The two major parties are in a state of unprecedented crisis. They have been exposed for their blatant pandering to the corporate elite, the 1%. Successive bank bailouts, tax cuts for the rich, failure to end the economic devastation, failure to solve the foreclosure crisis, a legacy of wars, and failure to protect the planet have all created a mood of anger. Issue after issue has piled up so that young people and working people can see politicians catering to the corporate interests that dominate Washington, D.C.
In a recent Pew Foundation poll, 77% of respondents said too much power is in the hands of a few rich people and corporations. 61% of Americans now say the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy. As a result, two-thirds think most members of Congress should be replaced (www.scribd.com/doc/75809246/Congress-and-Economy-Anti-Incumbent-Views-Pew).
Stan Greenberg, who worked for Bill Clinton in 1992 at a time when Ross Perot ran as an independent candidate, comments: “I can’t imagine that with 85 percent of the country thinking we’re on the wrong track that there won’t be a third-party candidate … There has to be. There’s too much opportunity, too much anger with politics.” (“Political Climate Ripe For A Third-Party Prospect,” Mara Liasson, NPR, 11/17/ 2011)
A huge political vacuum, which offers a great opportunity for the left to fill, is opening up in U.S. society. But if the left fails to do that, the danger is that the right wing will step in.
This is not what the ruling elite had planned for their political system. The system of two establishment parties with very public primaries was created and developed to ensure that anger was siphoned back into the two-party system. When the corporate policies of one party were discredited, the other party could be put forward to ensure the continuation of big business rule. In that way, capitalism would be safeguarded.
But all this assumed U.S. world dominance and the U.S. economy growing at a steady clip with the occasional short-term recession. The stability of the political system was based on its ability to create and sustain a sizeable middle class that had an expectation of rising living standards. The 35-year decline of U.S. capitalism, combined with the worldwide decline of capitalism, has dramatically undermined the middle class. The recession of 2008 brought real anger to the surface and exposed deep cracks in the political system.
Conditions are such that if a sizeable radical political party of the working class and poor existed, it could win significant support. A strong working-class candidate for president who already had a good base among the public could begin to lay the basis for transforming U.S. politics. The corporate agenda of the two main parties could be exposed on issue after issue. A clear program of demands that would rally working-class people and young people could be presented.
Faced with the emergence of a massive working-class alternative, both major political parties would have to offer social reforms to prevent such a party coming to power. Important victories could be won on a local, state, and national level. In the same way that capitalist politicians and media have been forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of the demands of the Occupy movement, a workers’ party would shift the public debate from what policies big business wants to which party could best provide for the needs of workers. Expectations would be raised and workers and young people would step into politics.
Unfortunately, a sizeable political party of workers, young people, and the poor does not exist. Yet the situation is ripe for a strong challenge by the left in this election. The two corporate parties should not be let off the hook. Socialists need to argue as strongly and widely as possible for the left to seize this opportunity by running a credible candidate and mounting the strongest possible campaign that can bring the message of Occupy into this election and thus shift the debate in this country.