abolished, and the north then allowed the south to restore the old order. The disaster of the Great Depression forced us to admit that the old laissez-faire approach is a failed social contract, but Republicans never really took this into their thinking, and the libertarian revolution, begun in the 1950s and brought to national policy under Reagan, has returned us to the fragility of the days prior to the economic collapse in 1929. The current crisis of unemployment and disease with COVID-19 may be enough to push us back into a sense of what we owe to each other, but only if we commit ourselves to an undiluted progressive agenda, rather than allowing the centrists to get us to sell out.
What we need is a new Progressive Party that will drag the two right-wing parties — the Democrats and the Republicans — leftward. And just as the Republicans got their start by pulling together people from various older parties in their common agreement that slavery was wrong, we today must focus on a platform of economic democracy. This means Medicare for All, College for All, worker rights, and the Green New Deal.
Universal healthcare guarantees that everyone gets treatment that is independent of one’s employer or the income that said employer is gracious enough to give us. Funding access to state colleges and universities through taxes rather than student loans means that the poor and working classes have an effective ladder upward without the burden of debt. Strengthening the effectiveness of labor unions, promoting worker cooperatives, guaranteeing paid sick leave, and similar programs add more ladders, especially for people whose skills do not fit higher education. And protecting the environment so that human civilization can continue is the ground of being for society.
I left out a lot that the Democrats regard as fundamental to their ideology. Abortion, for example, should be a part of Medicare for All, and the Progressive Party would support a woman’s right to control her own body, but abortion rights have been chipped away by the Republicans since the Roe v. Wade decision, and the Democratic approach to defending them has not worked. Democrats lose votes across the middle of the country by pushing gun control, and their efforts all miss the mark, since restricting the rights of the law-abiding is no way to reduce violence. Saying that a program is good for one race is a good way to get others to question the legitimacy of the program. Which is to say, if we cannot explain to every voter how a program will benefit that voter, the Progressive Party should leave it out.
Franklin Roosevelt likely saved us from becoming a communist nation in the 1930s. If we cannot bring ourselves now to the kind of radical progress that he brought about, we are in either for a revolution in our own times or — what is worse — a sinking into terminal acceptance of the banana republic that we have become.