PUBLISHED : SAT, 12 JUL 2014, 06:25 PM
UPDATED : MON, 14 JUL 2014, 07:45 PM
Response to "Nothing Left" by Adolph Reed, Jr.
There's a way forward, to break through the stranglehold that neoliberals have over the Democratic Party, but, to do it, leftists need to leave the Democratic Party.
In "Nothing Left," an essay by Adolph Reed, Jr., in the March issue of Harper's, Mr. Reed, described how the Democratic Party fails leftists in American politics. More or less, he described a Democratic Party that believed in working within a broken political system that affirms neoliberalism over the party's former New Deal politics. There are too many payoffs in the current broken political system for the Democrats to want reforms. Following is a response and commentary to Mr. Reed's essay.
For years, activists in New York City have been trying to fight back against the influences of Big Business interests in local politics, but activists are stopped by party politics that want to see the correct Democrat elected into public office. Activists play a greater role in trying to bring about reforms, precisely because most voters do not participate in government, much less vote.
In the mayoral election won by Bill de Blasio, only 24 percent of registered voters turned out to cast ballots, a rate of participation described as a record low by The New York Times. This compares with a 25 percent voter turnout in Detroit, a city in bankruptcy. A sense of voter powerlessness to fight back against the corruptive influence of money and lobbyists in politics is succeeding in suppressing voter turnout. "Three other cities showed an even deeper level of apathy. Atlanta had 17.2 percent turnout, Houston only 13.2 percent and Miami just 11 percent,” according to one report. This compares with an incredible recent peak in voter turnout of 93 percent in the 1953 New York City mayoral election. Voters have come to believe that their participation doesn’t make a difference, and in the age of the corrupt Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, they are almost right.
The lack of voter participation means that activists play a larger than normal role in how political, legal, and economic issues get put on the social agenda. We know that activists are passionate, because they are driven by motivations to change the system when they take up causes. One consequence to how how we compensate for the lack of voter participation is that the same activists keep showing up over and over again for a variety of issues. In the face of such great voter apathy, some activists speak of inactive voters as uneducated, because if voters truly appreciated what was at stake in the broken political system, voters would get involved. Voters need to become activated, so that they can claim their rightful role in overhauling the broken political system. Otherwise, going forward, as in for the past decades, some activists (or, some political operatives is more like it) will take for granted that only activists or political operatives will know what reforms are needed, because only activists and political operatives know the lay of the corrupt political landscape.
A huge contributing factor that keeps such super-majority percentages of voters inactive is the failure of mainstream media to fully report the truth about the depths of corruption in how elected officials run the business of government. And activists and political operatives know the truth about how corrupt the system is, but they don't do much of anything to challenge the press to fully report the truth about corruption. Somehow, the same small numbers of activists and political operatives have yet to overcome the limitations imposed by the failed mainstream media, and this keeps inactive voters in the dark.
Compounding this dysfunction is the fact that some activists readily accept some aspects of the corrupt political landscape, and these activists adjust themselves accordingly to the corruption, as opposed to fighting it. Once they play by the rules of the broken political system, some activists adopt downsized scopes of reforms to make nice-nice with the power players of the broken political system. To varying degrees, Mr. Reed and others have previously described this phenomenon.
Where is the Democratic Party in all this ? Democrats only care about winning elections, not rolling out fundamental reforms to overhaul the broken political system. Brining back online the inactive voters doesn't matter to Democrats, because elections can be still be won without the participation of inactive voters. Making matters worse, the Democratic Party uses what Jane Hamsher describes as "veal pens" to proverbially lock-up activists and nonprofit organizations in a state of atrophy to deescalate demands for political reforms from the political left.
