The Primary Delusion: Reactionary Accomodationism on the Left and Right

At The Brad Blog, Ernest Canning writes: "Progressives of America – Unite!" Canning's piece is motivated by concerns over the potential "splintering of the left" in the face of the Obama administration and Democratic congressional majority's clear representation of corporate interests over those of the people of the United States. Canning delineates a progressive political spectrum stretching from third party activists to Democratic lesser-evilists, writing:
On one end of the Progressive spectrum we find individuals like Ralph Nader who see little or no difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties. Both Parties represent the interests of Empire, the military-industrial complex, Wall Street and corporate America, though one is more ideologically driven than the other. In their view, both Parties compete for the same corporate campaign funds, with a greater percentage of those funds currently flowing to Democrats because, in Barack Obama's enchanting eloquence, corporate America has found an individual who could best take from the poor and give to the rich while convincing us all that he intends otherwise.

Their electoral politics response is to avoid the "lesser-evil" trap and turn to Third Parties. In terms of electoral success, Third Party politics in the U.S. have historically amounted to an exercise in futility.

At the other end of the spectrum, one finds Progressives who are wringing their hands; cringing at the thought that the "rhetoric" will hurt Progressive chances in the next election. They fear a return to the insanity of the eight years that proceeded the 2008 election. Theirs is an exercise in denial that evades the core question as to whether it can be assumed that a particular candidate represents anything other than corporate America simply because they place a (D) at the end of their name.
Canning argues that neither of these tendencies offers "a viable solution to the Progressive electoral dilemma." Instead he proposes a so-called "inside/outside" model, which would seek to combat insufficiently progressive Democrats via primary challenges:
there is an alternative. It requires recognition by otherwise astute Progressives, like Ralph Nader, that the Democratic Party is not a monolith. There exists, today, a relatively new (5 year old) organization, whose policy positions mirror those to be found in, for example, the Green Party. That organization is the Progressive Democrats of America. It is an organization which has sought to take on corporate Democrats, like Jane Harmon (D-CA), by challenging them in Democratic primaries --- an organization which, recognizing that knowledge is power, seeks to mobilize and inform the grass roots.

It is a good strategy, but one that must be expanded. What is required is a solidified Left. By taking on corporate Democrats in the primaries, rather than as Third Party candidates, individuals like Ralph Nader could eliminate the "lesser-evil" trap that drives so many to vote for a Democrat, any Democrat, for fear of the next Richard B. Cheney on the horizon.
Canning thus suffers from what I have previously called "the primary delusion." He implicitly criticizes the independent determination that there is "little or no difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties," but ironically his solution to the progressive "electoral dilemma" is exactly the same as Rush Limbaugh's solution to the conservative "electoral dilemma": work within the two-party system, change it from the inside via primary challenges. Is it still necessary to point out the fatal flaw in this strategy? Any political strategy predicated upon working within the confines of the Democratic and/or Republican Parties is incapable of addressing the single greatest political problem facing the people of the United States, progressive and conservative alike: the two-party state and the Democratic-Republican duopoly system of government. Waging a primary challenge is neither conservative nor progressive, it is reactionary accomodationism. In conceding to a primary challenge over independent opposition, you concede everything, from the outset, defeated by the one party before you even confront the other. Progressives of America should indeed unite . . . with leftists, libertarians, conservatives and moderates: to defeat the duopoly!


Samuel Wilson said...

Progressives and Conservatives alike seem to suffer from an unacknowledged complacency. Their arguments against independent candidates or independent party formation rest on the premise that there are voters who will never be dissuaded from voting Democratic or Republican. As I suggested before, that premise rests on circular reasoning: people refuse to quit the big parties because they assume too many other people will never quit them. The real problem is that too few people are willing to pay the likely price of initial failure for the sake of their principles.

d.eris said...

I think your "circular reasoning" point is exactly right, though I'm not sure that it's exactly an example of circular reasoning. Circular reasoning is apparent in the brute fact argument, i.e. we have to work within the two party system because it's a two party system. The unwillingness to engage in independent politics on the basis of the fact that other people are unwilling to do so is an argument in favor of political dependency on the basis of the assertion that most people are politically co-dependent with the major parties. The latter isn't even really true. On election day, the majority of people stay home rather than vote for Republicans and Democrats.

Ironically, the unwillingness to pay the "price of initial failure" of independent politics reveals a willingness to pay the price of continual failure within duopolist politics.