In the last few years, I’ve tended to interpret Paul Krugman’s realization that “… those who cling to the belief that politics can be conducted in terms of people rather than parties … are kidding themselves.”
According to Krugman, things changed in 1994 “…when radical Republicans took control both of Congress and of their own party … and the center did not hold. Now we’re living in an age of one-letter politics, in which a politician’s partisan affiliation is almost always far more important than his or her personal beliefs. (emphasis mine)”
I see various ways to implement this when making political contributions:
- Contribute to all Democrats, in the hope of keeping Congress in Democratic hands, where committee assignments, rules, etc. would be determined by the Democratic leadership.
- Contribute only to Democrats whose ideas and actions I support.
I’ve been following choice #2. But there’s a variant on that, call it
2a. Contribute to Democrats whose ideas and actions I support even when they are running against Democratic incumbents in primary elections.
The danger of this is that the victor of the primary will be weakened in the race against the evil Republican.
But I think there is a convincing argument for doing this:
… there’s a world of difference between supporting the Democratic Party and supporting incumbents in the Democratic Party. The Tea Party did a very smart thing last year: They kicked out a few independents who didn’t support them politically. Too many progressives followed the President’s lead and pledged their fealty to Democratic incumbents who had devoted themselves to undermining causes supported both by progressives and the majority of Americans across the political spectrum.
Not everyone did that, of course. Progressive groups like Blue America did a brilliant job of targeting problem Democrats and promoting progressive challengers, and the union movement performed a valuable service for all Americans by supporting Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s challenger in the Arkansas primary.
Challenging incumbents doesn’t just help the progressive cause. Paradoxically, it helps the Democratic Party too, by forcing it to clarify its “brand” and espouse more popular positions than those it now holds.
If progressives want to identify and work within the Democratic party, that’s a worthwhile endeavor. But their relationship to the party should mirror what Thoreau said about his relationship to the world: Be in it, but not of it.