I wrote earlier about the Democrats lurch to the left and some of the data being used to drag the party away from the center. Last week I wrote about the Green New Deal and how its support is tied to the Tides Foundation through affiliates and current and former grantees.
The big question is “Why?”. How did the party that elected Bill Clinton to two terms beginning in 1992 veer so far left that Barack Obama was elected in 2008? Why has it drifted even further left since?
Despite calls from within the party to moderate and the threat of an independent center-left presidential run from Howard Schultz, very few prominent Democrats seem to be heeding the call. The answer may be found in the comments of one of the founders of the party now known as the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Michael Harrington was an academic and leader of the Socialist movement. He was active in its various iterations through the 1960s and 1970s. Eventually, he became Chairman of the DSA in 1982. One of his early books, The Other America: Poverty in the United States is credited with influencing President Kennedy and then President Johnson into supporting the War on Poverty.
In his public debates with individuals such as William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman Harrington’s disdain for capitalism and desire for “democratically owned businesses” was clear. He also showed a strong preference for the central administration of redistribution and other programs from the federal level. He called capitalism a mythical system. Yet he said those who had participated in the “dog eat dog” system were to be revered for making it possible to move to a more decent system. Socialism.
While the movement was breaking into numerous factions with differing ideas about how to promote their ideas, Harrington endorsed the plan of another leader in the movement named Max Shachtman. It advocated for working through one of the existing political parties to advance socialist policies. He continued to hold this philosophy as the leader of the DSA.
Near the end of his life, Harrington articulated the justification for this strategy. In 1988, he put his support behind Democrat Michael Dukakis for President. This followed the defeat of Jesse Jackson, the candidate the DSA had endorsed, in the primary:
His strategy is explicit. At 6:45 in the linked video he states:
The way you get a new party in the United States is by transforming an old party.
Of the two parties in the United States, his choice was to work within the Democrats. He saw the campaign of Jesse Jackson during the 1988 primary as the basis for institutionalizing a leftward movement within the party. It was certainly not because he saw the Democrats as allies. He called them “miserable” and referred to the 1988 ticket as “compromised” because of the nomination of Lloyd Benson for Vice-President. He stated:
In the crazy politics of the United States, you have a Democratic party which contains some of the worst people in the country. Some of the outstanding racists, sexists, union busters, cold warriors and God knows what else are in the Democratic party. At the same time, that same party contains some of the best people in the country.
For Harrington, it was lesser of two evils kind of bargain. He also saw the basis for his movement in the Rainbow Coalition that backed Jackson.
He also predicts that the Reagan era is over and the economy is on will experience a serious crisis within two to five years. He also explains why in his opinion starting a third political party is not a viable strategy. Because the voters elect the chief executive in the U.S. system, he believed a two-party system was required. He contrasts it with a parliamentary system where the legislative branch selects the executive and where any number of parties may be found in the government.
He basically admits that the kind of crisis a financial collapse would create was necessary for the ascendency of the left. It’s almost as if people need to feel helpless to turn to a centralized power for help:
The American people are going to wake up and understand the Dream is over, the house of cards has collapsed.
Then he offered part of an analogy we have heard fall from the lips of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez herself. The New Deal under FDR was born of financial crisis and looming dangers of World War II. Together these crises presented new opportunities to institutionalize socialist ideas. He felt an impending financial collapse would bring about the same opportunity in a short period of time.
We stumbled across the video of Mr. Harrington because we were looking at the rise of Ocasio Cortez. Frank Llewellyn, has been affiliated with the DSA and held various leadership positions off and on since the early ’80s. He served as the Ocasio-Cortez campaign’s treasurer. Llewellyn had been involved in Socialist movement since 1968 and worked with Harrington in the ’70s. During a video interview in with CSPAN in 1999, Llewellyn named Harrington as one of his primary influences.
In Ocasio-Cortez’s race, DSA organizers say their cadre of volunteers knocked on over 13,000 doors to drum up enthusiasm for her bid. That level of support is significant in primaries that traditionally see low turnout. Ocasio-Cortez defeated Crowley with a little over 15,000 votes in a district with a total population of more than 700,000. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, and she will almost certainly win the seat in November’s general election, barring completely unforeseen factors.
Vigie Ramos Rios, manager of Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, was careful to point out to Yahoo News that other organizations also backed her bid, including Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats. Still, Ramos Rios said the impact of the DSA’s work in the field was clear.
“They were strong supporters,” she said of the DSA. “There were areas they canvassed that came out for us in spades.”
“The Democratic Socialists of America show their muscle in New York congressional upset”, Hunter Walker and Christopher Wilson, Yahoo News, June 29, 2018
The DSA does not run candidates staying true to Harrington’s vision. They do however endorse them as they run in Democrat primaries and general elections. In fact, it is an integral part of their election strategy.
Allied with them and with a similar stated goal, the Justice Democrats take credit for identifying and convincing Cortez to run according to a video on their website. The group was founded by supporters of Bernie Sanders after the 2016 election and is focused on active management of their identified candidate’s campaign. Her campaign co-chair, who is now her Chief of Staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, is listed as a co-founder and former Executive Director of the Justice Democrats.
It is as if this new group also borrowed a page from Harrington’s strategy:
The two-party paradigm is the model for our country’s current political system. While we agree with and often champion many third-party candidates and movements, the reality is that right now it is next to impossible for a third-party candidate to win a national election.
We want our democracy to work for Americans again as soon as possible. The best way to do this is by working to change the Democratic Party from the inside out. Once Justice Democrats take power, we plan to implement electoral reform like ranked choice voting so third parties can have more power in our democracy.
Both groups are boasting wins in the last cycle and are energized by the results from 2018. According to the Justice Democrats website:
Likewise, the DSA announced they will be supporting a candidate for District Attorney in Queens. Tiffany Caban, a public defender, will be running in the Democrat primary for the position.
Thirty years after Harrington memorialized his strategy, progressive activists have advanced his idea of taking over the Democrat party. Recent success has led to the radical Green New Deal resolution. Full blown socialism is on the table. And it has earned a significant number of endorsements from elected Democrats. Not just those affiliated with the DSA or Justice Democrats.
Perhaps Sean Mc Elwee, founder of Tides Advocacy affiliate, Data for Progress, summed up the current position the best:
“Green jobs are overwhelmingly popular with voters. This is the future,” says Data for Progress co-founder Sean McElwee. “The question is not if we get a Green New Deal. We will have a Green New Deal. The question is how much beautiful socialist bulls—- we get out of it after we wrestle with the Blue Dogs.”
“The Green New Deal, explained”, David Roberts, Vox, February 7, 2019
The war for the soul of the Democrat party is on. I am rooting for the Blue Dogs.
*Note: I am being supported in research for these articles by Rich Weinstein. You can follow Rich on Twitter @phillyrich1