The Illusion of Independence and the Myth of the Progressive Voter: an Example of Democratic Doublethink

It is a commonplace of establishmentarian political commentary that the ranks of American independent voters are grossly inflated, as the majority of independents end up casting their ballots for the stooges of the Democratic and Republican parties. Rarely, however, is it ever pointed out that the same can be said of American progressives, liberals, conservatives and libertarians. If the majority of self-described progressives and liberals vote Democrat and the majority of self-described conservatives and libertarians vote Republican, we can safely conclude that, in practice, very few if any of these voters should be considered progressive, liberal, conservative or libertarian. Indeed, a solid case can be made that these voters are in fact reactionary corporatists. How could we conclude otherwise from their support for the reproduction of the ruling Democrat-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government?

Consider, in this context, an opinion piece by Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post. In the column, the "progressive" editor and publisher of The Nation magazine appropriates strategic advice from "conservative" activist Richard Viguerie, arguing that progressives must maintain their independence from the Democratic Party, just as Viguerie counseled that Tea Party activists should maintain their independence from the GOP. The great irony, however, is that both columnists essentially argue against independence from the ruling parties. Vanden Heuvel writes:
[Viguerie] urges activists to stay independent and remember that "the biggest mistake of the conservative movement was becoming an appendage of the Republican Party." At the same time, he warns against the "third-party trap," which would split the vote. Instead, he counsels, the movement should run "principled" candidates in the primaries and support the most like-minded main-party candidates surviving for the general . . .

this advice makes good sense in the context of the progressive movement. Progressives revived liberalism and Democrats by organizing independently, opposing the Iraq war, demanding action on global warming, challenging Wall Street's excesses and exposing the conservatives' misrule of the government they scorned . . . Now, with Democrats in power, we should not allow a popular president whom we helped elect to co-opt that energy. Progressives should remain independent . . .
I have exposed the contradictions and holes in Viguerie's strategic logic before. See, for instance, the Fractal Fallacy and the Illogic of Two-Party Ideology. Vanden Heuvel's case for progressive independence is in fact a recipe for the production of co-dependency and political pretend-ependence. Take the three examples she supplies. Independent progressives may have "revived the Democrats" with their opposition to the Iraq war, and their calls for action on global warming and against Wall Street's excesses. But the Democrats have expanded the war and done nothing to combat global warming or the excesses of Wall Street. This is the paradox of issue advocacy in the context of the two-party state and duopoly system of government. Paul Rosenberg has made the case for issue advocacy within the ruling parties in the following terms:
one should look for purity and unity of purpose in issue activism--and devote one's energy accordingly. Make the party a vehicle for advancing your issue activism, do not expect it to be more than that . . .
The paradox is clear, however: so long as the party does not achieve the outcome you desire on the given issue, it is assured of your support, even as it goes about enforcing the agenda of the reactionary corporatist interests that the ruling parties actively represent. This is as obvious from the experience of pro-life activists within the Republican Party as it is from anti-war advocates within the Democratic Party.

Following Viguerie, vanden Heuvel argues that progressives should support progressive primary challengers of entrenched incumbent Democrats, but then counsels that they support Democrats whether they are progressive or not. This is not independence, it is the very definition of political co-dependence. In yesterday's Democratic primary election for the US Senate race in Ohio, progressive favorite Jennifer Brunner was defeated by Lee Fisher. Vanden Heuvel would have everyone believe that Fisher is now the default "progressive" candidate in the race. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Socialist Party candidate Dan La Botz has written open letters to Brunner and her supporters, urging them not to give up the "fight for their principles" by supporting yet another specimen of the Democrats' corporatist "patronage machine" in the general election. That is progressive independence.

The condition of political independence today is practical independence from the Democratic and Republican Parties as such: support third party and independent alternatives to the false choice offered up by the political class and ruling establishment.

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