Are both sides the same? Yes, but also no.

I do not like the Democratic Party. As an institution, they are corrupt and disingenuous servitors of the upper class, who will demand party unity one moment, then support the loser of a primary over the winner, the next. They claim to care about issues like climate change, but continue expanding fossil fuel extraction, well past the point that will totally destroy humanity. They claim to care about student debt, but refuse to actually do anything about it. They claim to care about reproductive rights, but support anti-choice candidates, and every time they came into power over the last half-century, they insisted that abortion rights were safe, and it wasn’t the time to codify them into law.

For 50 years they did that, in the face of an open campaign to do exactly what has now been done.

I do not like the Democratic party, but- they are still better than the GOP. Not on everything, of course. They’ve been full partners in the long history of attacking left-wing countries, and supporting some of the worst dictators and war criminals on the planet, for example. But even on the issues I listed in the paragraph above, they are better than the GOP, in a very material way.

I mention that because a lot of people on the left, at least online, insist that there’s no difference, and that the Democrats only serve to stabilize the ways in which the Republicans make things worse. Obama’s use of drone warfare comes to mind, as does the continued abuse of children at the southern border. There are issues on which you can absolutely make that case. The thing is, though, they are not the only issues at play. Minnesota is probably the best example right now. The Democrats there are not perfect, but look at what they’ve been up to, and tell me you’d ever get any of it if the GOP was in power there.

The problem, as I see it, is that those people on the left are still stuck on individualism, and on the fantasy of achieving revolutionary change within the infrastructure of a representative democracy. For the first part, I get it. The Democratic Party fights hard to avoid any kind of real working class power in the United States, and voting for them implies that I’m OK with that. I’m not OK with that, I just consider those feelings to be less important than the increased safety or wellbeing that can come from the policies that Democrats do support. I don’t believe souls exist, so I’m not particularly concerned with “tainting” mine. For the second part, well, I understand why people think that way, but I think that they are wrong.

Take the Green Party. I know some people see them as spoilers, and I’m willing to believe that some people fund them as spoilers, but they do actually have a strategy for change, based on the rules of the electoral system in which they exist. The goal of a Green Party presidential candidate, at this stage, is not to get them into the White House, but rather to win at least 5% of the vote. That, under the current rules, would qualify them for official recognition as a national party, and for federal funds for future campaigns. Once they get there, they’ll have a much easier time spreading their message, and increasing their vote share to become a real power for change in the United States. It’s a plan for long-term change, within the rules that currently exist, it’s actually pretty reasonable. Further, I feel I should say that the folks I’ve seen associated with the Green Party in day-to-day life tend to be more politically active than average, working to make the world better.

I do, however, have a couple problems with that strategy.

The first is that I think it is naïve to assume that the rules won’t be changed. I’m sure many Greens don’t assume that, but would say that if that does happen, that injustice will bring them more support and attention. That might be true, but I’m not convinced. My bigger problem is that we are running out of time. I’m a big fan of long-term thinking, but not if you don’t account for what’s going on outside of the electoral rules. Remember, their plan is to get 5% of the vote, and work to grow from there. They wouldn’t need a majority to influence policy, and force coalition-building, but it would still take them time to build support, and make any significant changes. What’s more, every time they fall short of the mark, they have to wait another four years for another shot, and we are running out of time. The global temperature is rising fast, and as capitalism reaches crisis-levels of wealth concentration, authoritarianism is rising as well, with the rich beefing up their goon squads to hold on to their wealth and power.

We need revolutionary change, and that cannot come from within an electoral system designed to prevent such change. To me, “revolutionary change” means a change to the political and economic system on a scale that is generally associated with a successful revolutionary war. It does not mean change achieved through war. I do not want war. I don’t think anyone who sincerely wants the world to get better does want war. My preferred method would be some form of general strike – bringing the country to a halt, until corrupt rulers are replaced, and laws are changed. The degree to which there ends up being violence will depend pretty much entirely on the people who currently hold power. They have a long, and uninterrupted history of using violence to crush movements for change, and I see plenty of reason to believe that they would use lethal force to prevent a left-wing movement from succeeding in its goals. When I wrote my neglected direct action post, I used a shield as a metaphor, because I think that any effort at real systemic change will be subjected to violence, and I believe that people have a right to defend themselves.

So, if voting won’t get the change we need, why vote at all? Well, because it can get smaller changes, that will save or improve lives in the short term, which is a thing worth doing in itself. There’s a sort of freedom in realizing that the system is so corrupt and entrenched that voting will never bring the change I want to see. It means that I don’t have to pin all my hopes on a candidate, only to feel betrayed when they fall short of my expectations. Sure, I still get disappointed or angry when bad things happen, but my hope comes from the work that people are doing to organize, and to take direct action. It’s not a guaranteed win, of course, but by organizing around smaller-scale problems, like working conditions or local laws, we build the capacity to work together on much larger problems.

This started out as me just posting a video, but then I had things to say. Beau of the Fifth Column posted a video responding to someone who was having trouble seeing a difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and he said a lot of stuff that I agree with. It’s not surprising, considering that he’s been influential in my own political thought over the last couple years. It can be difficult to look at the world as it is, and not get sidetracked by all the complexity and horror, and I think Beau does a good job breaking it down.


