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  February 6, 2010

Progressives and the Democratic Party Pt.4

Cohen: Far right Republicans are dangerous, but also need to fight corporatists in Democratic Party
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Jeff Cohen is a media critic and lecturer, founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he is an associate professor of journalism. Cohen founded the media watch group FAIR in 1986.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, coming to you from Ithaca, New York. We're with Jeff Cohen again. He's the director of the Park Center for Independent Media, one of the founders of the media watchdog FAIR. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: So we're having this discussion about whither the Democratic Party. And, of course, the dilemma for people who consider themselves progressive is that they see—and probably with all validity—that the far right, sections of it, you can say, at any rate, are in their eyes extremely dangerous. The Cheney-esque section of the Republican Party, many people think, has a kind of a tendency towards even a kind of totalitarianism. So when election comes, they always are "Jesus, that looks so bad. We've got to elect whatever the heck it is being offered by the Democratic Party," which will always be some kind of corporatist candidate, on the whole, "and then we'll worry about it later." And then four years go by, and kind of the same thing happens over and over again.

COHEN: Right. The reality is that the Republicans, in their modern incarnation, are very dangerous. You mentioned the Cheney wing. I think of it more as the Palin wing, that you have tendencies that are almost fascistic: they're anti-intellectual; they're anti-democratic, scary, racist, anti-immigrant. Very scary movement. The problem in our society is we don't have a parliamentary system and it is winner take all. That should not stand in the way of progressives going into the Democratic Party and holding Democrats accountable. It should not stand in the way—and I mean working to totally change who's on the menu in each election. It's not enough that it be a bad right-wing Republican and a corporate Democrat. You need a real alternative.

JAY: So what do you say to people like Nader who say the Democratic Party is so controlled by corporate forces—

COHEN: He's correct

JAY: —that there's nothing you can do about it?

COHEN: Well, that's silly, because what are we going to do? We're going to—in a society where it's winner take all, we're going to hope that our 2 percent or 3 percent or 5 percent—? Nader's ideology is, his election ideology is: that puts pressure on the Democrats. Well, to the Democrats, Nader cost them the election in 2000. Did it move them at all to the left? No. They were going along with the Bush agenda. I mean, the reality is that you can run in third parties on local levels, but if you're talking about national level, it's really sort of, I think, self-defeating to run a third-party. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't be active in determining who the candidates are. When I hear Ralph Nader correctly criticize the corporatization of the Democratic Party—and no one's seen it from the inside better than Ralph Nader. You know, in the 1970s he could work with the Democrats and get reforms in. In the 1980s he could work with senators on Capitol Hill. Then he sees this Democratic Leadership Council coming forward, and before you know it, he's not getting meetings, but the corporations are. The problem is that when you talk about how corporatized Democrats have become—which is completely true—and you don't talk about how the Republican Party is, like, four steps more right-wing than they ever were, then it reminds me of that old joke of George Carlin, who used to say, "There's a partial score in from the West Coast: Los Angeles 6," and, you know, he didn't give the other score. The reality is that, yes, the Democrats are completely corporate; and George Bush, Sarah Palin, and these people are so dangerous, to pretend that it doesn't matter who's in power, I think, is a flight of fancy I can't take. But in terms of militantly dealing with the corporatization of the Democratic Party and these social movements that represent millions—consumer rights, environmentalists, antiwar—allowing themselves to be snookered time and time again—. I have no problem with people that work their hearts out to defeat McCain and Palin. But those who willingly put blinders over themselves about who Obama was—. You know, it's no contradiction to try to defeat the right wing while also being honest about the limitations of the Democratic candidates, and trying to replace them in the next election, and trying to get better candidates within Democratic primaries to stand in the next election. It's not rocket science. I mean, when I hear people, including Nader, "How are you going to take over—you can't take over the Democratic Party; they're too corporate," well, we've seen in our lifetime that forces have taken over the Republican Party and radically transformed it. It's not the party of Dwight Eisenhower. It's not even the party of Richard Nixon—his health-care reform was more progressive than Obama's. They have taken over—through social action and grassroots politics and money, they have taken over a major party. Now, if there's no understanding that that can be done on the Democratic side, then I don't know if we've been studying the right history.

JAY: So then why not? So where is the progressive leadership, then? And why isn't there some kind of national forum for this?

COHEN: Well, there are a number of groups that are national fora, and the Progressive Democrats of America is one. The demise of Obama, the dithering, the vacillation, the corporatization, has really been a wake-up call to even moderate liberals that it's not good enough and that you have to get into the issue of who are the candidates; you have to get in at an earlier level; we have to work in your Democratic committees in your cities and towns and states. We've seen the Republicans, we've seen the religious right do this for decades. It's not a mystery how this is done. It's not glamorous. It's hard work.

JAY: Many of the swing voters you describe are in unions.

COHEN: No doubt.

JAY: And if the unions can't figure out where to go, I'm not sure—I don't quite see how this works. The people with the clout are the union leadership and in the workers themselves.

COHEN: I believe from my study of who independents are and who swing voters are is they're so unpolitical and so nonideological—.

JAY: Which describes a lot of union members.

COHEN: Yes, it does. But they're so—they respond to not only who's promising change, but where's the enthusiasm for change. In 2008 that enthusiasm was with Obama, and he didn't deliver. Now it's with the populists and the tea baggers, and that's where the swing voter is going. You are right that the unions are institutions that can reach working-class people. I believe the Net, even though working class people are not as Net savvy as rich people or upper middle class people, the Net is a way you organize. We need to have netroots groups that are going to primary these candidates, these Democrats who are corporate. And it's going to take a decade, two decades. And then one day there may be a president, especially with the Supreme Court decision saying that corporate money will flood even more. The only way you can fight them is with these new technologies. You fight them with the base. And if everyone gives the $25, the $50, you can defeat these people. But the first order of business is transforming the Democratic Party. And, you know, people that have done this in some cities or towns realize that the Democratic Party, because of the corporatization, it's an empty shell. I mean, when the religious right took over the Republican Party, they went and they found that some of the country clubbers had left, and they basically took over an empty shell. In some cities and towns, it is not hard to take over the Democratic Party with some grassroots activism and organizing. And what they did on the right wing is first they took over cities and towns, and then they took over state Republican parties, and lo and behold, they delivered the nomination to Ronald Reagan. And after Reagan, they started taking over most state parties. I mean, the blueprint is there. It's been done. It's recent history. It's not rocket science. It's a question of whether people who lead these institutions you've talked about—the leaders of environmental groups, the leaders of unions, the leaders of so-called peace groups, the leaders of MoveOn, are they happy saying, "Oh, I had a nice meeting with Senator Such-and-such, a real nice lunch"? Or are they going to decide, "We're on the outside, and we're going to make sure these people responded to our agenda, but we're not going to get sucked in and wined and dined at the White House and on Capitol Hill"? It's been a failing for decades.

JAY: Right now people can't even get a dinner invitation. Thanks very much for joining us.

COHEN: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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