U.S.: Democrats Get a Push from the Left

  • by Matthew Cardinale (atlanta, georgia)
  • Tuesday, December 29, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

The two major parties, the Democrats and Republicans, portray themselves as starkly different. However, by international standards, the two parties are more centrist and right-wing, respectively.

Meanwhile, leftist parties like the Green Party struggle to gain ballot access.

In recent years, an even more centrist group of Democrats, the so-called Blue Dog Coalition, has blurred the line between the two parties further.

Now, some grassroots organisations are calling for the emergence of a true leftist alternative within the Democratic Party structure.

'My hope is all of the lousy, no-good Democrats are vulnerable,' David Swanson, author and activist with Democrats.com and Progressive Democrats of America, told IPS. 'For even a handful of incumbents to be voted out would be a dramatic breakthrough. Incumbents [almost] never lose.'

Democrats.com, a left-leaning website that describes itself as 'aggressive progressives', has launched a Jobs not War platform, and so far is supporting three candidates who have signed on to the platform. The organisation is not affiliated with the Democratic Party and in fact tries to subvert the party at times by pushing from the left.

The Jobs not War candidates are former State Sen. Regina Thomas, who is challenging Rep. John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat, for a second time; Marcy Winograd, who is re-challenging Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat; and Jonathan Tasini, who is challenging appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Gillibrand was appointed to replace former senator Hillary Clinton after she became secretary of state. Tasini had previously challenged Clinton for the same seat.

So far, the organisation says it has raised 22,000 dollars to support its three candidates at the polls next November.

'On the crucial issues of jobs and wars, Washington isn't listening to the American people,' Bob Fertik, president of Democrats.com, said in a statement. 'We need to change Washington by electing a new generation of progressive Democrats who will create millions of jobs by saving trillions on endless wars.'

Another new group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told IPS it has raised 20,000 dollars to run online ads targeting centrist Democrats.

PCCC says it is targeting 10 Blue Dog Democrats who voted against landmark health care legislation in the U.S. House. The House and Senate have now both passed versions of legislation to expand health care access to millions of U.S. citizens.

The centrist Democrat targets of PCCC include Reps. Scott Murphy of New York, Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Suzanna Kosma of Florida, Mike Ross of Arkansas, and John Barrow of Georgia, who is also being targeted by Democrats.com.

The PCCC claims to have 250,000 members on its website. However, it is not clear where the start-up organisation is getting its funding or membership support from. PCCC does not have a phone number, and the organisation did not return an email from IPS seeking comment.

A third national group, Moveon.org, which has provided online and community activism tools to left-leaning Democrats for several years, recently sent out an email campaign targeting Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent.

Lieberman, who had been former Vice President Al Gore's 2000 running mate, has come under fire for opposing some of the more progressive provisions in the health care bill.

For example, Lieberman was one of the strongest opponents of the public option, a government-run insurance alternative to compete with private health insurance. Lieberman also recently opposed allowing people between the ages of 55 and 65 to purchase Medicare, citing the cost.

Lieberman faced a progressive challenger in the 2006 election, Ned Lamont, who won the Democratic Primary. Then, Lieberman left the Democratic Party to start a new party called the Independent Democrats, and he kept his seat in the general election. Lieberman also supported Sen. John McCain for president in 2008, the Republican candidate.

'The time for forgiveness is over. It's time to hold Senator Lieberman accountable,' Moveon.org said. 'First, we're going to launch a huge ad campaign to make sure every last Connecticut voter knows that Senator Lieberman is blocking strong reforms. Then, we'll push Senate leaders to strip him of his chairmanship and seniority. Finally, we'll work to defeat him in his next election.'

Moveon.org had raised 600,000 dollars earlier this month and has set out to raise an additional 400,000 to unseat Lieberman. Lamont, however, has said he is running for governor of Connecticut this year, not the U.S. Senate.

Other organisations supporting progressive challengers to centrist Democrats include the Progressive Democrats of America, which seeks to move the Democratic Party to the left; and Act Blue, an online fundraising tool that people incorporate with their personal websites and blogs.

Former State Sen. Regina Thomas, who is challenging Barrow in Georgia's Savannah area, appreciates the national support, particularly from Fertik of Democrats.com.

'It's a good feeling there's groups out there that say he needs opposition,' Thomas said.

'It validates... one of the reasons I'm running. You have all these people outside the State of Georgia and watching our Congressman and wondering what are those people in the 12th [District] thinking? Do they not know what he's doing here?'

Thomas criticised Barrow for not supporting health care reform or the public option in the U.S. House.

'The district is one of the poorest, people are not insured. If the bill's going to insure people, why not [support it]? You can always revisit it,' Thomas said.

'When [George W.] Bush was president and he [Barrow] voted to allow the telecommunications company to illegally wiretap the American citizens... and then turn around and give those telephone companies immunity, that was a bad vote,' Thomas said.

'There were several environmental bills that he didn't support that he should've supported,' she added.

Thomas said that Obama's endorsement of Barrow helped him in the 2008 election.

'This time, I said I'm going to start early. I'm going to let people know, if you're not satisfied with what you have, look at the district and [ask], are we better off now? And I say no, the 12th district can do better,' she said.

Progressives scored a recent victory when Donna Edwards unseated Rep. Al Wynn, a moderate Maryland Democrat, in 2008. Edwards first almost unseated Wynn in 2006, which had the effect of pushing Wynn to the left.

After almost losing the first time, Wynn became one of the first members of Congress to support impeaching Vice President Dick Cheney.

'Donna Edwards was one where the progressive blogosphere and activist groups all got involved and supported her,' Swanson said, cautioning, 'She's not as progressive as she was as a candidate.'

But might calling for 'party purity' have the unintended effect of driving away possible supporters?

'If we have to have parties at all, I'd like them to represent majority opinions not minority views,' Swanson said. 'Health care for all, ending wars, funding education and jobs and energy and infrastructure, not spying on people without warrants, holding everyone accountable. It's commie radical fringe stuff to the corporate media but it's still majority opinion.'

'There's a danger in saying the middle ground must be somewhere between the elected Democrats and the elected Republicans when both are to the right of majority opinions on most issues,' Swanson said.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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