Ben Boyce


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Voting your conscience

Posted on October 27, 2016 by Ben Boyce

The 2016 Presidential election has been like a giant national MRI, which has exposed the decayed structure of American democracy like a flash exposure going off in a dimly lit basement room. It has been deeply demoralizing to witness the abysmal level of civic consciousness that has been revealed. America needs to repeat Civics 101.

The mainstream media (MSM) has proven unfit for the task of serving as the Fourth Estate. We need the mythic frame, not a tedious grind. Learning how to think about politics with an historical awareness and an appreciation of the norms of a democratic society is an important civic skill. This epic cultural failure is obvious on the Right, with a candidate who is breaking the 240-year tradition of the ‘peaceful transfer of power.’ I wish that this grave breech of protocol were the only problem.

Many citizens, who did not get proper civics instruction in school, were never taught the distinction between a moral statement and a political stance. That’s a piece of connective intellectual tissue that can be grafted in, so that people can learn to do politics strategically and not just reactively. When we can demonstrate a pathway between present electoral actions and future political goals, then we can bypass the either/or type of thinking that has a lot of cultural progressives politically immobilized.

Unfortunately, a significant chunk of the Sanders supporters have spun their disappointment into a conspiracy-fueled hate-fest. Please, keep a sense of perspective about the 2016 election. We cannot afford a scorched earth strategy that results in depressed voter turnout and another eight years of gridlock, with a crippled Democratic president and a rabid, obstructionist Republican Congress. When I go on a lot of the Bernie 2016 sites, they trash-talk Hillary like she is the second coming of Caligula.

Really? This descent into impotent rage and dark conspiracy theories is a prime example of the mental colonization that has driven much of the Left into the self-defeating politics of individual moral purity branding rather than engaging in the constructive task of building structural progressive coalitions. Clinton is a standard issue centrist Democrat who actually has done the homework to qualify for the job. We can work with that. My motto for 2016: “Hillary’s opportunism is our opportunity!”

The potential silver lining of the Trump campaign is that he appears to be detonating the Republican Party, driving the white nationalist radioactive core base into a splintered regional rump party (the Neo-Confederate Insurrectionist Party) while significant elements of the Republican donor class are fleeing for the safety and stability of the big center-right tent Hillary is erecting. This opens a political space for a new political party to capture the nascent progressive movement that the Sanders campaign demonstrated was a major force in America, one that does not yet have a political home.

The theory of change that would create the progressive majority coalition is based on periodic political realignment, which occurs in American politics about every 40 years. When there is a periodic realignment, new parties are formed or existing parties change their valence and demographics. The most recent realignment was a result of the Nixon/Reagan Southern strategy, which turned a Dixiecrat Democratic South into solid Republican red. The Democratic and Republican parties flipped the script into their current configuration.

The preliminary discussions among the newly emboldened democratic socialist intelligentsia have generated this line of action: stage a national convention with the leaders of the large labor unions, environmental groups, and social justice organizations to form an independent new party. The American Progressive Party would function as a leftward ratchet on the Democratic Party, by running strategically against corporate Democrats in primaries at the city and state level. It would function as fusion party, caucusing with the Democrats legislatively, much like the Working Families Party in New York.

This is the antithesis of the Green Party strategy of running a quixotic presidential candidate every four years, while failing to do the hard work of building a national electoral base. The presence of a functional progressive party operating with a tactical focus would strengthen the hand of progressive Democrats (the Warren Wing) and thin the herd of corporate Dems. The goal is not to run ideological vanity contests that result in handing seats to granny-starver Koch Republicans who want to dissolve the social contract and drown the baby of government in the bathtub, but to strategically contest centrist Democrats in safe seats.

I present this scenario as a visioning exercise to get discouraged cultural progressives to think constructively about a political horizon. Where this vision links to the present is that the prerequisite is an implosion of the Republican Party in 2016-2020, which could open the political space for new political formations. We need to stop nursing a grudge from the Democratic Party primary, re-awaken our utopian imagination and create the future we want. Bernie Sanders opened the door for us, so let’s walk through it and create the kind of politics that we so deeply desire.

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