Subscribe via RSS Feed

Third Parties: Not a Solution for the Left

[ 443 ] June 21, 2014 |

Scott has said much of what needs to be said about Jennifer Roesch’s Jacobin article calling for the “radical left” to break with the Democratic Party. The problems with this article are numerous, for it blithely avoids providing useful historical context or examples of how third parties work in the United States, what the constituency for a left third party would look like, how such a third party would actually succeed (or indeed, what the goals would be other than punishing Democrats), or really, an understanding of the incredibly complex society of the United States in 2014.

The third party has long has been how the American left has sought to punish Democrats for their various crimes. From Henry Wallace to Ralph Nader to really great lesser known activists like former Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers executive and so-called “Rachel Carson of the Workplace” Tony Mazziocchi, when activists get frustrated with the corporate domination of the Democratic Party, they have sought to create a left alternative. It never goes anywhere. When your benchmark of success in the modern Green Party, you know this is a strategy to irrelevance. Putting together political parties takes a huge amount of work, labor better spent actually helping people live better lives. The problem all of these people have also faced is that, frankly, most Americans don’t like their policy ideas. Whether that’s because they are racist or have false consciousness or are tools of capitalist media propaganda or whatever, it doesn’t much matter here. The point is that the organizing on the ground hasn’t happened to make a third party viable. For people who talk so much about bottom-up change and organizing the masses, it’s quite interesting that the solution they fall to for their lack of success is presidential third party runs, as if one daddy from the top will finally bring success.

To be fair, Roesch doesn’t quite come out and call for a leftist third party candidate in 2016, although I strongly doubt she would opposed it. Instead, she mostly focuses on local races. Where can “third parties” work? There are situations where something outside of the Democratic/Republican box can develop. Roesch mentions two, but in fact, they aren’t very useful for her project. The labor ticket in Lorain County, Ohio was a local insurgency against a terrible Democratic Party that used unions for their money and GOTV efforts while pursuing politics actively hostile to them. Nationally, labor doesn’t have the power to fight back against this reality. In Lorain County, it does and it did and it should have. If organized labor was strong enough in this country to challenge and defeat bad Democrats without electing Republicans, I would support that 100%. It is not and it knows it.

Sawant’s victory in Seattle was not a third party victory. It was a second party in a one-party district. In situations where one party is so completely dominant that the primary is all that matters for a victory, then insurgent challengers that present voters with a real option can make sense. Such was this Seattle city council seat. But that’s hugely different than a national campaign. Another Nader or whoever building a national political party of the left might present voters with more choices, but the effect of those choices is going to be electing Republicans, overturning Roe v. Wade, repressing black voting, Sam Alito-style Supreme Court judges, eviscerating environmental and workplace safety restrictions, etc., etc. Those calling for a national third party cannot ignore this. They have to take responsibility for what such the implications of such a party would be on the nation. The only exception is if the leftist party can actually win elections, which would only happen by essentially replacing the Democratic Party in our two-party system. And good luck with that.

It is a situation like Sawant’s victory that explains the closest thing we’ve ever had in this nation to a third party success story, which is the Populists. Rural anger over capitalist exploitation (not that most farmers were anti-capitalist, but they were increasingly opposed to the system of Gilded Age capitalism that openly took advantage of them and doomed them to poverty) led to a number of rural organizations becoming the Farmers Alliance in the 1880s and running a presidential candidate as the People’s Party in 1892. The Democrats co-opted part of their platform in 1896 after nominating William Jennings Bryan and the Populists disappeared. But even here, as the historian Jeffrey Ostler discovered in his book on state-level Populism, the success of this so-called third party depended on whether there was a functioning second party. In states like Iowa where an already functioning two-party system existed, the Populists could not gain ground because farmers found a responsive political outlet in one of the parties. It was only in states like Texas without a Republican Party or like Kansas without a Democratic Party that the Populists succeeded as a state-wide organization. In other words, they were filling the role of the second party.