Except for a few brave souls, the mainstream media buys into these and other deceptions of the Democratic Party for several reasons. Some politicians, their political operatives, and their lobbyists employ teams of people to feed the media only approved talking points. Some reporters make the mistake of thinking that they have become "friends" with politicians and their enablers, losing their objectivity in the process. The influence of of corporate owners and editors slant reporting coverage according to suitable idealogical packaging. The media has often been describe to move with a pack mentality, they themselves not wanting to appear to be dissenting from their peers. And sometimes, the few brave souls, who do report the truth about government and political corruption, face a loss of access to each of sources, political gossip, or other professional privileges. Many times, this retaliation plays out privately, as the spurned reporter tries to do damage control out of the view and judgement of their peers and possible future employers. Given that Democratic Party insiders and political operatives know this, it is not difficult for Democrats to try to control the media.
In respect of the media, several important things have happened in the time leading up to, and since, Mr. de Blasio was elected as mayor that can act as reality checks on the City Hall press corps. First, while LGBT activists were rejecting the "identity politics" of former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in favor of substance, Mr. de Blasio rolled out his family, offering a "biographical narrative" to take center stage in his cornerstone promise to "end the stop-and-frisk era," a promise that was devoid of truth, in turns out, when Mr. de Blasio move the goal posts to "stop the over-use of stop-and-frisk" with the subsequent appointment of William Bratton as police commissioner, a move which the media largely did not challenge as being incongruent with Mr. de Blasio's campaign promises.
At a lengthy public forum of some of the city's top political reporters held after last year's Democratic mayoral primary election, some reporters openly disavowed any duty to vet candidates for public office. As a consequence of this attitude, many reporters admitted that they had failed to scrutinize Mr. de Blasio before last year's Democratic primary race. For those few New Yorkers planning to vote, relying on the press for information was a dangerous proposition, because the city's top political reporters were saying that voters were on their own to make sense of the broken political system.
Resistance to reforms that borders on needing to keep the system corruptible
Who can forget Rep. Nancy Pelosi's three-part interview (Part 1 ; Part 2 ; Part 3) revealing interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in which Rep. Pelosi refused to come clean about the Democratic Party's reliance on Big Money campaign contributions, amongst other controversies. Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to clean up Albany of corruption, but he refused to close a gaping loophole through which Big Money campaign donors funnel campaign contributions to elected officials as a way to control the government's agenda. One of Mayor de Blasio's closest political operatives, Scott Levenson, faces what has been described as multiple possible investigations due to allegations of campaign finance violations, but the mayor refuses to update the city's campaign finance laws, as he promised he would during last year's mayoral campaign. Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito hired lobbyists in a shady campaign to become the City Council speaker, pledging to turn the page from the corrupt record of her predecessor, but, now that she's in power, she's waging an effort to take control over the city's Board of Elections, "giving her power and control of a host of patronage jobs," according to The New York Daily News.
Other issues, like how Gov. Cuomo was carrying out a state-sponsored plan to close hospitals across New York City, were never reported in the mainstream media with the full truth about what was truly happening. Even when Mr. de Blasio was reportedly described as trying to save Long Island College Hospital when he was only a candidate for mayor, he never fully tied the wave of hospital closings back to Gov. Cuomo's Medicaid Redesign Team. When the media did work itself up into a frenzy, like when one of the mayor's political supporters, Bishop Orlando Findlayter, was let out of jail on account of alleged intervention from City Hall, the mayor blocked the release of possibly damaging (or incriminating) evidence. At the conclusion of last year, The New York Times opined that no matter the real reason former Council Speaker Quinn lost the mayoral race, it wasn't because of any "major ethical lapses," contrary to the multiple examples of ethical lapses chronicled in Roots of Betrayal : The Ethics of Christine Quinn. One way or another, the corrupt system finds a way to keep the truth from being reported.
Whenever the media is interested in covering a story, like with Bishop Findlayter's arrest, the government denies requests made under freedom of information laws. Some political bloggers and government reform advocates believe that Mayor de Blasio's denial of freedom of information law requests for Bishop Findlayter's arrest report, for example, is in keeping with the Obama administration's pattern of denying requests made under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Amongst the many outstanding FOIA requests pending before the Obama administration is a request for records about the government's vindictive prosecution of activists, including the prosecution of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal hero, Lt. Daniel Choi. It's easier for the press to politically report that the Obama administration is denying FOIA requests than it is to show how the Obama administration has been targeting activists for vindictive prosecution.
