Over the last few weeks, I've noticed that an increasing number of people have been warned or banned for running astray of the site's heavily nuanced rules regarding third-party advocacy (1, 2, 3, 4). For the benefit of those of you who were either unaware of the site's policy regarding third parties or insufficiently versed in its specifics, Meteor Blades, who serves as the site's bouncer (or whatever the proper technical term is), has described it as follows:
[...D]iscussing the efficacy of third parties in the abstract remains OK. But advocating for a third-party candidate against a viable Democrat is not. And advocating for joining or forming a third-party in opposition to Democrats is not.
The rule has always had a subtext that it is OK to talk about third parties in the abstract, about the (alleged) need for them and how they would improve the country if we had strong ones. Those who do so should expect a strong reaction, but it's not against the rules. What's been forbidden is advocating that people vote for third parties in elections where Democrats are running against Republicans. There could always be exceptions — say, advocating for Sen. Sanders in a race with a Democrat — but these would be rare.
People are not banned (and have not been) for discussing the value of third parties or for saying they're not voting. People who advocate for a specific third party or a third-party candidate in a race with a Democrat are warned, and, if they repeat, banned. That's ALWAYS been the case, even before you registered here in 2004.
So in short, it's okay to suggest to dissatisfied Democrats that they sit at home and do nothing on election night (and by logical extension I'm assuming that it's also okay to suggest that they refuse to canvass for/donate to the Democratic Party or specific Democratic candidates, as many people here have done without incident). Likewise, it's perfectly acceptable to talk about how great third parties are in general, and to hope beyond all hope that somehow a viable one will magically appear out of thin air, parting the skies like Christ himself and leading us all to a utopian future of cradle-to-grave social services, responsible government, abortion on demand, and hot gay sex for everyone. But to suggest that people attempt to make that sweet, ethereal dream a reality by encouraging them to do the footwork needed to create and sustain a viable third party...well, we just can't have that. Not here at Daily Kos, where we're all about electing more and better Democrats, with a little help from our sponsors--some of whom just happen to be Republicans:
Because as we all know, when third parties like the Greens accept the occasional donation of money or ballot petition signatures from Republicans, however substantial or insubstantial that donation might be, they're committing an unforgivable sin against the progressive values that we at Daily Kos pay lip service to and should rightfully be regarded as frauds. But when a fine, upstanding Democrat (and former Republican) like Markos Moulitsas accepts advertising revenue from Republicans and right-wing advocacy groups, and allows them to use his site as a billboard, that's okay because it's all about making the money that we use to maintain this site where we help elect the Heath Shulers and Jim Webbs and Jon Testers who later knife us in the back.
Now, Meteor Blades is someone who's done a lot of hard work on behalf of ideals that pretty much all of us here can agree with, and he's never hesitated to stick his own neck out. He put himself in harm's way during the 1960's registering African-Americans to vote in Mississippi, and he even spent time in prison for refusing the draft. I doubt there are too many people here who have done as much for what we as progressive profess to believe in as he has done (and continues to do), and I have a great deal of respect for him notwithstanding how I feel about the site policies that he has been entrusted to help enforce. I also understand that as a site moderator, he speaks on behalf of the site and not necessarily his own beliefs, putting aside whatever role he may have played in helping to develop the site's policies or whether or not he personally agrees with them. Still, at the risk of personalizing something that isn't about Meteor Blades but about Daily Kos and its policies, it is nonetheless disconcerting to see a policy against progressive third party advocacy being enforced by someone who has done everything that he has, and who has made statements like this one:
The progressive/left movement has to be separate from political parties. It is then free to ally itself with a party that works to advance progressive/left policy but not be beholden to that party when it goes off the rails.
...or like this one:
People in a progressive movement certainly might be members of the Democratic Party; perhaps even most of them would be. But the movement itself would be separate; it would fight for change at the local and state levels and try to boost innovative policy initiated locally at the national level. Much its work - like reform movements throughout U.S. history - would be directed from outside the electoral process at the beginning. The Abolitionists, the suffragists, the union organizers, the civil rights workers did not start inside political parties - they struggled with them.
