Freedom of Choice?
Justin responds to my earlier post excoriating Glenn Greenwald for his forays into punditry. Specifically, he takes issue with my claim that there are serious and abiding differences between the two parties:
While Jamelle responds as if this is ludicrous, I think it’s more right than not when it comes to describing our politics. Where in the two party system do you find opposition to farm subsidies, endless war, police misconduct or indefinite detention? If you’re concerned about the drug war, the bloated defense budget, or unconditional support for Israeli actions, you can at least get scraps from the Democrats.
It’s quite clear that there are many issues where there is no meaningful choice between the two parties. On many others, we are left with only marginal differences. True, Greenwald errs by saying that there his point stands regardless of the issues you’re concerned about–he’s just wrong about most of the issues that Jamelle cites (healthcare, labor and environmental law). But that’s no reason to dismiss him out of hand. It’s a reason to qualify his point, and arguably a reason to support the Democrats. But if it’s a reason to support them, it’s a reason to do it through gritted teeth.
Admittedly, I may have been a little unreasonable in my criticism of Greenwald. And truth be told, I don’t actually disagree with Justin; on issues that fall outside the left-right axis, or issues that don’t have an obvious constituency, there is a fair amount of congruency between the two parties. Still, I can’t help but feel annoyed by the assertion that there are few meaningful differences between the two parties. Not only is it less true than it sounds (compare the last three Republican presidencies to the last three Democratic ones), but it doesn’t do anything to help. At this moment, and for the foreseeable future, the Democratic Party is the only real vehicle for the legislative advancement of liberal goals. Yes, it’s imperfect, and yes there will be times when you’ll have to vote for Democratic candidates “through gritted teeth”, but given the sheer size and diversity of the “Left” in this country, it’s unlikely that we’ll find a better alternative. At this point in our history, pursuing meaningful liberal change means working with in the system we have, not the system we want.
Beyond that, the truth is that it’s very, very hard to get people politically involved. The status quo is hard to resist, and most people don’t want to rock the boat. The more we demonize the two-party system and cry “no difference”, the more likely it is that people will give in to despair and give up on politics altogether. Of course, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to imagine new political arrangements; we can discover what’s wrong by thinking about what can be different. But when it comes to activism, I really don’t see the use in heightening the similarities and eliding the differences between the two parties.