The political climate facing government reform activists within the Democratic Party is so severe, that pressuring the Democratic Party for reforms routinely involves backlash, sometimes in the form of political retaliation. This environment of hostility is indicative that the Democratic Party doesn't stand for reforms. That is why you see political operatives, a/k/a "Yes Men," ring fence Democratic Party politicians from criticism. When grassroots activists make demands for reforms, the Yes Men deceptively water-down those demands for reform into downsized requests that can be easily met with empty rhetoric.
The fairytale life of elected officials
Part of the never-ending election strategy for the Democratic Party, indeed for any political party, is to establish and then maintain their leaders as likable characters. And so begins the requirement that followers can never question leaders, for, if one makes this irreconcilable error of questing a leader, then one gets shown the door. The Democratic Party spends millions on campaign consultants, lobbyists, focus groups, opinion polls, other messaging, and public relations that the party will not tolerate insiders, who undo these expensive media machinations. This is why voters get duped into buying the party line. Activists, who think they can operate an inside strategy, must first pledge to operate from a place of compromise -- there can be no criticisms of elected officials. This is why there is no room for dissent in expensive modern-day politics. Even when most progressives support immigration reform, for example, the Democrats, under Mayor de Blasio, go to such extremes as only allowing supporters of the city's new identification cards speak at official City Council hearings. Free speech and open debate go out the window. Regrettably, whole classes of nonprofit executives and activists sell-out their communities in exchange for insider access privileges.
Even before Mayor de Blasio took office, former Council Speaker Quinn had established new norms of what it meant to be a neoliberal Democrat in New York City. Her relationship with real estate developers, chambers of commerce-like groups like the Partnership for New York City, and big money campaign donors like Rudin Management Company, have served as a pattern for Mayor de Blasio to follow as he seeks constant approval from Big Business interests. Moving in the same Big Business interest circles of former Speaker Quinn, Mayor de Blasio perpetuates the corrupt nexus of insider access and and a culture of backroom power deals for which activists once criticized former Speaker Quinn for having embraced, but the press doesn’t report things this way.
Having made his Black family the core of Mayor de Blasio's identity prevents critics from raising race as an issue, even as some of Mayor de Blasio's policies have unfair racial overtones. Look at how easily Mayor de Blasio sold out on his pledge to reform policing in New York City when he authorized the police to undertake military-style invasions of public housing projects -- public housing projects -- and blaming some of the poor for the desperate lives that some of them live on account of the broken political system that never addresses the underlying conditions, which cause that desperation, a broken political system which Mayor de Blasio so very well represents. Police raids are sinister forms of behavior modification that blames victims for being poor, and that the targets of these policing actions are largely people of color goes unexamined by the media and by long-time activists, who have, by now, adapted to the new political realities of no expectations of reforms under the Democratic mayor. That the new police commissioner has promised to keep using the racist and classist "broken windows theory" of policing means that the mayor was all talk about police reform. Now that race is not a safe subject for examination, the media fails to look at how political operatives undertook efforts last year to manufacture a spike in voter turn-out in Black voting districts as a way to help elect the next mayor.
Whenever the mayor does find himself under criticism from his political left, he relieves the pressure by spouting the right buzzwords, talking points about how he's a "progressive." Mayor de Blasio likes to tout his record of having signed new labor contracts with the municipal unions. NEWSFLASH : Any Democratic mayor had to give the unions new contracts. It's not rocket science to do what the unions, which elected you, tell you to do. The left, whom Mayor de Blasio will not accommodate, gets "trashed" the way activists in other social movements were once rolled over for not adapting to the corrupt status quo.
