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Tue Oct 20, 2015, 06:04 PM

"Party Loyalty" and the Purpose of Parties (warning: Long read)

Political factions are as old as humanity. But the political "Party," as an organized entity with a structure, role, legal obligations and powers, is actually a pretty recent development, traceable to the conflict between those who wanted a government modeled on strong executive authority versus strong representative legislative powers, in late 17th Century England.

As the two groups coalesced around various leaders and attempted to steer the course of Britain's nascent Parliamentary democracy, inter-party conflict quickly became an issue. This was (inevitably!) complicated by intra-party conflict that rendered both of the major parties objects of scorn and ridicule.

So despised were English political parties by the time of the American Revolution that several key American leaders were utterly opposed to permitting the sanction or participation of parties in the US version of representative democracy. Alexander Hamilton regarded parties as "a vice" to be guarded against. Jefferson went further, stating "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all."

Yet even with that distaste, Hamilton and Jefferson themselves became the nuclei of factions that inevitably became Parties.

Perhaps the words of Ben Franklin best illustrate why parties are such a durable feature in representative democratic governments: "We must hang together, or we will assuredly all hang separately."

Although those words were not spoken in the context of political parties, they encapsulate the fundamental reality that only by acting in solidarity can those without wealth and/or power effectively counterbalance and oppose those with the inherent power of wealth and position.

Political parties, like labor unions, are a tool for the non-wealthy and non-powerful to advance agendas of change and to act collectively on our own behalf.

But political parties are vulnerable to co-optation and dilution by those opposed to their agendas from without, and to dissension and chaos from competing priorities and agendas within the party itself.

It's tremendously difficult to pull a party together and maintain its effectiveness because as soon as collective action begins to have an effect (as with the victories of labor unions in the early part of the 20th Century, or the civil rights victories mid-century,) two things happen:

The first is backlash, which is very predictable. The strength and power of the backlash, the resources devoted to rolling back those victories and opposing further progress, tend to be in direct proportion to the effects and magnitude of change achieved.

Backlash would not be quite so damaging if it weren't for the other effect: Collective action fatigue. Collective action is HARD WORK. It demands commitments of time, it demands sacrifices, greater and lesser ones, of personal priorities to the collective priorities. And with the achievement of victories, the easing of conditions, the opening up of new benefits, those who've been willing to attend meetings, participate in actions, put personal priorities on hold for collective priorities, tend to shift efforts elsewhere.

It's natural. Many of the laborers who were fired up enough in the 1930s to stand bravely before company goons, get arrested, beaten, sit for days in cold factories while their families ate soup at the union hall, etc., could barely be bothered to attend elections at the local twenty-five years later.

Many of the Republicans who worked incredibly hard to elect Republican Congresses that would move the nation toward abolition in the mid-19th century had pretty much abandoned any electoral participation at all by the end of the century, leaving their Party to internecine, plutocrats versus Progressives strife.

Many who were attracted to the Democratic Party by its support of labor and its movement toward civil rights in the middle of the 20th century stopped attending caucuses, stopped going to conventions, stopped putting in the time and effort demanded to wrest the soul of the Party from the entrenched interests of the military-industrial complex. I attribute that pretty much equally to the distraction of Watergate and successful efforts to convince Democrats that an occasional primary vote could be just as effective as actually participating in the party itself, and so MUCH easier, less stressful and less time-consuming.

The harsh reality of representative democracies is this: Parties are the only viable force that can effectively empower structurally disempowered groups. And the larger the party, the more effective that effort CAN be, but only if the parties themselves are willing to act in solidarity.

I would ask this of my fellow DUers:

First, do not condemn the concept of "Party loyalty" as something evil, stupid, weak, collusive, lazy, etcetera, nor make the assumption that those who value party loyalty are somehow "tainted" by their understanding of its potential and power. Just because they see the potential power of putting aside critical personal priorities for less personally-cherished collective agendas that might produce smaller, incremental motion in a good direction doesn't mean they are a malign or stupid enemy.

