Can the Progressive/Centrist Split in Democratic Party Politics Ever Be Resolved?

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Can the Progressive/Centrist Split in Democratic Party Politics Ever Be Resolved?

If you followed the race for the chairmanship of the Democratic Party of California this past weekend, you may have noticed several familiar plot points.

1. A heavily favored centrist was challenged late by a progressive, and the gap narrowed considerably.

2. Progressives demonstrated in the lead-up to the vote, while the centrists bristled and told them to “shut the fuck up or go outside”—in this case literally. And hey, at least they were honest this time—their deepest desire is not to reach out to the newcomers, as they like to pretend, but to have them go away forever so things can return to normal.

3. The centrist won a very narrow victory.

4. Progressives were convinced that there was foul play.

5. The centrist faction shut down any investigation of the result, while the winner preached unity—laughably, since “unity” never means that actual concessions are forthcoming, but is instead a more polite call to step in line and shut up.

If any of this sounds just like the race for DNC chair, or just like the primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, that’s no coincidence—this same story keeps playing out, over and over, in a starkly divided party. Here’s what Politico had to say:

The tumult showed that in the country’s largest state — which is controlled entirely by Democrats — the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders divide of 2016 and the intra-party sparring that followed Clinton’s November loss remain very much at the forefront.

Of course it remains very much at the forefront! When writers express surprise at the so-called “tumult” that occurs in these situations, they are ignoring a very basic fact, which is that the two groups of people have very different belief systems. They mostly agree on social issues, but that’s where the similarities end. The centrists believe in a corporate democracy, complete with free trade and all the giveaways to big business and the wealthy and private insurance that this ethos implies, while progressives are democratic-socialists who want to usher in a second new deal complete with universal health care and the restoration of a strong system of entitlements. These value systems are fundamentally incompatible.

Seriously, they can’t be reconciled. They are, in fact, at direct odds with one another, and it’s actually kind of stupid that people who believe these very different things are trying to function under the same party. The only reason for that is the historical anomaly that is the Republican Party—a cruel society-ravaging cabal of elites devoted to making life miserable for all but the top one percent—that has somehow tricked a whole lot of people, via racial propaganda and other forms of bullshit, into voting against their economic self-interests…and, in fact, into voting for their own continued immiseration.

The existence of this party as a political powerhouse, which was made possible by the abandonment of the working classes by the centrist Democrats, has now ushered in an ugly reality in America, and it has forced an alliance between centrists and progressives at a time when such an alliance is politically unnatural, and should be blown apart.

Instead, they fight under the same umbrella, absurdly, while making lame noises at unity, because each is too afraid of what will happen if they do the logical thing and split up. This is the “stay together for the kids” mantra of the political world—forced solidarity among groups who despise one another, inspired by abject fear of the consequences a break-up would entail.

So what’s the solution? Quite clearly, there’s no easy way out, or one would have been found already—the Republican menace is real, even though withholding support from centrist Democrats is the best strategic move for progressives, since it would force the centrists to tack left in order to have any chance of retaking key offices, it’s also the kind of brinksmanship that can lead to further Republican victories, and all the consequences that entails.

In fact, as ridiculous as the current charade looks, it might actually be the rational choice for progressives, who have watched their ranks swell by shocking numbers in the past two years alone, and likely expect that with time, they’ll become the dominant force in party politics. Until then, we live in the twilight zone, where two groups of people who would represent the left and right wings in any sane country are forced together to combat the far-right extremists who have been taking them to the political woodshed for the better part of four decades. And until progressives become the ascendant faction in the party, expect the same story that we saw this past weekend in California to play out over, and over, and over again.

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