Seeing the political landscape for what it is, first ; and then organizing for reforms, second
One can most visibly see this dysfunctional dynamic play out between the Democratic Party, the mayor, nonprofit groups, political operatives, lobbyists, and activists in the police reform movement. Inside this dysfunction, nonprofit organizations and their executives play by the rules of the broken political system. They lock themselves -- and others -- up in "veal pens," where the goal of the broken political system goal is for activists to atrophy and waste away. If one tries to expose how some nonprofit groups are duplicitous in this dysfunction, then it is as if one has kicked a proverbial hornets' next -- one is going to get stung for pulling back the curtain on this political charade. And the veal pens and the stingings are very effective to condition activists to obey the rules of the broken political system. The totality of this dysfunctional political dynamic is given to us by a broken political system in which Democrats fully participate, that goes to great lengths -- indeed, any length -- to avoid reforms.
Besides Big Business interests, the Democratic Party has become beholden to a class of "professional" political operatives, campaign consultants, and lobbyists, such as Patrick Gaspard, Scott Levenson, George Arzt, Jonathan Rosen, Dan Levitan, and others, making it impossible to enact reforms within the Democratic Party given these co-opting political gatekeepers. Matters are so corrupt that this class of consultants and lobbyists become entrenched and form a permanent, unaccountable form of backroom government insiders. Helping these permanent government insiders stay in power is the fact that that they have learned to exploit the campaign regulations that are meant to make electoral contests open and fair. When one accounts for the added role of fundraising and bundling of campaign donations by these permanent government insiders, one can see how figures with significant political power operate in backrooms, with no accountability to voters. These permanent government insiders are also largely responsible for removing the ethic of public service from those serving in public office. And those activists, who blog or write about these truths, are labeled fringe activists as a way to marginalize and disenfranchise muckraking bloggers. At every point, the broken political system tries to discredit critics, who are only calling for an overhaul to end government and political corruption.
One of the major reasons why leftists cannot reform the broken political system is that the Democratic Party has instituted a culture that prevents leftists from holding Democratic officials accountable for reforms. Activists are marginalized by the Democratic Party, a viewpoint more or less shared by Mr. Reed, forced into the political fringes, then accused of running outside pressure political tactics against corrupt or inept Democrats -- when an outside pressure politics strategy is the only approach that the broken political system leaves activists. The system blames activists for exhibiting disenfranchised behavior when it is the broken political system that causes this disenfranchisement in the first place !
The only hope for overhauling the broken political system, in my opinion, is for all of the inactive voters to become activated. The current system, where the same small pool of activists, some of whom organize from a place of privilege, move from one issue to another, in "solidarity," after each "crisis moment," as Mr. Reed pointed out, isn't enough to overhaul this system. It's not just the numbers that a successful overhaul needs, but new ideas, new voices, and enough of them -- so that the people represent themselves in the process to bring about necessary reforms.
Contrary to what Democrats, Big Business interests, and permanent government insiders would have voters believe, it will be O.K. if voters participate in their own reform movement.
And there's more to civic engagement than just voting, as it should be. People need to find more and more ways to have a say in how the government conducts business on our behalf. Voters need to create new groups, new organizations, through which they can exert new pressures on the system for reform. These groups must be new, in order to circumvent the stranglehold that Democrats have on unions, nonprofit organizations, and other political clubs or groups.
The first step to start organizing is to vote out the highest figurehead neoliberal Democrat, which would be New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and vote in a Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins, who can break the corrupt two-party hegemony in American politics. Voting in a Green Party governor would demonstrate that the government can survive the loss of a center-right Democrat to a true leftist. Considering the corrupt political landscape, this is actually the only way our government can survive.
The second step to start organizing is for voters to establish a new relationship with how they get the real truth about government and political corruption. This either means challenging reporters to fully report the truth, or else it means supporting new platforms or structures of muckraking-reporting that can come in out of the fringes and fully go mainstream.