Following the initial Federal Period and then until less than ten years before the first Civil War there were two major political parties in the United States: the Democratic Party and the Whig Party. While it was a national party, the base of the Democratic Party lay in the slave states of the South and its policies generally reflected the interests of the Slave Power. As the matter of the further expansion of slavery into the Western Territories became more acute, a major split began to develop in the opposition party, the Whigs. Northern Whigs were generally opposed, not to slavery so much but to its further Westward expansion while Southern Whigs tended to favor, or at least tolerate, both the institution and its expansion. And so, in the early 1850s a new party was formed, the Republican Party. As a national force the Whig Party disappeared quickly. Its “Free Soil” Northern elements formed the base of the new party, while its pro-slavery (at one level or another) elements moved over to the Democrats.
The nascent Republican Party presented as an amalgam of interests. Central was the prevention the further expansion of the institution of slavery westward, for a variety of reasons. Some northern Democrats also joined it for they too were concerned with preventing the westward expansion of slavery. Anti-slavery elements of the nativist American Party, which ran the former Whig President Millard Fillmore for President in 1856, also gravitated to the Republicans, after Fillmore’s disastrous defeat. Related to nativism was the Temperance Movement, originally aimed at the Germans (beer) and the Irish (whiskey). Some of them were drawn to the Republicans because of their position on the principle of slavery.
The abolitionists actually came to the Republican Party fairly late because abolition of slavery in the states in which it existed, ensconced as it was in the Constitution, was not part of the Republican platform and did not become so until well into the first Civil War. In fact in the late 1850s it was the was the radical abolitionists, led by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, who were advocating secession – of at least the New England states, if not more. But seeing the conflict over the issue coming to a head in the election of 1860, many abolitionists fell in with the Republicans too. Lincoln in fact was able to win election in that year, in a four-way race, with just 40% of the popular vote, only because of the disparate coalition which was united around one theme: opposition to the dominance of national policy on the matter of the westward expansion of slavery by the Slave Power.
And so, what do we face now? The dominance of national policy, not just on one issue but all of the major ones, by the modern equivalent of the Slave Power, which is the Corporate Power. The Slave Power was dominated by a tiny oligarchy of very wealthy men, the slave owners. Among other things, they wanted to continue the westward expansion of slavery both to increase their profits and to increase their political dominance of the national government and national policy. The Corporate Power is similarly a (relatively) tiny oligarchy of very wealthy men and women who want to maintain the domination of national policy that they have put together over the past 35 years, under Republican and Democratic presidents alike, in order to maintain and expand both their profits and their wealth.
The major elements of that policy are well-known: the continuation and where possible the expansion of American imperialism around the world; the major exportation of American capital, seeking higher profits abroad; the furtherance of the dependence of the US economy on highly profitable fossil fuels, with the concomitant necessity of the maintenance of foreign military bases to, among other things, protect the oil supply and its routes of transport to the US; the ever-shrinking rates of taxation, primarily benefitting the ruling oligarchy; the continuing attack on the US labor movement; supporting the ever-increasing attacks on personal liberty in such matters as the religious belief as to when life begins and the civil rights of homosexuals so as to make sure that the Religious Right stays firmly with their party; and so on and so forth.
The response to this agenda on the part of the Democratic Party has been increasingly limp. Although it was clear from the beginning of the campaign for the Democratic nomination that Barack Obama was part of the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council’s own coalition (see my column of late 2007, http://tpjmagazine.us/jonas172), his rhetoric during the campaign did fool some of us for a time before the election that once in office he would behave differently (and I include myself in that group). Obviously he hasn’t. It is true that the Democratic Leadership Council itself has recently met its demise, but that doesn’t mean that its policies have lost their total sway over this administration. As one wag put it, the DLC doesn’t need to live on independently anymore; it has just moved into the White House.
And so, using the excuse of the losses in the 2010 election, which his total lack of leadership and forthright opposition to GOP policies certainly contributed to, Obama has continued to attempt to reach “compromise” with the GOP. That the latter doesn’t seem to be interested in anything else than assuring his loss in the 2012 Presidential election (Senate Minority Leader, but controller of the Senate through the use of the filibuster, Mitch McConnell) and the repeal of his signature piece of legislation, the “health care reform” act (really the Health Insurance subsidy act) by the Speaker of the House John Boehner, doesn’t seem to have reached his consciousness. But what is reaching the consciousness of an increasing number of rank-and-file US citizens is what GOP/DLC/Obama policy is leading us toward.
That future includes: the continuing export of US capital and with it US jobs (Obama appoints the biggest job exporter of all-time, former GE CEO Jeff Immelt, as his “jobs czar”); the destruction of the only three income redistribution programs left, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; the further concentration of both wealth and income in the hands of a smaller and smaller segment of the population; continuing war with its drain not only on the US treasury but also the ability of the US to positively influence the actions of other countries; the perpetuation, indeed the acceleration, of global warming and climate change and the ongoing mass extinctions that accompany it; the increasingly likely full destruction of the trade union movement in the US (see what is going on right now in Wisconsin with the assault on the public employee unions); the ever-burgeoning Federal deficit and national debt because of the abandonment of rational tax policy, that leads to the further dominance of Federal spending by the military and debt service; the maintenance of a Permanent Army of the Unemployed, created so neatly by the recent excesses of Finance Capitalism and the resulting “Great Recession;” and so on and so forth.
Desperately needed now, if Constitutional Democracy, as defined by the Preamble to that great document (see my Commentary of almost a year ago, “The Preamblers” http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/185) and the Bill of Rights, is to be maintained, indeed restored in the United States, and if a Second Civil War is to be prevented, is a new party. I am not talking here about a traditional US “third party” which could make a lot of us feel good but which would go nowhere politically. What we need is for the Democratic Party to split. We need the formation of the Progressive Democratic Party. Its platform would be fairly obvious and I need not detail it here. But what I will deal with here, briefly, is what it would need in order to be effective.
A Progressive Democratic Party with a chance of winning elections, and in 2012 in a three-way battle the possibility of even winning the Presidency, needs three things. It needs a significant cadre of elected officials at the Federal, state and local levels to split from Obama and the Corporate Power Democrats and join it, people like John Conyers, Al Franken, Sherrod Brown, and Peter Shumlin (the new, pro-single payer, Governor of Vermont). It needs very significant amount of money from National Interest Capitalists (URL) like George Soros and his new group. It needs strong support from at least part of what’s left of the US trade union movement (which would obviously not include that sector of it that is trying to make nice with the US Chamber of Commerce); and it needs dynamic leadership and potential Presidential candidates, like Alan Grayson (yes, Abraham Lincoln was also a one-term Congressman defeated for re-election, in his case because he had opposed the Mexican War), Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich.
A tall order? Yes indeed. But the Republican Party is driving the nation to bankruptcy, both fiscally and in terms of policy. They are also beginning to sanction the use of deadly force to settle political differences: a committee of the Republican-controlled legislature of South Dakota just this week voted out a bill which would make murder of abortion providers legal (The Progress Report, Feb. 15, 2011). If it becomes law, who’s next? Non-closeted gays in public office, for example? And with the targeting of progressives for “dirty tricks” by three private security companies, possibly in the employ of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (The Progress Report, Feb. 14, 2011, the Chamber denies it), following up on the proposed South Dakota law, do unofficial death squads taking off from where the dirty tricksters finished up come next? See Rep. Giffords. Then there was the obscure liberal Tides Foundation in San Francisco that was singled out by Glen Beck and was on the hit list of a man who was fortunately pulled over for minor a traffic violation (and then engaged in a gun battle with police) before he could get there (http://www.marinatimes.com/aug10/news_presidiotides.html). Think that I’m hallucinating about a Second Civil War? Think again. The other side is increasingly turning to thoughts of violence to achieve its political aims. I will be returning to these issues over time.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for Truthout/BuzzFlash (http://www.truth-out.org/, http://www.buzzflash.com), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.