More problematic is Roesch’s seeming contempt for how politics actually operate, whether in the U.S. or anywhere:

In most cases, independent campaigns are unlikely to actually win. Therefore, in the majority of situations, the primary goals are to raise the need for a political break with the Democrats, to amplify and strengthen existing movements and to engage a wider audience in left-wing ideas. Even in cases where independent candidates are able to win, like in Seattle, success can’t be measured on the usual terms of bourgeois politics, such as making deals to pass legislation or building alliances with other legislators.

The usual terms of bourgeois politics, such as making deals to pass legislation. You mean, how change actually happens? There is not a single social movement in American history that has not needed the usual terms of bourgeois politics to win change. Not one. The labor movement required the National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and much additional legislation. The environmental movement needed the Wilderness Act, various Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, etc. The civil rights movement needed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The gay rights movement is succeeding because of its brilliant legal strategy. I guess this is all just bourgeois politics since deals had to be made and legislation was weakened through those deals that allowed them to get the necessary votes to codify change. All of this isn’t the pure politics of working class solidarity (which is disconnected from most of the actual American working class but what does that matter to ideology) and, well, what exactly? What the goal of such a party is if not to pass legislation goes totally unmentioned It’s just purity and punishment.

And then there’s this:

Once in office, left-wing activists who try to carry on their struggle while representing the Democratic Party ultimately end up having to choose between making deals with and accommodations to the existing power structure, or becoming marginalized and unable to accomplish their goals.

I’m sorry, has there ever been a state with functioning democratic structures, capitalist or socialist, where making deals with existing power structures has not happened? No. This is called governance. If socialists do get elected and they can’t govern because they refuse to, they will be quickly and rightfully swept from office.

So where does this lead us? Rosech identifies places where left alternatives to Democrats make sense and I don’t disagree with most of them. It’s possible that a socialist run against Andrew Cuomo could be a good idea. Certainly a left candidate for mayor of Oakland has logic behind it. Rhode Island in 2014 is a state, like Texas or Kansas in the late 19th century, that is an effective one-party state where the only thing tying the party’s elected officials together is the need to be in the party to have personal power. Without a functioning Republican Party, Rhode Island could be an interesting place to experiment with a state level left alternative to the Democrats. But ultimately, this again would just be filling the role of the 2nd party. And whatever form it takes, it will have to make compromises and won’t pass anyone’s purity tests. Because that’s the real world.

But a national third party alternative is a disastrous idea that would a) elect Republicans nationwide and b) take up so much energy and resources that leftists would have to ignore actual community organizing in order to focus on this. Is this is the best use of left energy? I’d argue not. Instead, I’d look to our past to see how people on the streets moved political parties through protest, lobbying, and organizing.

Instead, like how radical conservatives took over the Republican Party from within beginning in the 1950s, leftists would have much better success turning the Democratic Party into a more left-leaning organization. I don’t think this necessarily should be the focus of left organizing efforts, but people who want to put the energy into creating a third party would find it much better spent here. I mean, they’d have to deal with the Laborers union willing to sell out potential allies for years over a few jobs, business owners, anti-abortion Irish Catholics who vote Democratic for economic issues, and all the other complexities of modern America. But the United States is not a nation of people who go to socialist meetings. It’s a nation of people who watch football. The American kind of football. No left political movement can succeed without recognizing the complexity of the American populace and make compromises with those groups with which they are uncomfortable. Otherwise, they will win nothing.

The War On Women: Canadian Edition

[ 23 ] June 21, 2014 |

This story is, remarkably enough, dated June 2014:

 Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay is defending comments he made last week about why so few women are appointed as judges in Canada.

MacKay was responding to Wednesday’s Toronto Star report about an Ontario Bar Association meeting at which he was asked about the lack of women and visible minorities on federally appointed court benches.

MacKay answered the question by saying that women don’t apply to be judges because they fear the job will take them away from their children — and that children need their mothers more than their fathers, the Star report said.

On Thursday, rather than back away from the comments, MacKay stood his ground.