  1. says

    every time they came into power over the last half-century, they insisted that abortion rights were safe, and it wasn’t the time to codify them into law

    I’m pretty sure there was some strategic thinking along the lines of “it’ll be a great issue to activate our base if the republicans do that.” Cynical as hell, I am. And how did I get that way? I’ve been disgusted by the democrats near-cheerful hammering on the abortion issue, which they helped create, as they beg for money and votes. “Beg for” is hardly the right words – it’s more like they stridently demand our votes because if we don’t vote for whatever corporatist centrist candidate the democrats put forward, we may as well be voting for Trump.

    Duopolies are disgusting and anti-democratic. The duopoly is nauseating and immoral and a supporter of endless wars and imperialism. Now, we can argue which of the two parties is worse, but they’re both evil for participating in this situation that they have arranged out of their love of power and comfort.

  2. says

    I’m pretty sure there was some strategic thinking along the lines of “it’ll be a great issue to activate our base if the republicans do that.”

    I think it’s pretty clear that that’s exactly what was going on, and I doubt it’s the only issue on which they’ve done that.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the Green Party… they do actually have a strategy for change…

    More like a strategy for “spare change” – as a verb. (For non-USAians, that means “beg” here.)

    … to win at least 5% of the vote… [to] qualify them for official recognition as a national party, and for federal funds …

    They had a good shot at that in 2000, and utterly blew it by nominating a candidate who hated the Democrats and preferred to campaign in ways that did more damage to the Dems (vide: Florida) – and less for his “own” party.

    Please note also that the Greens’ best strategy would have entailed, from their beginning as a national party 39 years ago, to have pushed steadily for ranked-choice/instant-runoff/whatev voting (now a reality in a few states, but with little or no credit due to Greens). They preferred to run as spoilers.

    Piss on ’em.

  4. KG says

    the fantasy of achieving revolutionary change within the infrastructure of a representative democracy. – Abe Drayton

    I’d say rather that the fantasy is that the USA is a representative democracy. Inherent flaws in the constitution, plus “Citizens United”, plus the fact that one of the two parties that have entrenched themselves in the de facto constitution has now gone pretty much full-fat-fascist, means it is increasingly distant from that.

    Now, we can argue which of the two parties is worse – Marcus Ranum@1

    Well, we could if we were fools, or stooges of the far right trying to confuse and demotivate the opposition.

  5. says

    No, “both sides” are fucking well not “the same”.

    The Angry Cheeto chose to run as a Republican.

    Lauren Boebert chose to run as a Republican.

    If “both sides are the same”, how, exactly, is it that psychotic freaks and sociopaths and fucking neoNazis ended up so strongly concentrated in the fucking GQP? What, you think all those horrific monsters just kinda flipped coins and went “heads, GQP; tails, Democrat—yep, I’m GQP”?

    Look at… pretty much anything that happened during the Angry Cheeto’s reign. Do you really think that the Cheeto’s tax cuts for the 0.1% (to name only the first example that comes to mind) would have passed a Senate whose two Houses were both controlled by Democrats?

    “Both sides are the same”, my ass.

  6. says

    @Cubist – hence the last word of the title, and the overall thrust of the blog post. As I said, they are the same in some ways, but the ways in which they’re not are important. The problem is that those differences are very clearly not enough to make them actually take climate change seriously, among other issues.

    @KG yeah, pretty much. I’m not much interested in the comparison, but it comes up constantly, so I occasionally feel the need to talk about it. It’s pretty clear that having Dems in power is better than having the GOP in power, it’s just that the Dems have consistently shown that they don’t actually care about a lot of the issues on which they run, and we’re out of time for them to realize that there are crises that are more important than shit like Senate decorum and being friends with their colleagues.

  7. says

    Like I keep saying: As long as we have a “first past the post” voting system, we’re pretty much stuck with a two-party system. If we want to get past that, we gotta change FPTP to any of the other voting systems which have been used successfully in other countries.

  8. says

    And the two parties both have an interest in avoiding a change like that, though I think there’s been at least some progress on ranked choice voting? Regardless, any effort for change, whether through direct action and disruption, or through voting, will have a much better chance of success with an organized working class.

  9. says

    I’m firmly in favor of junking “first past the post”. But at the same time, FPTP is what we’ve got now, and any plan of action which pretends that FPTP isn’t <currently a reality is not worth bothering with.

  10. says

    Minority governments have always been the most effective, multiparty democracies less corrupt. The largest ruling party is forced to listen to coalition partners or face overthrow, forcing everyone to seek consensus. The European Union is a minority government, far more successful at implementing environmental and social policy than the US.

    A two party system is no different than a one party system, except for the illusion of “choice”.

    I do not like the Democratic Party. As an institution, they are corrupt and disingenuous … continue expanding fossil fuel extraction, … they insisted that abortion rights were safe, and it wasn’t the time to codify them into law.

    The biggest problem with them is boomers controlling the party for over 40 years. Constant power leads to constant corruption, sedentary and self-satisfied. The coming deaths of the old guard to Millennials will allow and force change. What the democrats did to India Walton in Buffalo will stop happening, the likes of her, AOC and others gradually taking over. Time in power is on the side of the young, the question is will there be enough time left to save the planet once they do?

  11. says

    The old guard is also taking steps to replace themselves with those of similar ideology, like Pete Buttegeig, and time will tell how corrupting power ends up being. I’m also a bit concerned about what the CIA or FBI might do if progressives get control of the party.

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