The article below is not a Nation editorial or a solicited piece but a manifesto we received from an occasional contributor. We are publishing it in the hope of stirring discussion of one of the most important political issues of our time: how to transform what the author, who uses a pseudonym to avoid personalizing that issue, calls the “bipartisan” Democratic Party into an organization capable of bringing about desperately needed progressive change in America. You can read responses, including those from Keith Ellison, Dorian T. Warren, Benjamin Todd Jealous, and more, here. —The Editors
American progressives and principled liberals need to face an essential truth: the Democratic Party, as now constituted, is no longer an agency for realizing their ideals.
Consider the larger implications of the November 6 elections, which took place in economic and social conditions that should have produced landslide victories for even a moderately populist party. In the two most representative elections—the direct popular vote for the presidency and the House of Representatives—the Democratic Party won the former by less than 4 percent and lost the latter, as it did in 2010, to the most reactionary Republican Party in modern times.
The problem is not President Obama or any other individual leader but the Democratic Party itself. Much of its establishment, from Washington to most of the state capitals, has long since become a party of “bipartisan compromise” with an increasingly right-wing Republicanism, particularly on economic issues with great social consequences—as though America’s true course now lies midway between abolishing the achievements of the New Deal and Great Society and extending them fully in our times. Too many members of the party’s nationwide hierarchy are closer, ideologically and politically, to Wall Street than to Main Street—to the corporate, rich and powerful than to the stricken middle class, the increasingly impoverished working class (and the diminished and embattled unions that protect it), and the unemployed and perpetually poor.
If more proof is needed, the Democratic Party has shown itself to be incapable of providing the moral imperatives, policy ideas, broad popular support or elected officials necessary to lead the nation out of its worst economic and social calamity in eighty years, now in its fifth year of millions of wrecked lives. Indeed, the party’s complicity in the crisis is only somewhat less than that of Republicans unconditionally devoted to only one human right: the unrestrained accumulation of corporate and private wealth.
A new party—not a third party, but a real second party representing authentic alternatives, as befits a democracy—is therefore urgently needed. Fortunately, the nucleus of such a party already exists, however captive-like and timid, inside today’s Democratic Party. (The late Senator Paul Wellstone called it “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”) For this nucleus to grow, come to power and lead a new reformation of American capitalism, it must liberate itself by occupying and transforming the Democratic Party, as insurgents have done in other co-opted parties that outlived their historical mission—even if this means bipartisan Democrats leaving to become Republicans or go into the third-party wilderness.
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The political bankruptcy of the Democratic Party, its historic achievements consigned to the distant past, is not a recent development. The party’s role in the making of the current crisis speaks for itself. For forty years—that is, under both Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses—the nation’s wealth has been put into fewer and fewer hands (the richest 1 percent now possess more wealth than the less prosperous 90 percent), while ever more people have been relegated to poverty or rendered unable to maintain their hard-earned place in the middle class.
Hence today’s shameful American realities (and new exceptionalism): rates of family income inequality, child poverty, infant mortality and incarceration that are greater—and opportunities for quality education and upward social mobility that are less—than in almost any other modern democracy. The two defining tenets of the American dream are being lost, if they have not been lost already: that most children have a fair chance of achieving more than their parents did; and that determination and hard work will assure a successful and secure life.