“At early childhood, there’s no question I think that women have a greater bond with their children,” he said.

In the context of people defending similar gender disparities among Supreme Court clerks, I asked how Antonin Scalia somehow managed successful government, academic, and appellate court careers with nine children. Apparently, he just doesn’t really have any kind of special bond with his kids…

Ammosexuals

[ 219 ] June 21, 2014 |

I’ve written before about how owning guns has (for many people) become nothing more than a cultural signifier. I feel more confident than ever in asserting that the ammosexuals own guns for one reason and one reason only: to troll liberals. This is why they’re having their little fetish parades at places like Chipotle and Target.

“I didn’t mean to shoot that toddler in the face, I just wanted to assert my rights before I lost them.”–Ammosexual

It’s not enough for them to own guns now; they want everyone who is not an open-carry fetishist to humbly and happily acknowledge their gross gun-kink. I’d laugh if their fetish weren’t so potentially dangerous. I think the combination of deadly weapon + low intelligence + severe impulse control problems will inevitably = disaster. It’s only a matter of time before one of these guns accidentally discharges; it’s only a matter of time before someone taunts these fetishists and, because the ammosexuals are stupid and humorless and lack impulse control, one of them “fights back” with deadly force. These people need to become pariahs. Yesterday.

How to Respond to Women Who Talk about Harassment Online

[ 76 ] June 21, 2014 |

You know, the internet is a big place filled with lots of stupid, meaningless and frequently awful things. Yet when I poke around I often find really cool, awesome stuff to read and think about. (Maybe this means I follow good people on twitter. I don’t know.) Here, Miri talks about jokey responses to her thoughts on harassment.

Special Friday Night Creature Feature: Talk about Your Favorite Horror Picks

[ 231 ] June 20, 2014 |

It’s Friday evening, I’m sick, I have a couple of precious hours to myself, and I’m in the mood for something horrific. Tell me what you’re watching or reading these days to get your horror fix. Or just tell me what your favorite horror movies are. Consider this an all things horror open thread.

American Third Party Politics Isn’t Politics At All

[ 306 ] June 20, 2014 |

One of the many odd things about Jennifer Roesch’s discussion of strategies for creating an “independent political alternative” at the national level is that is simply takes the desirability of dividing the leftmost party coalition for granted. Because the argument is question-begging all the way down, it certainly doesn’t consider salient examples. The most relevant one is Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign, which peeled off enough votes to throw the election to the Republican Party. (And while I know full well that this won’t stop several people from making it, let me preemptively say the argument that if a factor is necessary but not sufficient it therefore can’t be said to have had any impact at all is egregiously stupid.) What was the impact of this? Well, my opinion is that the Democratic Party has shifted modestly to the left, but this is not plausibly the result of Nader’s spoiler campaign; there was no serious third party threat in 2008. Rather, it’s mostly related to realignment producing a less southern and hence more liberal Democratic congressional caucus. But what does Roesch think has happened?

Nearly six years into Obama’s neoliberal presidency, there are growing signs of discontent within the Democrats’ traditional voting base. While both of Obama’s electoral wins can be attributed to the turnout of young, female, black, Latino/a, and working-class voters, these are precisely the groups that have most suffered from the economic crisis and his administration’s commitment to austerity.

Let’s leave aside the question of whether such policies as a massive expansion of the American single-payer health care system for the poor and a large (albeit not large enough) stimulus package represent a commitment to neoliberal austerity. If Roesch is right, a consequential third-party campaign that lead to all of the horrifying consequences of the most reactionary administration since at least Coolidge produced no positive effects at all. And this isn’t surprising, because in the current partisan alignment a left third party that got any traction at all would give the Republican Party a hammerlock on the electoral college. So why would it be good idea to pursue progressive change through a third party rather than emulating the conservative example and pushing the Democratic Party as far to the left as is possible? What good can come out of third party politics in a first-past-the-post system, let alone benefits that could justify the massive downside risks?

