In the latest issue of The Nation, William Greider tells "progressives" that they "have to pick a fight with their own party." He writes that "people who adhere to the core Democratic values Obama has abandoned need a strategy for stronger resistance. That would mean not running away from Obama but running at him -- challenging his leadership of the party, mobilizing dissident voices and voters, pushing Congressional Democrats to embrace a progressive agenda in competition with Obama's."
Grieder is pessimistic in the short term, insistent in the long term. Noting that "The White House evidently thinks it's good politics for 2012 to dismiss the left and court wobbly independents," he concedes that "very few [progressives] will wish to oppose [Obama] next year, given the fearful possibility of right-wing crazies running the country." Beyond next year, however, "People in a rebellious mood should also prepare for the possibility that it may already be too late, that the Democratic Party's gradual move uptown is too advanced to reverse. In that event, people will have to locate a new home -- a new force in politics that speaks for them."
Greider neatly sums up the progressive dilemma. I can only respond by asking: If not now, when? And why not now? Because "right-wing crazies" might run the country if progressives abandon Democrats. Will Republicans cease to be "right-wing crazies" in 2016, or in 2020? It wouldn't be impossible, but it seems unlikely now, and Democrats will most likely argue that the GOP will only get more crazy. No matter how much further Republicans move to the right, or how much further Democrats move to the right out of "centrist" calculation, Democrats will always present themselves as preferable to Republicans and may well always be. But does being preferable to the Republicans make Democrats desirable? Lesser-evil logic dictates that being preferable to Republicans makes voting Democratic imperative, but this imperative operates according to the same grim logic E. J. Dionne ascribed to centrism below. The Democratic party can get infinitely worse, but so long as the Republican party remains the even worse and intolerable option, the imperative to vote Democratic retains undiminished force. The assumption is that Republican victory is always the worst thing that can happen and cannot be allowed, while the Democrats occupy the "middle ground" between GOP dystopia and "impossible" progressive idealism. But as centrism and lesser-evilism compel Democrats to follow the Republican path, people must finally ask how much worse than Democratic victory Republican victory really can be. In turn, they might ask how much worse it would be to "lose" by voting for an independent candidate than it would be to "lose" by voting for capitulating centrist Democrats. Once more people realize that they "lose" whether they vote for a Democrat or a Republican, the less it should hurt to "lose" by voting for an apparently futile but principled independent -- and the less it hurts to lose that way, the more people might vote that way ... and the less they'll lose. And we might as well get the pain out of the way sooner rather than later.