Los Angeles Times columnist Dan Turner published his anti-Green Party screed the same week that the Democratic National Committee and President Obama dropped the ball in Wisconsin, setting the stage for a re-boot of 2011’s anti-union assault and, quite likely, a GOP presidential victory in November. The GOP is not ahead of the game merely because of its advantage in spending; the Democrats could have massively mobilized their presumptive base, but to do so would have required acknowledgment that this base has a growing anti-corporate agenda. It would have required the institutional Democratic Party to follow the lead of, rather than attempt to co-opt the message of, the Occupy movement. It would have required the Obama administration to stop playing J. Edgar Hoover with the movement. And even if the Democrats could have done all this, it would have been difficult to square with the Obama administration’s growing embrace of right-wing foreign policy strategies, uncritical acceptance of “free trade” and the hypercapitalist model, and a love of heavy-handed police tactics wherever popular revolt occurs.
All of this is lost on Turner, whose anti-Green rant is a clumsy and nasty rehash of half-arguments that are, by now, simply rote: the Democrats deserve the votes of progressives because they are the only thing standing between you and people that are slightly worse than us; the independent left is composed of naive hippies and stoners; and (in a stunning inability of Turner and other critics to actually analyze policy) the Greens have no concrete ideas to implement. Because of this, Democrats are entitled to our votes. Presumption is against us. And whatever scorn Democrats heap on Republicans, it pales in comparison to the abuse Democrats keep in reserve for Greens, socialists, and anyone who dares criticize the party or their President. Turner perpetuates this theme by arguing that, if the Greens are successful, such success could only mean getting Mitt Romney elected, which would be a disaster.
But if third parties left of the Democrats manage to damage Obama enough to get Romney elected, that will be because Obama refused to entertain or implement a sufficient number of progressive policies to satisfy that part of “his” base. It’s difficult to understand why that failure should be hung around the necks of those of us who are opposed to the colonization of politics by capital, the endless futile compromises with the right, or the cynical militarism and police state tactics of successive Democratic administrations. It seems like, in cycle after cycle, progressives are expected to demand and desire less and less, as the Democratic Party moves further and further to the right.
It’s time for independent progressives to reject the longstanding metaphysical presupposition that accompanies the argument that one party “siphons votes from” another party. The assumption is that there’s a purposive, ordained arrow of siphoning, as well as a Platonic place where the votes “belong” and where they don’t. These question-begging arguments are represented as “pragmatism” and “realism.” But the pragmatic reality is that the current system of electioneering is fundamentally anti-democratic, and capitulation to twin-party politics guarantees the continued colonization of the public sphere by big money. Another pragmatic reality is that the interests served by that big money are interests who are killing the planet, dooming the periphery of the human and nonhuman populations to either slow or calamitous death, and purposely blocking any solutions to any of those systemic problems. Concern for those systemic causes, those structural problems, is always met with scorn by institutional Democrats, who adopt Rahm Emmanuel’s “progressives are f—ing retarded” rule when dealing with brave and principled Democrats who dare to stand up to their party’s overlords.
Turner would rather hurl insults at Jill Stein than address any of these unpleasant realities. Having been nothing but a corporate newswriter all his adult life, editorializing with liberal use of personal attacks and other argumentative fallacies might well give Mr. Turner a secret schoolboy thrill. So his piece is laced with right-wing enthymemes and stereotypes, like how the left needs to “buckle its Birkenstocks,” deal with the “crunchy-granola set,” and my favorite turn of phrase in the piece, “an economic program that sounds a bit socialistic.” Given that one facet of the debate about third party politics concerns the lack of originality in the ideas of the two parties, it’s curious that Turner’s piece is rhetorically as well as philosophically unoriginal.
It’s equally curious, given that Turner’s post purports specific concern for California politics, that he cites Obama’s commitment to draw down troops in Afghanistan as an example of something that should satisfy us impatient and unreasonable progressives. Turner, of course, misses the point here. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, as with Iraq, was facilitated by the two-party duopoly to begin with. The cost of the war there and here has been astronomical, and a “draw down” is a pathetically insufficient answer to that. Nor, apparently, does Turner understand the dime-thin difference between the two parties on Afghanistan. The very phrase “draw down” is contained within the vocabulary of both Republican and Democratic administrations, whose shared paradigm embraces an endless cycle of invasions withdrawals in a never-ending war on those who would question U.S. hegemony.
What Turner doesn’t discuss is even more important than what he does. He doesn’t discuss Obama’s illegal drone attacks. He doesn’t mention the Democratic Party’s miserable strategic and tactical failures in Wisconsin, its beholdance to corporations, or its refusal to stand up for a public health care plan that had over 70% support among the electorate. Turner doesn’t have much to laud about California Democrats either. That state’s allegedly powerful Democratic juggernaut hasn’t defended unions any better than Dems in Wisconsin did: This week, voters in San Jose and San Diego imitated Wisconsin and curtailed pension programs for public employees. There was no counter-campaign, no corrective education, by California Democrats in that struggle.
The most curious omission from Turner’s sloppy post is the role of the Green Party in local politics–you know, where things get done. It’s apparent that Turner hasn’t visited Richmond, Fairfax, or Arcata. He hasn’t talked with Mayors Gayle McLaughlin or Pam Hartwell-Herrero, pragmatic and realistic Green leaders, about Richmond’s $115 million settlement with Chevron, Fairfax’s local currency and plastic bag ban (Los Angeles recently followed Fairfax’s lead on this, something you’d think would be, well, noteworthy), Richmond’s anti-foreclosure ordinance, Fairfax’s and Marin County’s GMO ban, Fairfax’s rejection of chain stores and embrace of a host of progressive policies, and the list goes on. Turner can have his ideology, but it’s just sad that the Times so readily excuses his lack of homework.
Poor people and those affected by the recession apparently aren’t sexy topics for Turner either, but as Marcy Winograd recently wrote, the fight against foreclosures, and vanguard leadership in the Occupy movement, are also attributes of Greens locally and nationally.
Throughout the US, Greens and allies are at the fulcrum of the occupy movement, defending homeowners facing foreclosure, practicing participatory democracy in the street, and successfully altering the national discourse from deficits and taxes to wealth inequality and privilege. In Oakland, Green Samsarah Morgan helped start the Children’s Village at Occupy Oakland, where children can play and protest peacefully. Former LA County Council Co-Chair of the Green Party Rachel Brunkhe mobilizes marches on Bank of America in San Pedro, home to the largest port in the country; former Green assembly candidate Peter Thottam organizes thousands at Occupy the Rose Parade, where Wells Fargo, one of the most notorious banks for robo-siging illegal foreclosures, was one of the parade’s chief sponsors; Al Shantz, Green Vice President of Napa Valley College’s Student Senate, launches Occupy rallies downtown and on the Napa Valley College campus; Harrison Wills, a Green President of the Santa Monica College Associated Student Body tells an Occupy crowd at his campus, “There’s socialism for corporations and capitalism for the rest of us.
In the end, Turner’s attacks are inadvertently very good arguments in favor of the search for alternatives to the twin parties of corporatism and war. Turner is telling us to accept more of the same. Increasing scores of voters and activists around the nation have already rejected his arguments. Black Agenda Report‘s Bruce Dixon put it best:
The only worthwhile political campaigns are ones that utilize public receptivity to discussions around issues to present and make popular accurate analyses of the world the way it is, and compelling visions of the world the way we want it to be. Not the candidate that sucks least. Win or lose, these are the only campaigns that empower people, the only ones worth pouring your energy into, the only ones that build, rather than strangle and discourage mass movements.