This is one of those strategies which comes straight from the pages of textbooks found in any accredited political science program. In fact, I’m betting that many of you, upon hearing the details, will be slapping your foreheads in one of those I could have had a V-8, why didn’t I think of that moments. After losing a presidential election and the majority in both chambers of Congress and now facing a midterm battle where they’ll be defending roughly twice as many Senate seats as the GOP, there’s one clear path back to victory for the Democrats. Let’s swerve completely over to socialism.
That seems to be the message in this report from Andrew Hanna and Taylor Gee at Politico, examining the swelling membership of the Democratic Socialists of America. This group (which I apologize for not even being aware of until today) feels vastly empowered by the amount of support Bernie Sanders attracted last year in the Democratic primary and have been capitalizing on it. Still, they know that a third party isn’t going anywhere soon, so some of them are admitting that the only viable path to victory is by essentially taking over the Democratic Party from the inside and essentially becoming the Tea Party of the left.
Inspired by the Vermont senator’s success at forcing leftwing ideas into the nomination battle, the nation’s largest socialist organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, has watched its dues-paying membership, which historically has hovered around 5,000, swell to 25,000. The DSA is still nowhere near the levels of the Socialist Party in 1920 when nearly a million people voted for Eugene Debs, but its members, too young to remember the Cold War much less the “red scares” of the 1910s and 1950s, aren’t content to sit quietly on the political sidelines, perennially irrelevant in a system built to sustain two major parties.
They want to win. And to do it, socialists are dispensing with their penchant for symbolic protest votes and their principled disdain for an electoral process they believe can’t deliver meaningful change. Sanders’ ability to run well in primaries across the country, say new DSA members, proved that democratic socialism isn’t destined for the kind of third-party tokenism that bedevils the Green Party and World Workers Party among others. And it has opened their minds to an electoral strategy that was until very recently considered heretical.
“The only viable electoral strategy is to work with the Democratic Party,” says Michael Kazin, the editor of leftist magazine Dissent. “There is no viable third party.”
If we were looking at this in purely mathematical terms, it’s impossible to argue with their logic. There’s been a Conservative Party in place in New York and other places around the nation for some time, but they’ve never threatened to eliminate the GOP. It took the Tea Party, working from inside the tent, to push the party to the right. So why not try the same thing from the left?
Well… for one thing, the Tea Party was really just doing a better job of articulating elements of the conservative platform which were already in place and simply needed some new energy injected into them. The current species of neo-liberalism which drives the core and establishment of the Democrats in the 21st century believe in plenty of big government programs, lots of taxes and intrusive control of the lives of citizens where practical, but few if any actually embrace hard core, capital S Socialism. The successes of the Tea Party might be a bit hard to replicate with that as the explicitly stated goal.
I also found one quote from Amy Zachmeyer, co-chair of the DSA’s Houston chapter, to be particularly telling. “I already considered myself a socialist, but didn’t realize there were so many of us until Bernie Sanders kind of made it OK to talk about being a democratic socialist.”
First of all, Bernie backpedaled from the S-word quite a bit in order to make that ultimately failed bid and he joined the Democrats. He took to using the “Democratic socialist” tag on the campaign trail to soften the impact on the public. In Gallup’s long running survey of different “categories” of people they would consider voting for, ten of eleven could garner the support of at least 50% of the country. Those included Catholics, Jews, Muslims, evangelicals, gays, blacks, Hispanics, atheists and women. The one category which couldn’t get to 50%? Yep… socialists.
But just as a reminder to Amy Zachmeyer and any others finding themselves thinking along similar lines I would offer one other word of caution: Venezuela. Watch what’s happening there right now and then pick up a history book and look at what happened to the other, major experiments in socialism. What’s going on right now under Nicolas Maduro isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. That’s how socialism ends. Every time.
Consider that before you decide to become the Tea Party of the Democratic Party. Or then again… don’t. We could use to win a couple more cycles.