Camejo, Selfa, and Debating the Rearrangement of Deck Chairs

April 8, 2005
The Socialist Worker’s Lance Selfa wrote an article opposing the idea of trying to turn the Democratic Party into a truly progressive force. Hopeless, he said. I sent him a response, which the Socialist Worker published together with a reply from Selfa. See the exchange here:

At the same time, Ralph Nader running mate Peter Camejo published an article criticizing the same thing and denouncing various efforts as “lesser evilism.” See:

Both of these articles criticize the project of Progressive Democrats of America, on whose board I serve. But both of these articles contain much that I agree with. In fact, I think that those of us who want to reform the Democrats agree with those who want to build a third or fourth progressive party on both short and long-term goals. It is only on medium-range goals that we differ.

In the long term, we all want to see a society with more equity of power and wealth, less violence, better education, a guarantee of health care, a guarantee of a living-wage job with rights in the workplace, and an environmentally sustainable economy.

And we agree on many short-term goals. It was Greens and Democrats working together who forced legal and congressional challenges to last November’s presidential vote in Ohio. We didn’t stop to make sure we could all agree on all of our medium-range goals. We got together and worked. We should be working together with the same passion and the same coordination on every issue.

By medium-range goals I mean the question of whether we want to try to improve the Democrats or try to throw them out of power in favor of a new party. Many of us currently see short-term building of a third party that’s more progressive than many Democrats are as helpful for both goals. It helps to push the Democrats toward a more progressive position as well as helping to build a new party.

We also see reforming our electoral system in ways that break up the two-party system as helpful for both goals. Let’s have credible and re-countable voting machines. Let’s have clean public financing of elections. Let’s have democratic media. Let’s be rid of the electoral college. Let’s have instant runoff voting. But those are long-term goals. We will have to achieve one or both of our medium-range goals before we can get there. And those medium range goals are enormous goals.

I want to advocate setting aside those medium-range goals and focusing on the short-term. We have a long-range vision that is clearer and more powerful than that of the Republicans or the corporate Democrats. John Kerry hasn’t heard about it, and the corporate media is reluctant to tell anybody about it. But we have it. And it can help us in the short run.

In the short run we need to demand an end to the war, fight the bankruptcy bill, insist on the Employee Free Choice Act, block CAFTA, correct the plummeting minimum wage, and a million other things that we agree on, and that we can achieve if we work on together. We’re smarter than they are, and there are more of us. But we have to stop debating the rearrangement of deck chairs.

Don’t accuse me of being threatened by independence or of engaging in red baiting, and I won’t accuse you of preferring expressive anger to serious engagement. None of that is true of either of us. The danger to the Green Party is not, as Camejo says, the Democratic Party. The danger is rising fascism, which has its base in the Republican Party, with outposts among the Democrats and in some third parties too. The smartest way for us to fight it right now is both inside and outside the Democratic Party.

Selfa is incorrect in surmising that PDA plans to back bad Democrats over good third-party candidates. We do not. We will back the more progressive candidate, regardless of party. We will sit out races that do not include a progressive candidate. We would love it if you would do the same.

We are not fighting you, Mr. Camejo. We’re sorry that it could not be arranged at the last moment for Nader to speak at that conference. I admire Nader greatly and believe he was right to support Kucinich in the primaries. I also believe that Kucinich and I were both wrong to back Kerry.

But I believe that you were equally wrong not to get involved in the primaries. Those people who chose to change their registrations temporarily to Democrat in order to vote for Kucinich in a primary, and who then voted for someone better than Kerry in the general election outdid us both. They set aside the academic debate over what we dream of for medium-range solutions. They engaged and acted to encourage progressive politics. Their actions were based on neither loyalty nor hatred toward a particular party, but on a long-range vision of a just society.

Let’s de-emphasize party. Bernie Sanders helps the Democratic Party move toward positions that people support. Fighting to maintain the filibuster for the Democrats helps keep third-party activists from living in a fascist state. Let’s build a coalition of activists and elect some of our own. In Solidarity.

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