What's missing in Congress these days is real progressive leadership and real political courage.
Over the past several decades, the Democratic Party has been entirely taken over by corporate shills and money-grubbing sleazes while those who might still have some vestigial remnant of a conscience or genuine concern for the plight of the common person have been co-opted or intimidated into silence or powerlessness.
Look at Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). He says all the right things. He's fought all the good fights. And yet after 15 years in Congress, he is chair of what? The House subcommittee on domestic policy of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Heck, his post doesn't even merit capitalization in the AP Stylebook! And when he submits an important bill, like his articles of impeachment of both former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, he can't even get a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.
Which, of course, is chaired by another long-standing allegedly progressive House member, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). Conyers, despite being chair of the House Progressive Caucus (the largest, and least powerful Democratic Party caucus in the Congress) and despite his having served 22 terms in the House, couldn't even manage to get "permission" from the Speaker (Rep. Nancy Pelosi--once a member of the Progressive Caucus!) to hold a hearing on impeachment during the Bush/Cheney years in the Judiciary Committee that he chairs. And more recently, he was even barred from having his own health reform proposal--an expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans--get a lousy hearing in the House.
Progressives in the Democratic Party are both joke and oxymoron.
It is time for any real progressives in House or Senate to admit the truth--that they are boxed in and effectively neutered by the Party leadership--and that if they really want to be defenders of the public interest and the progressive cause, they must give up their sinecures, cut themselves loose from the shackles of the Democratic Party, and form a new and independent national progressive party. They have a model: Bernie Sanders, the independent self-described socialist senator from Vermont. Of course, even Sanders is boxed in, given that he is alone in the Senate as an independent progressive , so that if he wants a committee assignment he has to agree to vote with the Democrats on the key issues of party control. But that is because there is nobody standing with him in the Senate.
This could change if the progressive caucus members of both houses were to quit the sell-out Democrats and form the nucleus of a new party, instead of just a caucus within the sclerotic and rancidly corrupt Democratic Party.
There is a huge ferment across the land. Americans of all political persuasions are angry, fearful, frustrated and ready for change. That's why so many of them voted for a black presidential candidate promising "real change" in 2008. The trouncing of Democratic senate candidate Martha Coakley this week in the Massachusetts special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy was a direct result of the anger that those same voters feel at being betrayed by that president, who instead of change has given them more of the same pro-corporate, anti-common-citizen politics that they were trying to escape.
We on the left know that nothing much is going to change in America until there is a genuine people's party on the ballot, but for years we have watched in despair as well-meaning third parties like Peace & Freedom, the Green Party, the Socialist Party-USA and others (including parties not on the left like the Libertarians) have tried and failed to become national political forces. These efforts have been stymied because American voters, sensibly, have not wanted to "waste their votes" by casting ballots for Third Party candidates who stand no chance of being elected. They have been stymied because Americans have either been forced to accept a "lesser of two evils" approach to voting, or to simply not vote.
But true progressives in Congress who have the advantage of incumbency--people like Kucinich, Conyers, Feingold and others--could run as independents, or better, as third party candidates and win. And if they were to choose to run as a new third party, they would open the door for many other new candidates to run with them. They would give legitimacy to the idea of voting for something other than a corrupt Republican or a corrupt Democrat.
Americans are not stupid. They recognize that the two big parties are both acting in collusion in selling them all out to monolithic corporate interests, and that Washington is thoroughly owned by the rich and the powerful. That's why only half of Americans even bother to vote (actually far fewer than that in off-year elections like the one coming up this November). And those who do vote, vote for major party candidates, for the most part not out of enthusiasm, but out of desperation.
If they had candidates on the ballot whom they really thought were on their side, and who really had a shot at winning, they would abandon the Democratic Party frauds in a heartbeat.
A secession by true progressives in Congress from the Democratic Party and the formation of a new party by that group of rebels--and remember, there are 80 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus--would hit the Democratic Party like a perfectly placed explosive charge detonated in the foundation of an old building slated for demolition. The whole edifice would collapse in a cloud of smoke and dust. No Democratic incumbent would be safe. Upstart candidates would come out of the woodwork to challenge them from the left in virtually every state in the country. Republican candidates too would face real challenges, not from centrists, but from real left candidates.
Too much can be expected of electoral politics, and certainly, even in the highly improbable event that every member of the Progressive Caucus were to quit the Democrats, run for re-election as an independent or as the member of some new progressive party, and win the first time out, the dominant Democrats and Republicans and the corporate lobbyists behind them could still keep the government in the hands of the existing corporate power structure. But even if only some of the caucus were to bolt, the door would suddenly be open for a new national politics. Workers and their labor unions would no longer feel bound to support Democratic hacks, and many could be expected to shift their allegience and financial backing to the new party, as could environmentalists, health care reform advocates, anti-war activists, education reformers and all the other progressives who have had nowhere to turn politically for years.
So here's the call: If you have a so-called progressive as your Senator or Representative, tell him or her that you will no longer give them your vote unless they first quit the Democratic Party.
It's time for the Progressive Caucus in Congress to put up or shut up: Quit the party! You ain't doing no good for nobody serving in Congress as a Democrat!
About the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
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