Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Democratic Party is my Party and I'm not giving it away without a fight

Today I received a very polite email inquiry urging to me to reconsider my personal position with regard to my intention to conscientiously abstain from voting for the Democrat at the top of the ticket this year. After receiving so many nasty anonymous jibes and digs, it was a great relief to read such an intelligent and careful piece of writing from a fellow Democrat. There were two main steps to his argument: that the country cannot withstand another four years of Republican policies in the Bush-Cheney mold; and that therefore I should be willing to defer my objections to the DNC's corruption in anointing a nominee and to the Democratic Party leadership's continuing unwillingness to immediately take affirmative steps toward making sure that this corruption within the Democratic Party will not be allowed to continue. The writer also pointed out that when it comes to corruption, there is plenty in the RNC and among Republican politicians. The writer appealed to issues like abortion rights and environmental issues as two among others that are too important to leave in the hands of Senator McCain.

For months, Senator Obama, Dr. Dean, Speaker Pelosi - along with Donna Brazile, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Bill Richardson - made it clear that they felt that my vote was not necessary for an Obama victory this November. They claimed that with the participation of independents, registered Republicans, and a newly minted crop of registered Democrats, they were sure they had plenty of votes - more than enough, in fact - to defeat Senator McCain. Somewhat paradoxically, they also claimed that in any event that they were entirely confident I would ultimately vote for Senator Obama -- indeed that I would do so no matter how they treated the candidate I preferred, Senator Clinton; no matter how much I made known my dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party's violations of its own rules and principles; and no matter how much I objected to the Party's toleration of and engagement in sexist and misogynistic rhetoric.

Those who preferred and promoted Senator Obama's campaign may turn out to be correct that he can forge a coalition of independents, Republicans, and freshly registered Democrats large enough to defeat Senator McCain. But I must inform the obviously sincere person who wrote to me that, while I will not cast a ballot for John McCain this November, neither will I cast one for Senator Obama. I agree with the writer that the RNC may well have corruption problems of their own. But the Republican Party is not my concern; long ago I decided that the Party that brought us Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and the idea of the "imperial presidency" would never be my party. When the Republicans stole Florida, depriving the country of a Gore presidency, I was outraged but it made no difference in my stance to that Party, which was already one of opposition.

But had I been a Republican and old enough to vote in the Carter/Ford election, I know I would not have voted for Gerald Ford, even if I could not bring myself to vote for Jimmy Carter. And the reason I could not have done so is because President Ford's pardon of President Nixon put an official Republican Party seal of approval on the internal corruption Richard Nixon brought to the Republican Party.

By the same token, even though I am an ardent Democrat, I cannot participate in the legitimization of the practices and procedures the Democratic Party used to arrive at its nominee this year. Repeatedly, Dr. Dean, Speaker Pelosi and other less famous members of official Democratic Party institutions put their seal of approval on these practices and procedures.

Fortunately for me, I can conscientiously abstain from casting a ballot for any presidential candidate this year and instead turn my political energy to another effort that I believe will ensure that our country moves in progressive directions on a host of issues, including guaranteeing reproductive rights, guaranteeing the civil rights of gays and lesbians, ending the war in Iraq, and protecting the environment. That effort is to make sure that the Democratic Party wins as large a majority as possible in both the House and Senate, with candidates who embrace progressivism and object to internal Democratic Party corruption. In our federal governmental structure the legislature can pass legislation and even constitutional amendments to further progressive causes; the legislature can override presidential vetoes of these measures. For example, a robustly progressive legislature could pass the Equal Rights Amendment; and an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing women's rights to control their own bodies; another to protect the civil rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation; another to rid this country of the death penalty. The legislature can enact statutes and create agencies to fund stem cell research, to promote space exploration, to attend to specific environmental issues such as global warming. The legislature can force a sane and reasonable withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by attaching requirements in this regard to appropriations for funding U.S. action in that country. The legislature can refuse to approve proposed Supreme Court justices unless it is satisfied with their integrity as jurists.

But the Congress can only exert its power for good if it is peopled by true progressives - in most cases that means Democrats - and progressives who are staunchly committed to civil rights and voters' rights in every political process in this country. So I will turn my efforts to identifying those Democrats and doing whatever I can to see them elected in November. With a legislature like that, I do not have to gamble on who wins the Presidency or even what sort of policies that President would prefer to see implemented.

I respect the right of each and every citizen to decide for himself or herself how best to participate in the upcoming November elections. I hope that regardless of Party affiliation citizens will realize that to secure a more perfect union we need to instantiate the measures I discussed above and that regardless of Party affiliation one can seek out and support progressives running for Congress.

For too long we as a people have let Presidential politics blind us to the possibility of achieving progressive goals via the legislative process. This has yielded an unprecedented expansion of power for the executive branch. I realize that many people therefore find themselves focusing on who will occupy this branch. But there is a vicious circle there: so long as we focus exclusively or primarily on who becomes President, the more we legitimize the imperial presidency.

So by opting out of casting a vote in the Presidential race this year, I give myself the freedom - and time - to devote myself to breaking that vicious cycle. Furthermore, I can work for progressive Democrat political power without condoning what I cannot condone, the undemocratic and anti-Democratic violations of the Democratic Party's own promulgated rules that yielded this year's Democratic nominee; the willingness to look the other way when there was caucus fraud; the unprincipled treatment of Florida and Michigan voters; and so on and so forth. To my fellow rank and file Democrats who either do not find the Party's conduct this primary season as objectionable as I do or who are going to vote for Senator Obama because they so fear the McCain alternative, I say that is your right. But I would urge you to spare some time and effort to pay attention to the down ticket progressive Democrats running for House and Senate, many of whom are running in districts or states where Senator Obama's coattails - however long or short they turn out to be - will not help them get elected. If you cannot spare the time or effort though, do not worry. I along with millions of other rank and file Democrats will be focusing our energy in that direction - and that should not threaten or alarm any Democrat.

