Quo Vadis, Democrats?

Columbus, Ohio

Thank you, thank you, thank you for L.R. Runner’s “How to Save the Democratic Party” [Dec. 24/31, 2012]. I absolutely agree. Special thanks to Runner for noting the damage done to the party by its current hero Bill Clinton. He took pride in giving away the party’s influence and abandoning its principles, helping to start the United States on the downward path from which it will not return soon or easily. The talk of Hillary Clinton as a 2016 presidential candidate makes my blood run cold.


New Paltz, N.Y.

Is this where The Nation has sunk to? A cover story on how to “save the Democratic Party”? Really? This is the new “progressive” rallying cry? Shame.


Kigali, Rwanda

Thanks, Nation, for L.R. Runner’s passionate commentary on the state of the Democratic Party. More than one of the responses critiqued Runner for expecting an aggressively progressive party in the absence of a social movement pushing it to be so, as the labor and civil rights movements did in the 1930s and ’60s. I have to ask if these folks missed the vibrant demonstrations in Seattle in 1999 and after, the antiwar demonstrations that attracted millions into the streets in 2003, and the Occupy movement that blossomed in the wake of the 2008 Wall Street–created financial crisis. The movement is there; the Democrats just don’t seem to be listening. The party helped gut banking regulation and voted for the Iraq invasion en masse, to name just two times the party tacked in the opposite direction from progressives in the street.


Richmond, Va.

I made it through two pages of “How to Save the Democratic Party” before the yawns set in. The Democratic Party is just what its members want it to be, despite whatever fantasy L.R. Runner has for it.

The best thing the party can do for itself and the country is to marginalize the nativist yahoos who dominate the Republican Party. It can do that by coalition-building in Texas and Arizona, not engaging in a “showdown” between its “reformist” (read: do-nothing) and “accommodationist” (read: politically realistic) elements. Instead of helping the GOP by fighting among ourselves, how much better to take their electoral crown jewels while they eat one another alive. Runner may settle for being a “second party.” I want to be first.


Embarrass, Minn.

L.R. Runner’s subhead that “America needs an unapologetically partisan party” is right on. The Democratic Party is not a vehicle for real change. Its simpering bipartisanship abhors hints that our sacred economic system must be considered the culprit. Capitalism is so deeply embedded in the gray matter of most Americans that it is unthinkable that it could be the cause of our waning economy.


Bremerton, Wash.

I agree with a lot of what L.R. Runner says. The progressives in the Democratic Party need to take the party back. I disagree with those who want to give the party the credit for the progressive actions of the past few years. with its millions of members, along with dozens of other progressive organizations, have been very active doing what the Democratic Party should be doing. Bring back Howard Dean!


Bradenton, Fla.

L.R. Runner says, “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.” Readers should remember that Democrats won the popular vote for the House but lost the House itself because of aggressive redistricting by Republicans. 


Runner Replies

En Route, USA

Too many comments on my “How to Save the Democratic Party”—published with it in the magazine, appearing at and now on the letters page—confirm the adage that in politics people, including progressives, it turns out, stand where they sit.

The heads and other representatives of well-established progressive groups, from Congress, a state third party and a university to “grassroots” and “social” movements, flatly reject my call for a liberal-progressive struggle to take over the Democratic Party establishment. They assure us instead that they have already accomplished a lot and will achieve even more sometime in the future.

Even apart from their self-referential tone and considerable exaggeration of “victories” on November 6, their argument is unpersuasive—and perhaps a bit uncaring. They can’t explain the Democratic Party’s longstanding complicity in the bipartisan policies that have wrecked tens of millions of American lives. And their assurances that their “progressive infrastructure,” “grassroots organizing expertise” and “legislative sausage-making” will eventually prevail, “slowly and subtly,” will not save more tens of millions of our fellow citizens facing the same fate. In this progressive long run, all of these gravely endangered Americans, like all of us, to recall Keynes, will be dead.

As for historical objections to my manifesto, unlike Dick Flacks I don’t know all the parties that “exist on the planet,” but his odd assertion that “a political party, even if it is controlled by the government,” cannot “lead major change” misses much of the history of the twentieth century. And the historian Michael Kazin’s fear of “tearing apart the existing Democratic coalition,” referring (somewhat misleadingly) to 1972, seems to have missed Benjamin Todd Jealous’s documented observation: “It would be folly for Democrats to assume that their majority coalitions will continue to hold in key swing states.”

Instead, let’s heed those Nation commentators, including Jim Hightower, Fred Harris, Andy Schmookler and Amy Dean, several of whom speak from personal experience, bitter and sweet: progressives should “hate losing when we win”; adopt “militancy” against “Democrats as Chamberlain”; and rebel against being “captives” in their own party.

A great twentieth-century transformational leader once remarked, reflecting on his own struggles, that radical reform always begins as heresy. In our context, I’d say it means that too many American progressives aren’t progressive enough.


Thoughts on the Good Book

New Berlin, Pa.

Re Christian Parenti’s “The Book That Launched a Movement” [Dec. 24/31]: Wingnut foghorns like George Will like to repeat the Margaret Thatcher quote, “The problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money [to spend].” After reading about the book The Limits to Growth, I thought of a rebuttal (and you can quote me): “The problem with capitalism is that eventually you run out of planet [to wreck].”


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