But also, do not condemn those who correctly and urgently point out the messes and structural ineffectiveness of relying on a party that has long since been co-opted and corrupted by both the interests of the powerful and our own willingness to make the easy choices and leave the hard work to others. They are CORRECT. Loyalty to such a party can be futile or even counter-effective.

We all have individual choices to make. We all have to balance present needs and realities with future threats and possibilities. We all have to determine what we're willing to throw into the pot in the way of effort, action, money, and commitment, and why. We cannot make those decisions for one another, and condemning and belittling one another for those decisions keeps us from uniting around the common grounds we CAN agree on. It dilutes the power of this community to attract and grow support for the agendas we do share, even if we don't all order them in the same priority.

And the name of this website is "Democratic Underground." "Democratic" as in "Democratic Party." Yes, we welcome those who may not be members of the party, or even consistent past Democratic voters. We welcome everyone who shares a good chunk of the large common ground that represents what Democratic Party platforms have aspired to: Economic justice, the preservation of our planet, the redressing of oppression, the promotion of social and Constitutional equity, the building of sustainable communities, peaceful resolution to the world's problems, and the strength of an America empowered by a shared vision for those things.

We don't demand that everyone agree on every square centimeter of that ground. Or even every square inch. We don't require anyone who joins this website to certify Democratic Party membership, or to pass "loyalty tests," but we remain Democratic (as in Party) Underground all the same.

To me, anyway, that has a meaning and a hope embedded in it: That we, as Democrats and those who see the possibilities of collective action by the MORE THAN HALF of American voters who share some or all of the priorities and values we share, have an opportunity to bring our passion to the Party, and to move the Party itself toward effectiveness in promoting those priorities and values.

And it's a hard, messy, stressful, sometimes discouraging, even disgusting process. Ever been to a Party meeting that's gone on for hours into the night, arguing the differences between two entrenched and bitterly disagreeing Party officials? Personally, I'd rather be waterboarded. But I go to those meetings, all the same.

Because Parties, like everything else, are eventually controlled by those who SHOW UP. And who KEEP showing up, week after month after year, dealing with the messes and the follies of human nature and putting on the pressure towards a better, more equitable future, one hard-fought millimeter at a time. We could do this, you know.

I know Party politics on the local level. In most districts, the number of people willing to show up and participate is pitiful. The number willing to show up and wait out the skepticism, suspicion, and active undermining of entrenched current leadership is even smaller.

The Democratic Party in America is actually RUN by less than twenty thousand individuals who are willing to show up for local Party meetings, participate in local Party elections, do the work, and move up in rank through the years.

Local matters. Local is the crack where the thin end of the wedge can be inserted. It's not fast, it's not easy, it's certainly not much fun. But look at where it's gotten the GOP, focusing on school board elections, city councils, county commissions, local judicial and public office elections, and then moving up to state legislatures, redistricting, gerrymandering themselves into a disproportionate hold on Congress.

They did it with a buttload of Oligarch money and a surprisingly small number of passionately committed individuals.

I believe we can reclaim the soul of our Party with way less in the way of money, as long as we're willing to put in the passion and the effort.

optimistically,
Bright



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Arrow 19 replies Author Time Post
Reply "Party Loyalty" and the Purpose of Parties (warning: Long read) (Original post)
TygrBright Oct 2015 OP
hifiguy Oct 2015 #1
brush Oct 2015 #2
TygrBright Oct 2015 #3
brush Oct 2015 #4
Martin Eden Oct 2015 #5
TygrBright Oct 2015 #6
Martin Eden Oct 2015 #7
TygrBright Oct 2015 #8
hay rick Oct 2015 #9
TygrBright Oct 2015 #10
passiveporcupine Oct 2015 #11
TygrBright Oct 2015 #12
Art_from_Ark Oct 2015 #14
TygrBright Oct 2015 #17
passiveporcupine Oct 2015 #18
LWolf Oct 2015 #13
malthaussen Oct 2015 #16
passiveporcupine Oct 2015 #19
malthaussen Oct 2015 #15

Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Tue Oct 20, 2015, 06:56 PM

1. Bookmarked for reading a bit later.

 

Tnx!

