05 November 2013

Crashing the NYC victory party

New York City voters are expected today to make Bill de Blasio their first Democratic mayor in a generation, following the tough-on-crime Republican regime of Rudy Giuliani and the "nanny-state" Republican-turned-independent billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Not surprisingly, the Working Families Party is rushing in to claim credit for de Blasio's apparently inevitable triumph. The WFP rarely if ever runs candidates of its own, but fattens on state election rules permitting cross-endorsements of candidates by multiple parties. Voters pick persons, not parties; every vote for De Blasio counts whether you check the Democratic or WFP line. Cross-endorsement allows liberals who feel more liberal than Democrats, but can neither imagine nor risk an alternative to Democratic candidates, to feel better about themselves when voting for the Democrat. They convince themselves that they are sending the candidate a message -- that their support for him is conditional upon his abiding by the principles of the cross-endorsing party rather than the one that nominated him. They play math games to show, should an election be close, that their candidate owes his success to cross-endorsements -- as if those voters would ever have selected anyone else. That's the kind of victory the WFP expects to claim today; they'll scarf up the buffet food as if they had contributed it.

Anticipating de Blasio's victory, The Nation calls the Democrat "a symbol of the [WFP's] efforts to infuse New York politics with true progressive values." This is intended as something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and writer Dylan Tokar realizes that the fulfillment depends on voters making the apparently risk-free decision to vote for de Blasio on the WFP line. At the Daily Beast. David Freedlander reports that WFP leaders claim credit for de Blasio getting the Democratic nomination in the first place, if not for inspiring him to run at all. He and the current WFP leader are longtime friends; the latter may well rise to the level of a powerful crony in a de Blasio administration. Whether de Blasio's mayoralty will have resulted from that friendship isn't so easy to prove. Proof of his and his party's influence is demonstrated this way: in his campaign de Blasio has talked about poverty and inequality; the WFP always talks about poverty and inequality; therefore, anyone who talks about poverty and inequality in a successful campaign owes his success to the ideas, and maybe even the votes, of WFP members. The hidden premise is the assumption that only the WFP has talked about poverty and inequality in a compelling way; that no aspiring politician in New York city would talk about poverty and inequality unless inspired or goaded by the WFP. Who really believes this? The problem with the WFP has always been that its goal is to make the Democratic party more concerned about poverty and inequality before making government take these problems into account. You can certainly argue that this is a realistic assessment of what's possible in a Bipolarchy like the U.S., but the WFP's ultimate and essential dependence upon the good will of Democrats should not be mistaken for the reverse. The right-wing New York Post has made the same "a victory for de Blasio is a victory for the WFP" argument to damn both candidate and party as extreme leftists. The WFP chuckles at the Post's indignation, yet really seems to believe that the paper is telling the truth. But the measure of how progressive or leftist you are shouldn't be how angry you make the cranks on the right. After all, right-wingers regularly accuse people and parties of being leftist (or "socialist") when those accused are nothing of the sort. De Blasio may well prove himself a progressive mayor, but no one should take it for granted just because the Post or the Working Families Party says so.

No comments: