January 24, 2005

A National Labor Party?

Chris Bowers' rant about liberals who downplay the importance of unions deserves to be taken seriously. Most forceful of all is this quote:
The fact of the matter is this: one of the main reasons Democrats are losing elections is because it is okay to be pro-environment and anti-labor, it is okay to be pro-Roe and anti-labor, it is okay to be anti-war and anti-labor, it is okay to be anti-patriot act and anti-labor, but it is never okay to be pro-labor and anti-any of these other things.
I've heard and read a lot of different "plans" for saving the Democratic party over the past few months, but one article that really struck me as feasible was Michael Lind's "Mapquest.dem" in the last issue of The American Prospect. The basic idea was that the Democratic party simply could not remain a national party while maintaining as its core New England liberalism—which he characterized by "reformism, intellectual elitism, and anti-militarism." This strain of liberal culture produces a lot of good, and is a driving force for progressive change, but it has never formed the basis of a national political majority. So he offers an alternative:
A majority Democratic Party would be defined, in contrast, by its regional wings: northeastern Democrats, West Coast Democrats, Great Plains Democrats, midwestern Democrats, and even some southern Democrats. The regional factions would agree on a brief national platform that is chiefly economic. But they would be free to express their regional differences in the areas of values and foreign policy.
You can see how this ties in with Chris Bowers' post. Under Lind's model, it would be okay for a Democratic candidate to be pro-labor and anti-Roe, or pro-labor and anti-environment, or pro-labor and pro-war, but not really anti-labor and any of those things. It's a very different way of doing business. And it's not clear that cultural liberalism would even suffer—especially since "reformism" would no longer be equated with intellectual elitism. And it's equally likely that economic gains among lower and middle classes could temper some of the cultural battles we now see played out.

Anyways, nothing revolutionary here, this is all just a concrete way of spelling out the "economic populism" advice offered by Thomas Frank and countless others. For a variety of reasons listed here, I'm not at all convinced that this is the way to go, but it's worth spelling out all the same.

UPDATE: Nathan Newman claims the problem isn't Democratic politicians so much as liberal pundits and the Democrats' "non-labor base of voters", who pretty much ignore all things labor. True enough. But again, a Lind-style national party centered on labor would pretty much force these folks to get with the program or leave and form some sort of Left Libertarian party.
-- Brad Plumer 3:01 PM || ||