The process of maturation, at best, develops the faculty of self-awareness. The ability to assess oneself, compassionately and realistically, is not valued in our culture, which glorifies youth. It's too bad. We need the wisdom of maturity, as much as we need the energy of youth. A reliable awareness of your own state of mind and intent, your own capabilities and limitations, and curiosity about the effects of your behavior on others, are usually developed, if at all, in maturity. Without them, you can't intentionally improve.
The Democratic Party, by virtue of its size, age, name recognition, and funding, is the most mature progressive political party in the United States. Because of this maturity, flawed as it is, it is the party I see as best-suited to the advancement of progressive aims in a pluralistic society.
I'm generally pretty liberal, even as Democrats go. On most social and economic issues, I find I'm on the left-hand flank of the Democratic Party. I want society to change, to reflect more democratic-humanist values and more optimism about human nature. As best as I can, I work for that change. I want my efforts for change to go as far as possible, given the amount of personal investment I make, be it in time, money, or in personal votes for candidates for Washington. There are very good reasons an American progressive would align with another political party, not the Democrats. Smaller parties are often more liberal than the Democratic Party, perhaps also feistier. In describing why I'm a partisan Democrat, and not registered with a third party, e.g., the Green Party, the biography of political candidate and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan is particularly illustrative.
In 2007, Cindy Sheehan, a prominent anti-war activist, announced that she was leaving the Democratic Party. She said she was terminating her relationship after Democrats authorized a bill to continue funding the Iraq War, which had killed her son. The decision to continue to align oneself with a political party, or to leave it in frustration over its policy, is anybody's to make. It's the province of an adult. Sheehan felt that her energies for her progressive ideals, would be better served if she aligned with another party, one that seemed more energized.
Since then, Sheehan's frustration at the United States, and Americans, bubbles over frequently—and too publicly—in online comments like this, following the Obama administration's capture of Osama Bin Laden:
I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL, you're stupid. Just think to yourself—they paraded Saddam's dead sons around to prove they were dead—why do you suppose they hastily buried this version of OBL at sea? This lying, murderous Empire can only exist with your brainwashed consent—just put your flags away and THINK!Perhaps if I were in Sheehan's situation, I'd snap, too. I'd succumb to heartbreak and frustration at what I perceived as the glacial pace of change, or the uncritical embrace of wrong-headed views. Sheehan saw that the big parties were disproportionately funded, and the little progressive interests—who clearly and boldly articulate the vital progressive message—are drowned-out. But imagine accusing me of brainwashed consent. For believing that the U.S., under order of Barack Obama, killed Osama Bin Laden, I am not only stupid, I am guilty of brainwashed consent.
I believe one job of a political candidate or activist, one who would succeed, is to welcome potential sympathizers into the discussion, to build a following.
I don't question that a large part of the reason Sheehan failed to unseat the more-conservative Representative Nancy Pelosi in her 2008 challenge to her, was the disparity of the funding between the two candidates. Pelosi's campaign had the backing to make her name, literally, a household word. I wonder, does this marked disparity entirely relieve Sheehan and her followers of the need to ask what, other than money, could make their message reach voters better? I don’t know, perhaps it does. Perhaps the first priority of third-partiers, rightly, is to improve access and visibility for third parties, in the media, in the political establishment, and in the culture at large, how ever they see fit to do that.
Funding aside, a part of "building a following" in politics is addressing questions about how to market the issue or the candidates' message. Democrats, these days, have as rich a tradition of that kind of self-questioning as anyone I know. A friend of mine is a Green Party political candidate, lately very concerned with the disastrous after-effects of Proposition 13. (This was the 1978 ballot initiative here in California, which radically limited property taxes. It also deprived our infrastructure—public transportation, roads, and public parks, to name a few—of critical funding.) While it's not in dispute, I hadn't seen Democrats much concerned with the causal relationship between Prop 13, and the recurrent, disastrous budget shortfalls that have wracked our state ever since it passed. My friend has ideas for amending Prop 13, to "keep the good parts," while rendering it harmless. But her handouts and promotional materials strike me as a bit wordy. I absorb my Green friend's ideas, while remaining a Democrat. I urge her to develop "talking points"—in the best tradition of Democrats seeking to reach more voters with the Democratic message—so her ideas about Proposition 13 will catch on widely, so as many people as possible will sympathize with them.
For a very long time after Gore's 2000 defeat—and the start of eight dark years—venues like this blog reeked demoralization. We were a community in pain. For a long time, all I heard was incessant blame of third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader for the Democratic loss of 2000—though Nader's actual role in that sad defeat is hardly the concern of this diary. But then at some point, castigation of Ralph Nader got old. We moved on, most of us, to other things, to participation in a discourse. Many Democrats, in regard to the 2000 defeat, started to ask some variant of, "We had the funding. We had the prominence. We had the progressive values that are the answer for middle America. Why didn't we sweep that election, impelling sympathetic voters to the polls in droves, making it clearly impossible for Ralph Nader to make a difference in the outcome, at all?" The answer lies entirely in combining the funding and name recognition of the Democratic Party, with the uncorrupted ideals of a little progressive party. Or is it that simple? What about political candidates' empathy for voters, in general, and those who hold other views, in particular—the party's welcome of all potentially sympathetic voters into the discussion?
Where political campaigns are concerned, money doesn’t merely buy access. At best, it buys also the prerogative of self-scrutiny, of introspection. When your political party is huge, well-funded, and well-known, relative to others, you can self-criticize, and ask just where it fails, and why.