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Tue Oct 20, 2015, 07:17 PM

2. Thank you, TygrBright, this is brilliant. Thanks for getting . . .

Last edited Tue Oct 20, 2015, 08:18 PM - Edit history (2)

to the heart of matter on party loyalty. As you state, much like labor unions, it's about the many working towards the good of the whole.

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Response to brush (Reply #2)

Tue Oct 20, 2015, 08:00 PM

3. Wait, what?

::blinks::

How did you know when my birthday is?

Butcha got my gender wrong, not that it matters...

::grinz::

Truly, I'm flattered to be mistaken for one of our most interesting writers.

amusedly,
Bright

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Response to TygrBright (Reply #3)

Tue Oct 20, 2015, 08:16 PM

4. Sorry TygrBright. Thought I was clicking on a post of Mr. Scorpio

Your piece is brilliant. I will amend my post.

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Tue Oct 20, 2015, 09:09 PM

5. Political parties lose their value when ...

... party loyalty has more to do with partisanship than the meritocracy of ideas and a proven track record of serving the public interest.

Tribalism vs Enlightenment.

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Response to Martin Eden (Reply #5)

Tue Oct 20, 2015, 10:59 PM

6. Agreed. What are we doing about it? n/t

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Response to TygrBright (Reply #6)

Tue Oct 20, 2015, 11:08 PM

7. Mostly arguing about who "won" a media showcase (aka "debate")

The primary metric for determining the winner, apparently, is a wide variety of polls soliciting the opinions of a small sampling of potential voters.

If we really had a functional, rational democracy, a debate should be decided on the merit of the ideas and policies put forward to fix our nation's problems and lay the groundwork for a better, more sustainable future.

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Response to Martin Eden (Reply #7)

Tue Oct 20, 2015, 11:22 PM

8. If we really had a functional, rational democracy, we wouldn't...

...worry about who "won" a non-binding event undertaken to discuss ideas.

We'd talk about the ideas.

And vote during caucuses, conventions, and elections.

"Squirrel!" is part of the problem.

sadly,
Bright

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Wed Oct 21, 2015, 12:20 AM

9. Nice post.

I particularly appreciate your remarks about local parties. Sounds like you've been there. My county has 25,000+ Democrats. Myself and TWO other people do about half of all the work for the Party. Another 20 or so volunteers do the rest. When people complain about the local party I listen patiently and politely- but I wonder if it occurs to them that the problems they see are attributable in part to their own lack of effort and probably won't be fixed without their effort.

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Response to hay rick (Reply #9)

Wed Oct 21, 2015, 11:34 AM

10. Exactly. We're way better at bitching about the problem...

...than using the same amount of energy to fix it.

Granted, it's not a fun process. It can be frustrating as hell.

But I always think it's what is really behind that whole "refresh the Tree of Liberty" thing. Not so much with blood, but definitely with sweat and tears.

It's a lot like someone struggling with overweight in a culture that promotes unhealthy eating habits and attaches stigma to bodies outside an artificial standard of fitness.

You CAN lose weight pretty effectively, with considerable effort.

Keeping it off, on the other hand, is a much more long-term and subtle challenge.

We can elect progressive representatives and cheer them on as they make a key change.

But going to yet another meeting where it's gonna be contentious and tedious, to stay on top of how we'll handle the local judicial candidate forum?

::sigh:: Not tonight, dear, I have a headache...

wearily,
Bright

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Wed Oct 21, 2015, 06:51 PM

11. This was OK then

"We must hang together, or we will assuredly all hang separately."

Although those words were not spoken in the context of political parties, they encapsulate the fundamental reality that only by acting in solidarity can those without wealth and/or power effectively counterbalance and oppose those with the inherent power of wealth and position.


But not now, as now parties represent the wealthy and powerful, and no longer represent the common man.

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Response to passiveporcupine (Reply #11)

Thu Oct 22, 2015, 12:31 AM

12. So what are we doing about that? n/t

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Response to TygrBright (Reply #12)

Thu Oct 22, 2015, 09:22 AM

14. Some of us are trying to get a man elected President who actually wants to combat that problem

but we are being thwarted by people within the party who are perfectly content with the status quo.