But what’s striking is that it’s not that Roesch’s answers to these questions are bad. She just doesn’t think the questions even need to be asked. There’s no strategic thinking, or indeed really any political thinking, going on here. It’s just 1. Mainstream Democrats are to my right. 2. Third Party 3. ???? 4. ???? 5. ???? 6. Things will get better in some unspecified way!

Which, in its own way, makes sense. Erik noted recently that third party politics is to progressive change as thrifting is to combating sweatshops; it’s not a strategy for change at all, it’s just a way of trying to convince yourself that you have clean hands. Only thrifting as political action is ineffectual but harmless, whereas ill-considered third-party campaigns can lead to stuff like “hundreds of thousands of people dead all over the world” and “Samuel Alito with a lifetime appointment on the country’s highest court” in exchange for no benefits whatsoever. Ralph Nader’s campaign — which had no signature issue, no coherent strategic plan, no meaningful content whatsoever except “isn’t the awesome purity of St. Ralph Nader awesome” — was all too representative of this anti-political thinking.  In the wake of 2000, it’s bizarre that anyone could think that this hand-waving would be persuasive.

Root for Your Washington Dead Savage Heathen Heads

[ 143 ] June 20, 2014 |

What does “Redskins” mean exactly?

What is germane to the conversation? What is semantics? That is debatable. The fact remains that to many Native Americans, the term “redskin” has long meant the act of our ancestor’s scalps being collected for bounty.

Capturing the Spoils of World War I

[ 70 ] June 20, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat discusses how the course of World War I in Asia helped set the board for World War II:

However, the events of 1914 were watched closely in East Asia, where many believed that the war held the key to the future of the continent. Japan, in particular, saw the war as an opportunity to improve its position at the expense of Germany, which Tokyo quickly appreciated would not be able to defend its Pacific positions. On August 7, 1914, the British government asked for Japan’s assistance with securing Pacific sealanes. On August 23, Japan declared war against Germany, and began operations against German territorial possessions in the Pacific.

Japan quickly seized this opportunity by laying siege to the German Concession at Tsingtao (Qingdao). The primary German forces in the area consisted of a cruiser squadron commanded by Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee, but when the war began, Spee and his cruisers were touring German island possessions. Seeing the writing on the wall, Spee determined to avoid the Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy, and started a long set of adventures that would end in the Falkland Islands.

If you really dig arguments between Japanese and Chinese nationalists, you will LOVE the comment thread on this one.

Academy of the Underrated

[ 88 ] June 20, 2014 |

Tony Gwynn is significantly underrated.

O’Connor on Rand

[ 293 ] June 19, 2014 |

Not that it’s surprising that any writer or reader with even reasonable taste would reject Ayn Rand as horrible writing, but still, Flannery O’Connor in 1960:

I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.

On the other hand, Rand actually liked Spillane so, well, whatever.

APSA

[ 28 ] June 19, 2014 |

The annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, APSA, takes place every Labor Day weekend, beginning on Thursday and going through Sunday. When I lived in Seattle, I this annoyed me primarily because of the conflict with Bumbershoot, an excellent music festival that took place over that holiday weekend. I’ve occasionally heard people grumble about the timing of the conference, for a variety of reasons–it created more conflicts than necessary, the cost of flights, trains and hotel rooms are generally a bit higher, and the timing of the conference often meant having to cancel a class during the first week of the term for many people on the Semester calendar. I’m inclined to agree with all three of these arguments, and as such view the scheduling of APSA as suboptimal. So when I saw this petition circulating on facebook, I figured why not and clicked through with the intent to add my name. After reading it, however, I decided not to do so. Reasons #1 and #3 are sound, but #2 is not:

2)  The Academic Job Market.  Due to its timing, the APSA Annual Meeting does not play as useful a role in the academic job market as it might.  Whereas other disciplines have systematically incorporated initial interviews into their annual meetings, the APSA Annual Meeting falls awkwardly before most application deadlines, which makes it difficult for most departments effectively to screen applicants at the Annual Meeting.  Enhancing APSA’s role in the job market would be beneficial to both applicants and hiring departments.

