15 December 2010

Working Families Party or Winning Fusion Players?

In the current Nation columnist John Nichols declares victory for the Working Families Party in two statewide elections last month. To give you a sense of his perspective, Nichols believes that the WFP of New York has "for a decade been a key player" in state politics. He finds fresh proof of its...playfulness in the election of Democrat Tom DiNapoli as state comptroller. DiNapoli owes his win to the WFP, Nichols claims, because it "provided the margin of victory" for the Democrat. Nichols is even more impressed, however, by the performance of the newer Working Families Party of Connecticut. In that state, Democrat Dan Malloy won the gubernatorial election by a narrow margin. Had Malloy depended on the Democratic line alone, Nichols notes, he would have been outpolled by the Republican candidate by 20,000 votes. Malloy is the next governor because an additional 26,308 citizens voted for him on the WFP line.

It's easy to see the point Nichols is trying to make. He'd like Democrats-elect to appreciate their dependence on Working Families votes by adopting more progressive policies. He hopes to convince all of us that the results from New York and Connecticut give the WFP some sort of leverage it can use to pressure Democrats into more progressive governance. All his premises depend on an assumption that Working Families voters would not vote for Democrats who aren't endorsed by the WFP. The Connecticut WFP website asserts that the party will support only those Democrats "who will stand up for our values, like creating good jobs, making healthcare more affordable, and fair taxes on the middle class." This page describes the screening process that determines whether Democrats (or Republicans) will receive a WFP endorsement. Fine. Perhaps the Connecticut party has more spine than its New York counterpart, which compromised its values in return for a Democrat allowing himself to appear on its line. But a party decision to endorse or not is one thing. The real question is whether the WFP can enforce its will on registered members. Can it convince voters who presumably identify themselves as progressive liberals not to vote for a Democrat, especially if that means, as the two elections under discussion imply, that Republicans will win? Could it convince members to vote for a candidate of the party's own creation instead of a deficient Democrat, if that also means Republican victory? If I were a Democrat, I'd doubt it -- and I'd respond to WFP lobbying accordingly. The Working Families commitment to fusion voting virtually rejects the possibility that the Democratic party might not be good enough for working families during the current economic emergency or the perpetual emergency of Republican menace. If the WFP has won anything through the election of Democrats, I suspect it's the party's fundraisers who are celebrating the most, since writers like Nichols have given them blurbs to boast over in advertising. Whether they've made politics in New York or Connecticut more liberal or more progressive -- whether they've won anything real for their constituents, is doubtful.

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