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Response to Art_from_Ark (Reply #14)

Thu Oct 22, 2015, 10:59 AM

17. Hard for individuals to fight big organizations.

The most effective way to do it might be to either A) Subvert and reclaim the corrupted organization; or B) Build a new organization with similar levels of power and influence.

What say you?

Incidentally, I'm a Bernie supporter. BUT, I'm well aware of two things: First, that even if elected, his power will be greatly limited if he's acting as an individual, no matter how much bully pulpit an office gives him-- he'd be way stronger with an organization backing him. And second, that if we rely on a strong central authority as a way of protecting the people's interests, we'll always be vulnerable to changes of leadership. I'm happier with the people ourselves being the source of authority, but it's damn' hard to achieve as individuals without a strong and united organization.

interestedly,
Bright

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Response to TygrBright (Reply #12)

Thu Oct 22, 2015, 03:32 PM

18. Keep pushing for Bernie

I will continue to encourage people to check him out and argue in his defense against the thirdway dems who want Hillary to win so badly they will try anything to shut him down.

Party Central is being shaken and they are scared to death. Let's keep that death rattle shaking.

We also need to keep getting out the message to vote, to the youth and the suppressed minorities.

And, of course, we need to fight to change congress,l so it reflects what the people want.

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Thu Oct 22, 2015, 09:10 AM

13. I'm thinking.

I appreciate your thoughts on this.

Our perspectives are based in our background knowledge and experience, and as we broaden both of those things, perspectives can change.

I'm a Lone Wolf. I can, and do, work in groups to achieve things. I work better alone.

Politically, I've always been the same. I was a "decline to state" until 2000, when I became a Democrat simply to protest the selection. Up until then, I'd voted for many Democrats and some 3rd party candidates. If I thought about Democrats, it was to appreciate them not being Republicans, but I didn't think much about them.

And no, I obviously didn't get involved in campaigns. I was raised by a working single mom who found time to march for Civil Rights and to be engaged outside the party system when she could. I did the same. It was always about issues, not politicians.

In the 15 years that I've been a Democrat, I have attended a few local party meetings. I always intend to do more, and then don't. Keeping up with my job and my other family responsibilities leaves me, at the end of the day, both physically and mentally exhausted. Often to the point of falling asleep at 7 or 7:30 without ever making it to bed. So, when all my duties for a day have been fulfilled, if I'm still awake, I'm generally not jumping out the door to go do something else. As a morning person, by then my brain isn't functioning all that well, anyway. Right now, I'm engaging in your post, because it's 5:45 am, and my brain is awake. I'll have to cut this short in just a minute to head to work.

I didn't come to DU because of it's loyalty to the Democratic Party. I found DU in '02, a couple of years after it was founded, and became a member in January '03. Having lived for decades in hard red regions, it was refreshing to find people I could relate to. There has always been tension at DU between it's opposing self-identification. Back then, though, DU actually self-identified as a "left-wing" site. That changed with DU3 and the election of a Dem POTUS. It now says "liberal," which is open to different definitions. Partisan concerns always trumped left-wing or liberal ideology, and even more so as DU has come up from underground and become more mainstream. I'm not a partisan. Issues will always trump partisan concerns for me.

For myself, I have to say that what DU has taught me about partisan politics hasn't been positive. My perspective on the Democratic Party is less positive now than it was when I was an independent supporting many Democrats. At the same time, I've "met" a lot of great people, and learned a great deal.

Your remarks about local politics resonate very strongly with me. I've seen how powerfully that's worked for Republicans, and I actually think Democrats and the left wing of America (they certainly aren't the same thing,) would be better served focusing on local efforts and building coalitions from the bottom up, because we've seen how the top is corrupted by big money.

I've also seen how Republicans make progress by not giving up, not backing down, even when they lose because America "isn't ready." Because when they don't quit, they might lose in the short term, but somehow what seemed "crazy" at one time becomes the norm. The Democrats have failed at this, always willing to compromise by backing down, backing up, and giving up ground.

