The following is from Glenn Greenwald’s remarks at the Socialism 2011 conference last week in Chicago. I found it in comments at John Caruso’s excellent Distant Ocean.
The idea of working to reform the Democratic Party by electing better Democrats or more progressive Democrats that I thought was a viable course of action even as recently as a few years ago is something that I have completely rejected.
And I think the only means of true political change will come from people working outside that system to undermine and subvert it and weaken it and destroy it and not try to work within it to change it.
There have been lots of people who have made radical critiques of the government like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn and others who have said that as horrible as the Democrats are, the fact that they’re even a little better than the Republicans means that it is important that they win because with an entity as powerful as the U.S. government even small differences can make meaningful differences in the lives of millions of people.
And that to me was an argument that was persuasive for a while. (But) what I have actually concluded is that even if there are short term benefits to electing Democrats instead of Republican-you get Sonia Sottomayor instead of Antonin Scalia that’s a benefit that will sway cases in better directions-there’s also extreme costs to pledging your fealty to a political party.
Knowing as party leaders do that many people on the left are convinced by this reasoning they can continue to ignore people on the left, because they know that at the end of the day they’ll scare enough of them with scary images of Michelle Bachman or Newt Gingrich so that they’ll continue (their) support even though they’re ignored and get nothing and they’ll get nothing and be ignored forever, and that’s a huge cost.
Another huge cost is the opportunity cost of doing activism for a political party which doesn’t care at all about you instead of using your money and time on more meaningful changes. And so that is the ultimate formula which needs to be evaluated, the ultimate weighing of costs and benefits which needs to be assessed, not just that there are some benefits to Democrats therefore let’s vote for them. But what are the costs from continuing to support and prop up this party and having them know that they can take the support for granted and putting our time and energy into that rather than into something more significant that can achieve something more enduring and more fundamental and longer lasting benefits.
That’s the calculus which has swayed me away from that view.
The full video, which is really quite amazing, even for a long-time follower of Greenwald like me: