“Democracy Endangered: Democratic Socialists of America’s Strategy for the 2012 Elections and Beyond”

The National Political Committee of Democratic Socialists of America 


August 1, 2012 

I. The Threat of Right-Wing Hegemony 

The 2012 election poses an extreme challenge to the future prospects for democracy in the United States. This threat demands the focused attention of the broad Left – the labor movement, communities of color, feminists, the LGBTQ community, environmentalists and peace activists. The task for the U.S. Left is two-fold. First, we must defeat the far-Right threat to democracy. Second, we need to build a grassroots, organized Left capable of fighting the corporate interests that dominate the leadership of both major political parties.

The Left confronts a Republican Party thoroughly controlled by right-wing forces that are determined to cement long-term control of the federal government and of the majority of states. Its agenda is to extend the reign of the corporate oligarchy over the whole of American society from top to bottom. The wish list of the 1% includes dismantling not only Social Security and Medicare, but all government programs designed to benefit the large majority of people – the 99%. This reactionary plan intends to repeal not only the New Deal and the Great Society, but also the reforms of the Progressive Era and the post-Watergate legislation of the 1970s. A Romney victory would likely be accompanied by Republican control of both the Senate and House, as well as the Supreme Court. Such a governing majority would endeavor to pass the reactionary Ryan budget, deny federal funding for women’s reproductive health, wage a sustained and fundamental attack on the rights of workers and unions, and overturn already weakened federal civil rights laws.

A major weapon of the Radical Right is an unprecedented flood of money from super-wealthy individuals and corporations into the political arena, buying influence and votes on a massive scale. This intervention has been enabled by a long series of decisions by the Supreme Court, culminating in the Citizens United decision (and the recent Montana case) that essentially encourage buying electoral results through massive negative advertising – itself aimed at suppressing voter turnout – under the guise of “free speech.”

Another right-wing tactic is to suppress voting by African-Americans, Hispanics, students and poor people generally, under the guise of preventing non-existent “voter fraud.” New forms of photo ID requirements and restrictions on early voting and independent voter registration efforts threaten to remove millions of potential Democratic voters from the rolls. This is part of a Republican racial strategy to convince swing white voters that their economic distress is caused not by a predatory corporate elite but by alleged government hand-outs to undeserving poor people of color.

A third assault is to further weaken unions, particularly in the public sector, by eliminating collective bargaining and discouraging membership and imposing onerous new restrictions on the use of union dues and agency fee payments in political campaigns. Since unions, especially public sector unions, are a major source of political opposition to right-wing causes and campaigns, the Right is consciously out to destroy their very existence.

II. The Tepid Democratic Response 

How can such a radical restructuring of American politics and policy, one that benefits the plutocracy at the expense of the majority, have a real prospect of success in 2012?

One reason is that the national leadership of the Democratic Party is not a consistent, credible champion for the interests of the majority. The top of the party serves the interests of its corporate funders over the needs of the party’s mass base of trade unionists, people of color, feminists and other progressives. Thus, when the country cried out for a vigorous defense against the ravages created by Wall Street greed, Obama’s economic advisors (largely drawn from Wall Street) extended the Bush administration’s bailout of the banks and financial elite without exacting a return in restored, strict financial regulation. The administration also failed to take effective measures against foreclosures and job losses associated with the crisis. Republicans and conservative Democrats blocked any more far-reaching proposals, like those of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Furthermore, in a misguided effort to appear as a “strong” foreign policy leader, the president unnecessarily extended the failed war in Afghanistan and engaged in the indiscriminate use of drone warfare in clear violation of international law.

Rightwing obstructionism and the waffling of the majority of the Democratic Party understandably led to large Republican gains in the Congressional elections of 2010. Thereafter, the Tea Party-influenced House Republican majority curtailed any possibility that the Obama administration would govern in a progressive manner. Newly established Republican political control over several Midwestern states turned into sweeping assaults on public sector unions and on the social safety net.

President Obama’s on-and-off flirtation with the neoliberal view that fiscal “austerity” is the road out of the Great Recession may prove to be his downfall in 2012. As federal support for state and local programs faltered in the contrived “debt crisis,” most Democratic governors and legislators also followed suit in slashing social programs and public employee benefits. In addition, Obama’s openness to “entitlement reform” may deny the Democrats the mantle of being the staunch protectors of Social Security and Medicare. If the Obama administration had fought for –and succeeded in continuing beyond – 2010 federal aid to preserve state and municipal jobs, today’s unemployment rate would be seven percent or lower. This is the first recession since the early 1900s in which public sector employment has fallen rather than grown.

III. Rebuild the Left by Defeating the Right 

In light of the threat that would be posed to basic democratic rights by Republican control of all three branches of the federal government, most trade union, feminist, LGBTQ and African- American and Latino organizations will work vigorously to re-elect the president. And in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and elsewhere, many DSA members may choose to do the same. But DSA recognizes that an Obama victory, unaccompanied by the strengthening of an independent progressive coalition able to challenge the elites of both parties, will be a purely defensive engagement in lesser-evil politics.

The Left proved too weak to force the first Obama administration to respond to popular needs. The Occupy movement of fall 2011 gave voice to popular frustration with the American plutocracy; but it emerged well after the Republicans had gained control of the House. The Left must now build upon the accomplishments of Occupy. Democratic socialists must work to build a multi-racial coalition of working people, the unemployed, indebted students and the foreclosed that is capable of forcing politicians to govern democratically. The first task of a movement to defend democracy is to work for maximum voter turnout in the 2012 election.

Building such a mass social movement for democracy is DSA’s major task; the 2012 elections are only a tactical step on that strategic path. Thus, while working to defeat the far Right, DSA and other progressive forces should work to increase the size of the Congressional Progressive, Black and Latino caucuses and to elect pro-labor candidates to state legislatures. The election this year of Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), along with the re-election of Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), would increase the number of progressive voices in the United States Senate.

DSA locals should use their work in progressive electoral campaigns to build coalitions opposed to further slashing of federally-funded anti-poverty programs. Such disastrous shredding of the social safety net will occur if the cuts mandated by the August 2011 “budget compromise” are not reversed before January 1, 2013. These “automatic cuts” in domestic spending could readily be avoided if Congress reversed the Bush and Reagan income tax cuts for the top two percent, returned effective corporate tax rates to the levels of the 1960s and reduced wasteful defense spending. In our educational efforts in favor of progressive economic alternatives, DSA locals should draw on the resources of the DSA Fund’s Grassroots Economics Training for Understanding and Power (GETUP) and The Other America is Our America projects. GETUP offers a comprehensive critique of neoliberal economic thought and policy. The Other America project draws lessons from the 50th anniversaries of the publication of The Other America (1962); the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice; and the 1964 advent of the War on Poverty.

DSA locals should also work against all forms of voter suppression, whether onerous photo ID requirements, harassment of independent voter registration efforts, or phony purges of voter rolls. DSA members should also take part in the voter registration and turnout efforts by groups like the NAACP, unions and progressive community groups.

DSA locals ought to also join efforts to restrict the role of big money in political campaigns, including local efforts in favor of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, to permit public campaign funding and to restrict the abuse of “free speech” to buy elections.

This is a year to take the “democratic” part of our democratic socialism very seriously. Whatever our analysis of the numerous imperfections of US democracy, we should be absolutely forthright about championing the rights of the people to make their own political decisions.

Paid for by Democratic Socialists of America Inc. PAC, 75 Maiden Lane, Suite 505, NY, NY 10038; not approved by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 



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