A number of disciplines, including economics, english, history, and philosophy, have followed this model, where initial interviews for tenure track jobs took place at the annual meeting. This is, as I understand it, typically a “long short list” of candidates, maybe 7-12 people. After these short interviews, 2-4 top candidates go for a much longer and more involved second round interview in the form of a campus visit. My understanding is that both philosophy and history are seeing a move away from this model, using skype/phone interviews for the first round. Most political science departments go straight to the campus interview, or do a round of phone interviews first. I’m quite skeptical of the assertion of the superiority of this model; no evidence is given that a 30 minute interview in a hotel room in the middle of a conference provides particularly useful information above and beyond what is already in the application packet and could be ascertained through a phone interview. But beyond that this strikes me as a terrible idea for two reasons. First, it degrades the experience of the conference itself; making inherently miserable and stressful for all graduate students attending. Second, and more importantly, it imposes a significant cost on the many broke graduate students (to say nothing of adjuncts and the unemployed) who may be applying for jobs. Even with judicious cost-cutting measures, the costs of attendance can easily exceed a thousand dollars. Many–perhaps most–graduate students do not have notable conference travel support from their departments or universities. (At UW, the policy for PhD Students was that we could be reimbursed for airfare only for up to three conferences during our time in the PhD program. I know plenty of people who would have been happy to have that level of support). Their educational debt is likely sufficiently crippling without imposing a $1,000 cost for being seriously considered for a job. This is a particularly acute concern when the search for a tenure track job often takes several years, with the first few years out of graduate school spent in visiting or temporary faculty positions with little conference travel support (and, of course, many job seekers will never actually find a tenure track position). Third, a good part of actual value of conferences for graduate students is an opportunity to present and get some feedback on your work, but APSA is often off the table because it’s the most competitive conference in American political science, with acceptance rates in some sections as low as 10%. Graduate students would be more likely to get this benefit at a smaller regional conference where they’re more likely to get on the program (and smaller conferences are often quite a bit cheaper to attend).

I’d be happy to see APSA moved back a few weeks, but moving toward this job market model strikes me as a plan for which the costs significantly outweigh any possible benefits. I won’t be signing this petition.

A simple plan

[ 50 ] June 19, 2014 |

The undergraduate who had been writing poems about killing people showed up for his appointment in my office carrying a black canvas backpack. He was slim and dark-haired, his mouth torqued into an uneasy smile. I had spoken several times about his violent ramblings to the campus police and to the university’s office of mental health, and this was what they came up with: I should invite the student to my office and calmly begin a conversation with the following question: “Do you have a plan to harm yourself or anyone else?”

They didn’t specify a course of action if the answer was yes.

My office is small and square, with glass on three sides; an oversize desk takes up most of the floor space. I seated the undergrad and his backpack in the corner, leaving the door ajar so he was partly behind it. In the open doorway, I seated the student’s graduate teaching instructor — a shy, soft-spoken young woman working on her master of fine arts in poetry. It was she who had reported to me, her faculty supervisor, that despite clear and repeated instructions, the undergrad was writing things that had nothing to do with class assignments — things that made the other students afraid.

She was to accompany me in the subtle art of interrogation, and the two of us had made an agreement: At any sign of a problem, she was to sprint out of the office, assuming that I would be immediately behind her. In order to follow us, the student would have to squeeze somewhat awkwardly between my desk and the propped-open door. . .

I realized I was avoiding a return to The Question. Perhaps stalling for time, I asked about hobbies. What did the student do when he wasn’t studying? Did he have an outlet for relieving stress, maybe something outdoors? Yes, he said, the backpack slouched against his leg like a faithful dog — guns. He’d been taking lessons at a shooting range.

This doesn’t seem like the sort of intervention that should be outsourced (insourced?) by a university’s ever-expanding administration to the school’s faculty, although it doesn’t surprise me that it was.

Page 28 of 1,840« First...10202627282930405060...Last »
  • Switch to our mobile site