Causes and candidates to which any good Democrat can feel good about supporting (a list in progress)
  • Principle Before Party from The Denver Group (donate here)
  • Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (donate to retire the debt or to the 2012 reelection fund here)
  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's reelection to the House (donate here via link to Heidi Li's Potpourri Act Blue Page)
  • Ed O'Reilly's yeoman effort to bring serious progressivism back to Massachussetts (donate here via link to Heidi Li's Potpourri Act Blue Page)


Blogger Runa said...

Once again, you are a voice of sanity and reason. The past 2 days have been emotional ones for HRC supporters like me. We do not want a repeat of the misogyny with Palin.Its so sad that HRC did all the hard work and the Republicans have co-opted that.
Kudos to you on your decision to opt out and focus on downstream dems.
Thank you again for all that you do.

August 30, 2008 at 11:32 PM  
Blogger GrandMe said...

With a little free time, and in spite of deciding to ignore politics for a few days, I decided a quick peek at the Potpourri wouldn't hurt. Good choice. Thanks so much for this very thoughtful column. Every Democrat should read it.

August 30, 2008 at 11:39 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

The current Democratic Party is not one I can subscribe to or endorse. I believe in democracy and country first and the current Democratic Party believes in power. They are against democracy and free speech. The tactics they have employed to select their nominee is so anti-democratic that it is frightening. I am also very concerned that since they killed democracy in the Democratic Party they may very well try to kill democracy in the United States if they were to win. I do not think we can risk that possibility.

The Democratic Party I support is the one supported by the late Barbara Jordan who sat of the Congressional committee that impeached Richard Nixon. Below is an excerpt from her eloquent opening statement during the hearings.

“Today I am an inquisitor. An hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.
"Who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation as the representatives of the nation themselves?" "The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men." And that's what we're talking about. In other words, [the jurisdiction comes] from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
The current DNC, many of the delegates and many in Congress have abused and violated the public trust. In addition, when it was pointed out to them what they were doing they told us to go away, they did not need us, they could win without us. Well, guess what we listened, and heard and many of us have gone away. I will continue to donate to Hillary Clinton, Ed O’Reilly and the Denver Group. I will add Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to my list. The I will vote my conscience in November and it will not be for the selected one of the DNC.

August 31, 2008 at 2:56 AM  
Blogger David said...

Thank you for your comments. After years in the Democratic Party trenches, when I turned 60 this year I vowed that never again would I vote against someone, but only for someone. I've determined the only wasted vote is a vote for someone you didn't want to vote for.
So in 2007 and early 2008 I worked on behalf of Dennis Kucinich.
This June I was in Lowell helping Ed O'Reilly gain a spot on the ballot.
And here in Maine I've been volunteering for Herbert Hoffman (, a former Democrat turned Independent who filed for the U.S. Senate but currently has been denied ballot access after the chairman of the Maine Democratic Party challenged his petitions.
It's a long, involved story, but the bottom line is Hoffman collected enough signatures between February and May to get on the ballot, but in June the Democratic Party-appointed Secretary of State was convinced by the Democrats to change a rule for collecting signatures. He then applied this new rule in an after-the-fact manner to Hoffman only, then determined some of Hoffman's petitions, which had previously been accepted, were void, based on the new rule.
The Democrats were afraid Hoffman's progressive campaign would take away votes from their moderate candidate. Based on every poll that's come out, they'll still lose.
But Hoffman's platform of single-payer health care, out-of-Iraq=now, and government accountability will never become part of the debate.

August 31, 2008 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger distantfan said...

Wonderful, wise words. Brava!

August 31, 2008 at 8:58 AM  
Blogger nativegirl said...

I completely respect you, as I believe each individual owns their own vote. But I feel that by not voting we dishonor the women who fought so hard to give us the legal right to vote. By not voting, the individuals who workded so forcefully and stated that the PUMA vote was not needed, just won.

August 31, 2008 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Marsha said...

As usual, eloquent and sane. This sets out an active, positive position serious people of conscience should consider. To nativegirl I would say, I agree that women should not squander their right to vote which our ancestors fought so hard to obtain, but Heidi is not suggesting abstaining from voting. She is suggesting that you go and cast your vote for down-ticket Democrats for congress and state level positions.

August 31, 2008 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger purplefinn said...

Thank you again Heidi Li for expressing the dilemma and positive action so precisely. Few of my friends understand my position. They do listen and most were for Hillary once. Should McCain/Palin win, I look forward to Hillary's successfully working with them across the aisle.

August 31, 2008 at 4:37 PM  
Blogger Admin said...

Van from NJ sent this:
This post was excellent. I believe that it is pretty much the policy that I will follow. I like Lautenberg and even though he is getting a little old, the guy the Rep. nominated is an idiot, hack and worst of all he is a Republican. On principle, I will not vote for any Republican this year, even if one is running for dog catcher. The Republican party has for the last eight years driven this country to depths lower than that reached in the hated Nixon era.

August 31, 2008 at 10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am leaning toward this solution myself. I too feel that a vote for Obama/Biden is condoning the primary process that left me very disappointed with the Democratic Party. Thank you for expressing this very viable option which seems to be the right one for me under the circumstances.

September 1, 2008 at 10:18 PM  

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