I also get "collective action fatigue." When we are energized to come together to achieve a goal, and we fail, it's easy to give up. It's hard to sustain that time and energy. In all honesty, it's the issues that are the goals, that motivate me. Whatever energy or passion or time I've got is given to that. I have nothing to give to candidates who don't represent those goals, or to a Political Party that doesn't represent me. And yes, I know about the messy process. I know it's not easy, and it's not fun.

I can see that collective action fatigue kicking in next summer, if people who have been energized and busy for a year, having hope for authentic change, are forced to accept another status quo candidate. I don't see the same enthusiasm and time being devoted in the GE.

I've thought that, maybe when I retire and I'm not at work for 10-11-12 hours a day, I'll have more time and energy for local involvement. Maybe.

I wonder if time and resource exhaustion, if a life overloaded with duties, is why many people are not showing up to work locally. I'm probably not alone.


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Response to LWolf (Reply #13)

Thu Oct 22, 2015, 09:43 AM

16. Some of us more cynical types...

... are willing to float the idea that this exhaustion and overloaded condition is precisely where the ruling class wants you to be. It doesn't even have to be a conscious conspiracy, just a shared mindset among those who would rule and control others.

You may recall that Benjamin Franklin waited to become active in politics until he had an independent competence, so he could devote his full attention to the subject. It's not such an uncommon thought.

-- Mal

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Response to LWolf (Reply #13)

Thu Oct 22, 2015, 03:49 PM

19. Not enough energy left to get involved

it's the issues that are the goals, that motivate me. Whatever energy or passion or time I've got is given to that. I have nothing to give to candidates who don't represent those goals, or to a Political Party that doesn't represent me.


Consider how many have to work multiple jobs just to survive. Talk about energy drain. How could they possibly have the energy to get involved in a political party, or even local politics on a regular basis. An occasional protest, maybe. And yet, they are the ones who are most needed to speak out to change the system that keeps them down.

I agree with what you said about DU. It's not a 'left-wing' site any more, in spite of the fact that the majority of active members here do seem to be. Look at how many members here support Bernie compared to Hillary.

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Thu Oct 22, 2015, 09:36 AM

15. Your analysis is excellent, but incomplete.

One of the problems that constantly emerge in political parties -- and that we are seeing reflected in DU of late -- is the fragmentation of the broad-based coalition due to ambition, mendacity, or even honest dissatisfaction with the majority goals. Most parties I can think of off the top of my head began splintering almost at once, and this is also true of social action groups fighting discrimination of one stripe or another. The test of "purity" or adherence to the official party line can often be used to isolate and exile the more outspoken of the critical voices within the party. This can often lead to a hardening of attitudes among the excluded members, which can lead to a "my way or the highway" mentality, best expressed in the attitude "If X doesn't win the primary, I won't vote for Y in the general." Which is a naive attitude, IMO, since even if Y is not the best of candidates, if he is chosen as the party's figurehead, then one's vote becomes a matter not of voting for the one you want, but for the one will do the least damage. Many find this unpalatable, and some even seem to think that voting is a kind of moral act, and to compromise in the name of practicality is somehow hypocritical. Some even express the opinion that, if their own preferred candidate doesn't make the cut, they don't care if the polity is destroyed quickly or slowly, and in fact would rather get it over with. Seems rather an impatient way of looking at things to me, but then I tend to avoid braining myself on brick walls.

I think, also, you might go even farther than you have with the tendency of voters to be more interested in the glamorous and controversial, the media darlings and the high-profile offices, while ignoring the importance of the local structures which have a much greater impact on our day-to-day lives than the question of which celebrity wins the executive election, be it for governor or Chief Executive. The genius of the GOP in recent years lies precisely in the region of these elections, for school boards, county commissioners, and particularly legislators, which they control far in excess of their proportional numbers, to the detriment of the polity as a whole. This is lamentable, for it was not so very long ago that the Democratic party was the leader in these areas. How the small coterie of dedicated RW enthusiasts managed to accomplish this revolution is the major story of the politics of the past generation... yet too many of us ignore that, and instead whine about a stolen Executive election or who "won" a media extravaganza. (It would probably also make an interesting study to determine how, exactly, we allowed the media to gain such a prominent role in opinion-making, since their function is and always has been entertainment).

-- Mal

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