A number of times in the past few days, I've come across a number of references that Greens and Dems can, should, nay MUST work together to further the progressive agenda. The usually explicit strategy is that Greens should start pushing quality progressive candidates in local elections, and work their way up to eventual legitimacy in national elections.
I contend that, given our current electoral system, this is a strategy that, if successful, would do more damage to the progressive cause than any underhanded Republican dirty-trick.
[Quick interruption: Western Mass. Dems are coalescing -- get in on the meetups and join the new W. MA Dem mailing list!]
Many of us are well aware of the faults and consequences of our current winner-take-all electoral system. The most grievous fault of it is that even a moderately successful third party is capable of decimating the chances of the major party that is most similar to it.
So, given that thought, consider what would happen if, for example, Greens started winning prominent local and state-wide elections over the next decade or so. Assume that such victories enables Greens to field a reasonably popular progressive candidate for a critical national election (Senate, House, or, god forbid, the Presidency). This would result (as it did in 2000 to some extent with Nader, and in 1992 with Perot) in a potentially strong and winning majority being split along ideological lines. And, as we have seen and felt, the results of such a split (even a minor one as in 2000) are disasterous.
So, when I consider the notion of the Green party becoming a force unto itself on the national scene, I admit to abject fear that non-conservative representation would quickly become marginalized.
Some may say that Greens represent our core principles more thoroughly than typical Dem candidates. That may be true. But just as principle is important, nay, critical to informing strategy, it can never be mistaken for a strategy in and of itself. We should focus on being as inclusive as possible, which will mean sacrificing some of our less critical issues in order to ensure that our core principles can be heard and acted upon in the halls of government. It can be uncomfortable, but it is the best and perhaps only efficacious way to further our common cause1.
Those who want to effect change in our government and in this country must, while always looking at a hopeful horizon, also occasionally cast a glace behind us to lead less-progressive individuals towards that horizon. Doing so will require us to make some relatively minor concessions2 to ensure that such individuals can be comfortable with our candidates and our party (regardless of what it's called). That's how coalitions are built, and that's how progress is made.
Of course, all this hot air is unnecessary if we had a reasonable electoral system in this country, i.e. instant runoff at the very least. But that's an argument for another day.
1 For a prime example of how sacrificing certain issues can reliably lead to the shift of public policy to reflect core ideology, one needs only to glance at the current Republican party. They have done everything in their power to further their core agenda, but they've been very smart to concede certain issues to ensure that their coalition remains intact. Of course, it looks like they might have botched things for themselves in completely different and separate ways, but one can certainly imagine that, had they not committed so many egregious tactical errors over the past two years, they could be coasting to an easy 60/40 win this November.
2 I emphasize the word relatively here for a reason. This does not mean that we can, should, or will discard our core principles and the current issues related to them. For example, some here and elsewhere have advocated for more patience and incremental progress on the gay-marriage front, for fear that our Presidental nominee will be brutalized on this issue by Bush. I have been very vocal in my opposition to this viewpoint, as I believe that taking it neglects and betrays one of our most core principles, that of equal rights and equal protection under the law.