What MB fails to note is that, while these movements did struggle with political parties, they also helped to create a few. Like the Republican Party, for example, which lest we forget began as a third party in 1854 and was created in part by abolitionists, its birth inspired by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Or the Liberty Party, another party created by abolitionists in the 1840's which also included advocates for women's suffrage in its ranks. Or the Farmer-Labor Party, which was created in part by trade unions. Or the New Alliance Party, which was founded in an attempt to unify marginalized groups including African-Americans, Latinos, gays and lesbians outside of the two-party paradigm. Aside from the Republicans, these parties and others like them have had little luck getting their candidates elected, as MB himself points out in dismissing the idea of supporting third parties:
If by "righteous cause," you mean the fantasy of a third party, I'll not be going there. The American landscape is littered with the bones and ghosts of third parties. The last successful one was founded in 1854.
This statement is illustrative of the misguided mindset that prevails among so many of us on the left, not just here at Daily Kos but in general, in judging third parties in terms of electoral victories rather than in terms of achieving policy goals. While it is true that third parties post-1854 have had nowhere near the level of success that the two major parties have had in terms of getting their candidates elected, they have nonetheless played an important role, for better or worse, not just in engaging voters who might otherwise choose not to vote at all, but also (and more importantly) in shaping political discourse and forcing Republicans and Democrats to incorporate many of their issues and ideas as a way of fending off the threat that they represented. This was certainly true of the Populist and Progressive parties of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which laid the groundwork for women’s suffrage, party primaries, direct election of senators, initiatives and referenda, child labor laws, social welfare legislation, public education, and the progressive income tax. Likewise with the unfortunate case of George Wallace's American Independent Party in 1968, the relative success of which played a key role in inspiring the Southern Strategy that the Republicans have used to great effect over the last 4 decades. And let's not forget Ross Perot, who ran first as an independent in 1992 and later created the Reform Party for his 1996 run; his influence can be seen in elements of the Republicans' Contract With America, as well as in Democratic President Bill Clinton's sustained and ultimately successful effort to eliminate the budget deficit.
This country has seen a substantial number of third parties over the course of its history, and most of them have failed to shape mainstream political discourse in any meaningful way; it would be intellectually dishonest of me to suggest otherwise, and I certainly don't mean to make such a misleading suggestion. But it would likewise be intellectually dishonest to pretend that some of them haven't had a profound effect on our discourse, and on the legislation and policies that have emerged from that discourse. It would likewise be dishonest not to point out that the gradual decline in relative terms of the influence that these parties have had is due in large part to collusion between Republicans and Democrats over the last century or so to impose formidable barriers against creating and maintaining viable third parties, including (but not limited to) restrictive ballot access laws, and bans on fusion ticketing in all but a handful of states.
Sadly, most of the people who participate here at Daily Kos don't recognize (or choose not to acknowledge) the success that third parties have had in shaping policy and discourse. This, I think, is true in part because far too many here see their party affiliation not as a means for advancing their political beliefs and the policy goals that derive from those beliefs, but rather as a vehicle for fulfilling their social needs, and as a superficial statement about who they believe themselves to be or want to be thought of as. These people wear their allegiance to the Democratic Party the same way that athletes wear uniforms to show which team they play for. They see politics largely in terms of defeating the guys on the other side, rather than in terms of what gets accomplished or fails to; they get much of their information from news outlets that cover politics the same way that ESPN covers football; and they view everything that they see, hear, and read about politics and policy in terms of how it serves their party's electoral interests.
In this regard, they treat their party affiliation as a personality accessory in much the same way that many evangelical Christians treat their religious affiliation, sticking it on the bumper of their car in the form of a Jesus fish and selectively obsessing over the behavioral choices of non-believers and the insufficiently orthodox while ignoring much of what the bible says about the virtues of helping the poor, or about the sin of greed; in much the same way that many armchair patriots express their love of country and affinity for endless war against brown people in the form of "Support Our Troops" magnets, and American flag lapel pins, and obnoxious demands to "Love it or leave it!", while taking a pass on doing something that might actually demonstrate how much they love their country in real terms, like enlisting to fight in the wars that they constantly cheerlead for. Far better in the minds of these armchair patriots to run American flags up poles in their front yards, and then leave them out in the elements to slowly unravel, than to do something that might actually advance the values and freedoms that their old, tattered flags are supposed to stand for. And so it is with many of those who call themselves Democrats, but who show little regard for the political values that the Democratic Party once stood for and now pays mere lip service to.
