29 October 2010

The Nation: Mouthpiece of the Working Families Party

Katrina vanden Heuvel says, "...if you can vote for the WFP this election, do it." She's the editor and publisher of The Nation, the small-n nation's leading liberal weekly, and the WFP, of course, is the Working Families Party. The WFP has sent me a mailing reprinting vanden Heuvel's blanket endorsement, which originally appeared on the Nation website. It follows closely after the magazine's November 1 issue, featuring Alyssa Katz's cover-story defense of the WFP against "the corporate backlash."

While both vanden Heuval and Katz admirably accentuate the positive and refuse to cast slurs, I infer from this campaign that The Nation has either no use or no liking for the Green party. The magazine's hateful attitude toward former Green standard bearer Ralph Nader is well known, but I'm surprised that vanden Heuval and her writers still hold such a grudge. You can read an implicit criticism of the Greens in the editor's endorsement letter, in which she emphasizes "the importance of being principled and pragmatic -- striking a balance between a transformative politics aimed at a fundamentally different, humane and sustainable society, and the compromises often necessary to address people's immediate needs and begin moving toward bolder reforms."

Between the lines, vanden Heuval continues to advocate constructive engagement with the Democratic party instead of competitive confrontation. Greens may dream of replacing the Democrats someday, or simply surpassing them, but vanden Heuval hints in her reference to "people's immediate needs" that compromise and accommodation will always be necessary for progressives. Any sustained campaign to replace the Democrats as the dominant progressive party (in the public mind, however belatedly) will inevitably mean Republican victories. Those are sacrifices vanden Heuval is unwilling to make, and she clearly believes that poor people shouldn't have to pay whatever price comes with the sacrifice.

Of course, The Nation has to prove that the WFP's constructive-engagement policy actually has a progressive effect on Democratic party politics. The simplest approach is to credit Working Families with anything progressive accomplished by the Democrats, not to mention the election of any progressive Democratic candidate. Perhaps more significantly, Katz credits the WFP with getting progressive candidates elected in Democratic primaries, citing this year's primary for attorney general and the toppling of the vulnerable, scandal-plagued Pedro Espada as examples of the New York party's continued strength despite a succession of scandals presumably manufactured as part of the "corporate backlash." Throughout her article, Katz repeats the WFP line that voting for Democrats on their line gives Working Families special leverage with Democratic winners. A more implicit argument is that people who vote WFP but remain registered Democrats can have a decisive influence in Democratic primaries. That may be true in some races, but local experience proves that both Democrats and Republicans often have decisive influence in WFP primaries wherever the party has failed to maintain or even establish cohesive local organizations.

Some readers may choke on their chuckles as Katz describes the "uncompromising demands" of the WFP and its "power over the Democratic Party" in light of the party's utter capitulation to Andrew Cuomo's austerity agenda. Katz can't avoid the story, and acknowledges that the WFP's likely "deference" to Cuomo presents a challenge to the party's integrity and future. "Why have a progressive party if it isn't free to be, well, progressive?" she asks, while an unidentified "consultant close to the party" asks, "How much is too much? At what point have you lost your way?" The questions hang in space while Katz recites a litany of "stunning success," but she returns to the challenge near the end. "The party must look ahead to a fresh, Cuomo-friendly way to advance its vision," she writes. Her own recommendation: "That means pressing legislators and agencies to invest in everything from energy-efficiency retrofits to public transportation, not only to create good jobs but to lower the cost of living and raise the quality of life for everyone." That sounds like lobbying to me, and there may be a place in politics for a lobby based solely on numbers of voters, not millions of dollars. But the WFP model remains ultimately complacent, grounded in enduring faith in the malleability of the Democratic Party and a fatalistic concession of its permanence. Since WFP partisans accept the Bipolarchial premise that Republican rule for any time would be an immediate if not irrevocable disaster, they can never truly force any issue on Democrats or threaten to withhold their support. And if, after all these reputed successes, their own seal of approval is assumed by them to be insufficient to win 50,000 votes for an independent candidate for governor, how powerful are they, really? Working Families may brandish vanden Heuval's letter or Katz's cover story as important endorsements, but they strike me as desperate cries for help. "Who's Afraid of Progressive Power?" The Nation asks, but its editorial line is a fearful admission of progressive powerlessness.


d.eris said...

"The magazine's hateful attitude toward former Green standard bearer Ralph Nader is well known."

I'm not familiar with the details here actually. Is it just post-2000 election ressentiment, or a more long-standing grudge?

Samuel Wilson said...

The editorial consensus there is that Nader has besmirched his own noble legacy with presidential campaigns they feel were driven by egotistical self-righteousness. They reject what they consider a simplistic premise that there is no real difference between the two major parties, as well as the more critical assumption that there isn't difference enough to justify perpetual accommodation with the Democratic party.

Samuel Wilson said...

Cryhmethinc writes: "They claim to be "progressive", yet I have yet to see a truly progressive candidate on their ballot line. In fact, this time around, they're even endorsing a Republican, Matt Turner, for city judge in Troy. Why not endorse the Democrat, Chuck Thomas?

Point is, the WFP is NOT a political party in any real sense of the word. They simply endorse one of the two major party candidates. They rarely run their own candidate and it seems to me there ought to be an election law stating that any political party has to run it's own candidate, not merely be a second line for a major party."