It is rare that anyone gets to any position of power without justifying the status quo. Whatever one’s personal beliefs on economic matters, those in power can rarely stray from the usual mediocrity.
The president is not a four-year God or dictator who can do whatever he wishes. He fills his institutional role in society. In the U.S. the president is the chief mediator for the nation’s business interests ?” one presidential administration may favor certain industries or companies, but never at the expense of the nation’s businesses as a whole. Other elected officials are the same, on a smaller scale.
As reported in the Vanguard, a new party, the Working Families Party, is trying to get established in Oregon. It promises to focus on issues that matter to working people, and to avoid the red-state blue-state nonsense, because, as its web site says, “the real divide is not left-right but top-bottom.”
The party is working to get “electoral fusion” on the state ballot. With fusion voting a party can not only nominate candidates from its own party, but can also nominate candidates from another party. In practice the WFP has nominated the Republican or Democrat most closely aligned with the WFP’s stated goals and avoided being the spoiler in an election.
The WFP has had some success in New York, where, after delivering enough votes to secure a Republican state senator’s victory, the party helped secure a $2 raise in the state minimum wage, from the national minimum to $7.15 per hour. The WFP also helped elect Hillary Clinton to the Senate and endorsed John Kerry for president, receiving almost nothing in return.
If all it does is help elect Democrats, electoral fusion simply saves Democrats and Republicans money on polling organizations; if the party helps achieve its stated goals, affordable universal healthcare, a living wage and quality public education, then there is a lot to be gained, obviously.
But, if the WFP doesn’t run its own candidates, who needs it to elect a Democrat or Republican?
For decades Americans have favored universal health coverage (which every other industrialized country in the world has except for South Africa) by majorities of two-thirds to four-fifths, depending on how the question is asked in polls. According to a Pew poll released last August, “The public continues to support the government guaranteeing health insurance for all Americans,” with 64 percent in favor “even if it means raising taxes.” And according to a Harris poll published in The Wall Street Journal last October, 75 percent of Americans favor universal health insurance.
Rather than organize a presidential campaign around an issue with decades of majority support, presidential candidate John Kerry stressed in 2004 that he had no plan for universal health coverage. Kerry lost the election, while Bush, who also rejects universal health care, was elected based on his “likeability” and other irrelevant factors.
Even if a candidate were to endorse a WFP-approved position, it wouldn’t mean too much, as Democrats and Republicans are not the world’s most trustworthy fellows. Occasionally they make promises to working people, but they rarely carry out those promises.
The real power is the people who, collectively, own the dominant institutions of the country ?” the banks, the major businesses, the media, etc. Without constant popular awareness and agitation, the major businesses will apply media pressure, go on an investment strike or simply take their capital out of the country.
Real change comes when enough people do the things that no one wants to do, the things that almost no one does ?” risking humiliation by doing the tedious, dull, generally unrewarding work of educating and organizing, being ignored or laughed at and mocked by friends for being an extremist, but also occasionally getting people interested in a particular issue. You never know if a success is worth anything, whether or not you’re wasting your time, or if you’re even doing the right thing.
In the mainstream, the political terms “liberal” and “conservative” represent two poles of violent extremes (Republicans and Democrats), which encompass all possible ideas and solutions to all possible problems. In the more critical literature, “liberal” is used to describe those who permit mild reforms, sometimes preemptively, although usually only when necessary to maintain order and unjust institutions, while “conservative” refers to those who allow reforms only when absolutely necessary to prevent revolution.
Without fundamental change ?” the elimination of the profit motive and private ownership of productive means ?” all party politics are either liberal, conservative, or in between, and without popular participation no party can achieve anything for the majority of the population.
If approached by a Working Families Party campaigner who, having studied MoveOn’s “50 Ways to Love Your Country,” tells you “I have a ballot initiative for you to sign,” go ahead and sign it. At worst, it’s useless.