This obsession with the Democratic Party and its organizational interests over the advancement of core liberal and progressive values is a symptom of a much larger problem. Over the last few decades, the left has by and large come to value the institutions that it has created more than the ideals that those institutions were created to advance and serve; the left's misplaced loyalty to the Democratic Party is the most egregious example of this, but hardly the only one. This misplaced prioritizing has played a crucial role in turning the left into the dysfunctional mess that it has become, and as the left has fallen into decline, so too has the country. The only way that the left can begin to rebuild itself is by addressing in a meaningful way the organizational inertia and ideological rot that has infected its institutions. This can be done from within, but when institutions prove themselves to be as resistant to change as the Democratic Party has, it then becomes necessary to create and support alternatives, to either inspire change within these institutions or replace them.
I believe that the stated mission of this web site to elect more and better Democrats is misguided, because the Democratic Party in its current state is too deeply compromised by its ties to concentrated wealth to allow for the nomination and election of better Democrats, however many of them there may ultimately be. More importantly, I believe that the site's policy of banning people who advocate for third parties is destructive because it creates a disincentive for liberals and progressives who participate here to help in building the political leverage we need to either reform the Democratic Party or replace it.
Because I see this policy as destructive, I will not comply with it and I encourage others who feel the same way, however few of you there may be, to join me in doing so. My purpose in posting this diary, therefore, is to challenge this policy in a way that would get me banned assuming that the policy is being strictly enforced as it has been articulated by Meteor Blades. My hope is that doing this will somehow encourage a re-evaluation of the policy regardless of whether or not I get banned, but of course I'm not holding my breath for that to happen, and ultimately I'm content with this diary simply serving as an illustration of how absurd and hypocritical the policy is, if nothing else. I understand and accept that this is Kos's site, and he has the right to run it as he sees fit. However, while I would prefer to remain a part of this community, I can no longer do so if remaining here obligates me to keep my mouth shut and thus legitimize a political paradigm that is slowly destroying this country.
I know that there are many Democrats who dislike the Green Party because they see them as taking help from the Republicans to get ballot access. I would point out to those individuals that the Greens wouldn't need to accept occasional help from the Republicans if the Democrats hadn't been conspiring with the Republicans for the last 100+ years to make it prohibitively difficult for parties like the Greens to get and stay on the ballot. In any event, the Greens will have ballot access in 2012 here in Texas, as they did in 2010, and I intend to vote for them as I did then. I don't personally consider myself a member of the Green Party, but until I and other like-minded individuals have succeeded in building a better alternative, and in building the electoral framework for better alternatives to emerge, they're the best option that I have available to me to support the progressive values that I believe in and to register my opposition to what the Democratic Party has become.
If you live in Texas, and if you're as disgusted with Barack Obama and the Democratic Party as I am, I ask you to support the Green Party with your time, your money, and your votes in all races--including those with Democratic candidates running against Republicans. If you live in other states, I ask you to find a third party that you're comfortable with and offer it your support both on and off the ballot. And regardless of where you live, I encourage you to support electoral reform with your votes, with your voice, and with direct action.
I understand that the policy is to give a warning to those who violate the third party advocacy ban before expelling them. If it makes any difference, I waive my right to a warning; in any event, I will disregard it and continue to post here in accordance with my beliefs until I am no longer allowed to do so. In anticipation of being banned, those of you who want to keep in touch with me can do so on Facebook.
6:45 PM PT: Update: As expected, I've received a warning from the site. I've tried responding to some of the remarks here, but it doesn't look like I'll be around to do so for the ones I've missed, so I'll just say thanks to those of you who have defended me, and those of you who disagreed, you're entitled to your opinions and to the nastiness with which you've offered them.
Let's make this official: Once again, I encourage those of you who are disgusted with the Democratic Party to support the Green Party in Texas, or the third party of your choice in whatever other state you happen to live in. I've enjoyed most of my time here, despite all the meta, and I've made a few friends too; for those of you to whom that applies, you know where to find me.
8:05 PM PT: Update #2: Apparently I haven't been banned yet, which I honestly didn't expect. I'm not sure if/when the hammer will be brought down, though for the benefit of those of you who haven't been able to contain the froth issuing from your mouths, I did IM Meteor Blades and inform him that I don't intend to abide by the site's third party advocacy policy. If I'm still around, I'll post a follow-up diary in the next day or two addressing some of the substantive responses here that I haven't already addressed -- I'd do it now, but I lost a lengthy comment earlier when I received my warning and I really don't feel like going through that again. Anyway, I'll be repeating my call for third-party support until I'm either no longer welcome here, or allowed to engage in the same active, full-throated advocacy that Blanche Lincoln Democrats are allowed to engage in here without fear of being banned. Thanks again to those of you who supported me with your tips and comments.