Marching in the streets is important work, but wouldn't we have greater success if we also took control of the United States government?
It's vital to point out right-wing-slanted reporting in the corporate media, but isn't it also important to seize enough political power in Washington to enforce anti-trust laws to break up media monopolies?
And how are progressives - most standing on the outside of government, looking in - to deal with oil wars, endemic corporate cronyism, slashed environmental regulations, corporate-controlled voting machines, the devastation of America's natural areas, the fouling of our air and waters, and an administration that daily gives the pharma, HMO, banking, and insurance industries whatever they want regardless of how many people are harmed?
This lack of political power is a crisis others have faced before. We should learn from their experience.
After the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, a similar crisis faced a loose coalition of gun lovers, abortion foes, southern segregationists, Ayn Rand libertarians, proto-Moonies, and those who feared immigration within and communism without would destroy the America they loved. Each of these various groups had tried their own "direct action" tactics, from demonstrations to pamphleteering to organizing to fielding candidates. None had succeeded in gaining mainstream recognition or affecting American political processes. If anything, their efforts instead had led to their being branded as special interest or fringe groups, which further diminished their political power.
So the conservatives decided not to get angry, but to get power.
Led by Joseph Coors and a handful of other ultra-rich funders, they decided the only way to seize control of the American political agenda was to infiltrate and take over one of the two national political parties, using their own think tanks like the Coors-funded Heritage Foundation to mold public opinion along the way. Now they regularly get their spokespeople on radio and television talk shows and newscasts, and write a steady stream of daily op-ed pieces for national newspapers. They launched an aggressive takeover of Dwight Eisenhower's "moderate" Republican Party, opening up the "big tent" to invite in groups that had previously been considered on the fringe. Archconservative neo-Christians who argue the Bible should replace the Constitution even funded the startup of a corporation to manufacture computer-controlled voting machines, which are now installed across the nation. And Reverend Moon took over The Washington Times newspaper and UPI.
Their efforts, as we see today, have borne fruit, as Kevin Phillips predicted they would in his prescient 1969 book "The Emerging Republican Majority," and as David Brock so well documents in his book "Blinded By The Right."
But the sweet victory of the neoconservatives in capturing control of the Republican Party, and thus of American politics, has turned bitter in the mouths of the average American and humans around the world. Soaring deficits, the evisceration of Social Security, "voluntary" pollution controls, war for oil, stacking federal benches with right-wing ideologues, bellicose and nationalist foreign policy, and the handing over of much of the infrastructure of governance to multinational corporate campaign donors has brought a vast devastation to the nation, nearly destroyed the entrepreneurial American dream, and caused the rest of the world to view us with shock and horror.
Thus, many progressives are suggesting that it's time for concerned Americans to reclaim Thomas Jefferson's Democratic Party. It may, in fact, be our only short-term hope to avoid a final total fascistic takeover of America and a third world war.
"But wait!" say the Greens and Progressives and left-leaning Reform Party members. "The Democrats have just become weaker versions of the Republicans!"
True enough, in many cases. And it isn't working for them, because, as Democrat Harry Truman said, "When voters are given a choice between voting for a Republican, or a Democrat who acts like a Republican, they'll vote for the Republican every time." (And, history shows, voters are equally uninterested in Republicans who act like Democrats.)
Alternative parties have an important place in American politics, and those in them should continue to work for their strength and vitality. They're essential as incubators of ideas and nexus points for activism. Those on the right learned this lesson well, as many groups that at times in the past had fielded their own candidates are now still intact but have also become powerful influencers of the Republican Party. Similarly, being a Green doesn't mean you can't also be a Democrat.
This is not a popular truth.
There's a long list of people who didn't like it - Teddy Roosevelt, H. Ross Perot, John Anderson, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader - but nonetheless the American constitution was written in a way that only allows for two political parties. Whenever a third party emerges, it's guaranteed to harm the party most closely aligned to it.
This was the result of a well-intentioned accident that most Americans fail to understand when looking at the thriving third, fourth, and fifth parties of democracies such as Germany, India, or Israel. How do they do it? And why can't we have third parties here?
The reason is because in America - unlike most other modern democracies - we have regional "winner take all" types of elections, rather than proportional representation where the group with, say, 30 percent of the vote, would end up with 30 percent of the seats in government. It's a critical flaw built into our system, so well identified in Robert A. Dahl's brilliant book "How Democratic Is the American Constitution?"
When the delegates assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 to craft a constitution, republican democracy had never before been tried anywhere in what was known as "the civilized world." There were also, at that moment, no political parties, and "father of the Constitution" James Madison warned loudly in Federalist #10 against their ever emerging.
In part, Madison issued his warning because he knew that the system they were creating would, in the presence of political parties, rapidly become far less democratic. In the regional winner-take-all type of elections the Framers wrote into the Constitution, the loser in a two-party race - even if s/he had fully 49.9 percent of the vote - would end up with no voice whatsoever. And the combined losers in a 3- or more-party race could even be the candidates or parties whose overall position was most closely embraced by the majority of the people.
The best solution to this unfairness, in 1787, was to speak out against the formation of political parties ("factions"), as Madison did at length and in several venues. But within a decade of the Constitution's ratification, Jefferson's split with Adams had led to the emergence of two strong political parties, and the problems Madison foresaw began and are with us to this day.
This is particularly problematic in presidential elections. H. Ross Perot's participation in the 1992 election drew enough votes away from the elder George Bush that Bill Clinton won without a true majority. Similarly, Ralph Nader's participation in the 2000 election drew enough votes away from Al Gore that it was easy for the Supreme Court and Jeb Bush to deflect media notice away from Florida's illegal vote-rigging in the pre-election purging of the voter rolls and thus select George W. Bush as President.
Conservative activists recognized this inherent flaw in the electoral system of the United States and decided to do something about it, recruiting Ronald Reagan and forming his infamous "kitchen cabinet." They took over the Republican Party and then successfully seized control of the government of the United States of America. As we can see by comparing documents from the 1990s Project For A New American Century with today's war in Iraq, these once-marginalized conservative ideologues are the real power behind Bush's throne.