Ben Boyce


California’s intra-party conflict

Posted on June 20, 2018 by Ben Boyce

It takes a political junkie to keep up with California politics. The political landscape here is complex and there is a continuum of views within each of the two major political camps in county politics. Identifying the best candidates for local office requires a degree of discernment.

Parsing local politics in Northern California is challenging for the casual outside observer because the conventional Democrat/Republican party labels are not an accurate guide to a candidate’s actual positions. The Republican Party has collapsed into a vestigial entity in this region. They do run protest candidates just to get their message out, but the real action occurs within the Democratic Party. Just voting for ‘the Democrat’ is no guarantee that you are voting for a candidate who actually shares your values. California politics, in blue counties, has evolved into a running contest between progressives and liberals within the Democratic Party.

North Bay Democrats have two main product lines: ‘progressives’ and ‘moderates.’ No one who is serious about running to win in the North Bay will run as a Republican. A number of so-called moderate Democrats who have run in recent years were formerly registered Republicans in their home state before moving to California.

The progressive wing of the Northern California Democratic Party is generally associated with powerful environmental and labor organizations, while the centrist Democrats are backed by the Chamber of Commerce, large real estate and agriculture interests, and the major business-oriented regional newspapers.

The regional conservatives run as moderate Democrats, not as Republicans. That is the new stealth brand. Regional conservative-leaning political consultants advise ambitious political actors to run as Democrats. They are the missing tribe of Rockefeller Republicans, who were driven from the national Republican Party by a ruthless factional purge by the dominant Tea Party/MAGA base.

They differ from the national Republicans in their de-emphasis on culture war issues and a greater concern for environmental conservation and quality of life issues. What they have in common is the core belief that the primary role of government is to facilitate a ‘healthy business climate’ and a dedication to de-regulation, and diminishing the role of the public sector unions.

The California Democratic Party is a broad and unwieldy coalition between these two disparate tendencies. I am at peace with that fact of life. We will have to sort this out amongst ourselves.

The axis of conservative power in Sonoma County is the Chamber of Commerce, the Sonoma County Alliance, and the Farm Bureau. The axis of progressive power is an alliance between labor and Greens. The main actors are the North Bay Labor Council, Sonoma County Conservation Action (and many smaller local environmental groups), and well-funded conservationist urban planning organizations like Greenbelt Alliance. The primary political tensions between these two factions (which would be separate parties in a European parliamentary system) center around public sector funding and land use/development issues.

The internal party differences in California Democratic Party politics are minor compared to the stark and irresolvable ideological differences between the two major national parties. The nihilism and open criminality of the Trump Org and his Republican enablers in Congress has black-pilled my politics. They are grooming us for unconstitutional abuse of power. We are witnessing a slow-moving attempted coup. My naive biological assumption that there will be a future is now cast in doubt. I always knew that elections have consequences. Until 2016 I had never entertained the concept that an election might be a prelude to a species extinction event.

The great triumphs of the 20th-century liberal consensus, like the New Deal Social Security and Medicare programs, civil rights for black and brown people, and women’s reproductive rights are being dismantled overnight.

My focus as a democratic socialist political analyst is on a clear-minded, accurate diagnosis of the moment of historical struggle we are in. We are devising collective strategies to gain political power until we can set the agenda, rather than just reacting to losses and being forced into bad compromises. The first order of business will be to reverse-engineer the trillion-dollar Republican tax cut and end the de-regulatory demolition and subsequent starvation of our public sector institutions.

We who grew up during the heyday of the American Empire recall a better time when it was possible to achieve political consensus on basic civic issues. That now seems like a sentimental memory. We are no longer merely having disagreements on the size and scope of various governmental functions. We have reached an impasse on the purpose of government itself.

We not only have political differences on the role of the state, but we have a deep and vexing epistemological divide, driven by a massive right-wing propaganda network. There is no generally accepted narrative now, even on the basic facts. The Trump era is an exercise in gas-lighting the national psyche. We are in for a long struggle to recover and extend our core progressive accomplishments.

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