Am I The Skunk At The Progressive Garden Party or Just Not Buying Progressive Democratic Hype?


A few days ago our Dear Leader, Comrade Commandant Ken Silverstein apparently opened up a jug of holiday wine a little early while operating a computer and penned a lovely little piece about the glorious ascendancy of La Passionaria 2.0, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Leaving aside the fact that I previously have shown that the spontaneous launch of this political superstar is somewhat dubious owing to her longtime connection with the northern liberal Ted Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party, I find myself skeptical for many reasons.

[Editor’s note: That story about the Kennedy connection was noteworthy and a must read. This piece you’re reading now is entertaining and at times illuminating, but to the extent that it “succeeds,” it does so by knocking down an argument the above referenced C.C. Silverstein did not make. It also makes no reasonable objection to not supporting AOC, without having any illusions about what her victory signifies. It’s just a good thing and should be celebrated, even if in part because there’s so little to celebrate these days.]

Artist’s rendition. Note that this image was not approved of by Ocasio-Cortez’s office and is published purely for inspirational purposes. Credit: Rob Sussman.

First, the biggest winners of the midterms were the folks that Patrick Martin has aptly named the CIA Democrats. He spelled it out in his November 17 post election wrap-up: “[A] total of 11 Democrats with military or intelligence backgrounds have won Republican-held seats in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. The military-intelligence apparatus accounts for the largest number of victorious Democratic challengers in Republican districts, more than lawyers (9), state and local government officials (7), businessmen/wealthy individuals (7), or others (8).

If it’s not clear yet, let me spell it out: besides the eerie quasi-coup nature of such a military entrance into government (seriously this is starting to remind me of a Latin American op or at least a shitty Tom Clancy paperback), those people all want to increase the military budget.

Let’s note here that Pentagon Keynesian spending, by which the armed forces serve as the major wealth redistribution agency for Americans, is a safe and patriotic policy measure that builds bipartisanship. And it’s something the godawful Nancy Pelosi is just dying to say she has accomplished.

This isn’t some wacky conspiracy theory, it’s been the American political economy for almost eight decades now. In an enlightening series of interviews recently with The Real News, Daniel Ellsberg said that the entire Cold War was basically a gigantic fraud on behalf of the aerospace industry. Boeing & friends told elected politicians that they would go bankrupt unless they were able to maintain wartime production levels. Seriously, Ellsberg said this on camera.

This is significant because there is no way that you can increase domestic social welfare spending unless you take the money out of the bloated Pentagon budget — which now accounts for more than 50 percent of federal discretionary spending.

This was always my problem with Bernie Sanders. In simple grade school math terms, the idea of turning America into some variation of Scandinavian social democracy can’t be achieved without making opposition to the war machine central to your argument.

Counters reflect costs estimated by the Costs of War project at Brown University. Provided by National Priorities Project.

Very smart progressive activists repeatedly get suckered into delusions of grandeur about how they will change the Democratic Party from the inside, thereby alienating themselves from those who are not drinking the Kool Aid and behaving like lemmings led by the Pied Piper of Brooklyn, Senator Chuck Schumer. [Editor’s note: You’re starting to lose me here.]

Image by Andrew Stewart

Second, the verdict of history is absolutely clear: from the days of the original Abolitionists to the New Deal to the Vietnam War, it takes a mass mobilization of people in the streets and in independent third parties putting pressure on the two-party monopoly to make anything happen. The abolition of slavery was caused by a mass movement that included direct action (Harriet Tubman, Denmark Vessey, Nat Turner, John Brown) and electoral politics (Free Soilers and Radical Republicans).

FDR was forced to pass the New Deal by organizing efforts in workplaces and communities from Communists and Socialists. The Civil Rights movement had bus boycotts and sit-ins, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, led by Fannie Lou Hamer, who went to the Democratic Party convention in 1964 and called Lyndon Johnson out for his racist hypocrisy. The Vietnam protests included the creation of multiple electoral parties, including the Peace and Freedom Party as well the People’s Party that ran Benjamin Spock for president.

Furthermore, FDR ran as a somewhat conservative candidate in 1932. His main campaign promises were shrinking the federal government and expanding international trade. Only external pressure from outside the Democratic Party forced him to the left.

Look, I am active in the Green Party, so I get a kick out of seeing the freshman Congresswoman Ocasio Cortez co-opting borrowing our Green New Deal platform plank that Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka ran on in 2016. [Editor’s note: Oh, dear God. The Green Party? Seriously?]

But I also believe that nothing significant can be achieved in national politics without a meaningful left political movement that pressures the two-party system, and that includes running candidates at all levels of government. Without that, the Democrats will keep moving further to the right, with or without AOC.

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