Capturing state power… through parliaments… July 31, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left, US Politics.
There’s an excellent point, made about US politics, but entirely applicable to our own, here. Dave Weigel of Slate.com writes about the [predictable] failure of the third party candidate movement, Americans Elect. AE decided to establish a process to nominate a bipartisan candidate who would draw independent support and build on what they hope is a centrist but unarticulated majority (or significant minority).
But as Weigel notes that latter is arguably entirely illusory. Though not necessarily for the reasons Weigel argues. He suggests that there is no centre, that people are more partisan than they claim in polls. Very likely, up to a point. But I’d go a bit further. Look at the Democratic and Republican platforms in 2012 and compare and contrast with the 1980s or earlier and it seems fairly clear that the centre of gravity of US politics has shifted rightwards. If that is the case then Obama is the ‘centrist’ candidate, for what that is worth.
But Weigel makes a much more useful point when he writes the following:
Sometimes a wealthy person says something that makes you wonder how people ever trusted him with money. Obama had “control” of the Senate—the 60 votes needed to beat a filibuster—from September 2009 to January 2010. If you don’t realize how the delayed seating of Al Franken or the illness of Ted Kennedy or the victory of Scott Brown changed things, you don’t know how the government works. You don’t break the power of the parties by running in a presidential election. You start with Congress. That’s what the conservative movement has done over 20-odd years, making it untenable to face primary voters if you cast moderate votes.
And there you have it. There’s far far too much emphasis, both in US politics and our own on personality (and in the US on Presidential politics). It’s not that it doesn’t matter. It certainly does, not least in terms of tone. But the long term effectiveness of a political project is built on much more banal and everyday work at representational levels. And that requires concentration on Congress etc. One of the most striking aspects of US politics recently has been how the Gingrich wave of the early 1990s was, at this remove, simply not radical (radical right) enough for the Tea Party, with one after another of that intake falling to harder-line TP candidates. Of course, by 1990s standards those original reps were well to the right of their predecessors (and it’s telling how even staunch Reaganites elected before the Gingrich crew have also been insufficiently right wing for the TP). But it was those successive waves of candidates who were elected who pushed the needle to the right. Perhaps in some sunnier time ahead there will be movement in the other direction – perhaps if (and it remains an if) the Democrats win the next Presidential election and if the Republican vote is in some way diminished this may institute a rethink – though I’d be very doubtful, it seems to me the TP needs to burn out over time.
But to be honest I suspect that the next wave within the Republican party will be even more right wing again.
Anyway, Weigel continues, why not take the $35 million that Americans Elect raised and go after House seats? Why not? Because that’s hard work, it requires dedication and focus across not the year or so of a Presidential campaign, but the four, eight and twelve years that precede House elections. And hard work requires an organisational structure (however diffuse or coherent) and that requires something more than good wishes and good intentions. And realistically it isn’t going to happen – one need only look at the way the Reform party, which catapulted Ross Perot to the closest run third party candidate in modern times, again back in the 1990s, swung between centre/populism and fairly hard right positions, to see that there’s no guarantee that a third party, adopting centre positions will function as its founders intend.
Now a party to the left of the Democrats? Again, it would take years, decades, perhaps more. One would be looking at something not unlike the journey of the NDP in Canada, and with no guarantee of success. But if you’re in this to gain state power at state or federal level then the only way is to look at the conservative movement, and start small building big.
Interestingly this is the very model which we’ve seen adopted in our own state by parts of the left of Labour. And it has worked to some degree, though it would be a brave woman or man who suggested that the SP or even SF is close to state power or that there’s an absolute inevitability as to that outcome. But as always it simply points to the fact that the only way for movements to win is to work on the ground. As true for left as right.