Purity and Realignment: Why 2010 is much more than just your typical midterm horse race

It’s the season–and particularly a year–for forecasts for the next year or the next decade. Of those I’ve read, the most interesting appeared on TomDispatch by Michael Klare, who focuses on how international power is shifting from the U.S. to China, the increasing importance of the “global south,” and the increasing likelihood that climate change will become more apparent. All these forecasts, with a reflex borne of experience, caution as to the hazard of attempting to foretell the future. But it is hard to argue with Klare’s forecasts because they aren’t so much forecasts as expositions of already extant trends.

In a similar vein, I want to point to a major realignment in U.S. politics that in my view undermines both major political parties. Regular readers of this blog will know I think that the Democratic Party will never again represent progressives, that we should support–probably–the Green Party and turn it in to a viable political force that can subvert a political dichotomy that so easily and so persistently discounts our views.

Such readers also know I have looked with alarm on developments in the Republican Party, seeing its strategy for attaining power as not an electoral strategy and therefore as a strategy leading to a coup d’etat. The Obama administration’s betrayal of progressives means that many of us may fail to turn out this November; its betrayal of the unemployed and of the lower and middle classes against a backdrop of diminishing U.S. power pissed away at the expense of urgent domestic needs abandons the working class to its already observed bigotries against people of color (especially immigrants) and women. This is a recipe for a fascist uprising and it is hard to look upon what was, last September, called a “Town Hell” but now is called a “Tea Party” uprising with its unmistakably racist undertones as a prelude to anything else.

But other things have happened as well. While Sarah Palin bridges the apocalyptic eschatology of evangelical Protestantism with the secular red-baiting (against “socialist” Barack Obama) of Rush Limbaugh and of Glenn Beck, while the Stupak and Nelson amendments to the health care bill recall the abortion issue, and while Orren Hatch managed to revive federal funding for abstinence-only sex education in that same bill, evangelical Protestantism hardly appears in national debate.

As the health care bill enforces a stigmatization of abortion coverage which will surely mean that abortions will be even harder to get, as abstinence-only education refuses to die, as Obama had Rick Warren offer the inaugural benediction and preserved federal support for faith-based initiatives, evangelical Protestantism seems to have been quietly institutionalized in a way that George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan could never manage. Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald has–in what I think is one of his more important columns–called attention to a failure to recognize the alignment of Jewish Israel with the Christian United States in brutality against the Muslim Gaza Strip as a motivation for attacks against the United States fueling a vicious circle of perpetual war.

In Cairo, Barack Obama said of relations between the U.S. and Islam that “this cycle of suspicion and discord must end,” that he had “come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.” But one of my former professors, Agha Saeed, chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, had his briefcase “stolen” and quickly recovered but returned only after an inspection of its contents which lasted several days–because he is Muslim; his video studio was apparently subjected to a sneak-and-peak search (a burglary committed by law enforcement and sanctioned under the Patriot Act); and partly as a result, his organization joined in a nationwide call for Muslims to limit their cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As many Muslims around the world now understand, the al Qaeda casting of the so-called “War on Terror” as a war on Islam in fact bears at least some truth. And what many of the rest of us need to understand is that this war is in fact a revival of the Crusades, that NATO soldiers in Afghanistan and remaining “coalition of the willing” soldiers in Iraq die not just for empire and not just for oil, but for Christianity and for Zionism.

These developments mean that evangelical Protestants, beset by a series of sex scandals, can for the moment keep their heads down. But they will surely reappear by 2012 as Republican front runners Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, or Sarah Palin vie for their party’s presidential nomination. Palin placed relatively poorly among conservatives, but her ability to attract the working class, the facts that she 1) looks like white working class males want her to look and 2) says what they want her to say, while 3) Obama has so conspicuously thumbed his nose at the working class, have to make her an important candidate for a purified Republican Party.

That call for purity–which I have interpreted as a losing electoral strategy signaling that the Republican Party no longer seeks electoral success–has exposed divisions within the G.O.P. that visibly came to a head last year in New York’s 23rd District, as the Party abandoned its own candidate, Dede Scozzafava, in favor of a more conservative Doug Hoffman, who lost a district held by Republicans since the Civil War. If there is no room for progressives in the Democratic Party, we are also seeing that there is no room for relative moderates in the Republican Party. As Republican South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint said, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

In 2010, Democrats need to re-energize their progressive base–or they will lose–and Republicans need to avoid driving away their so-called moderates–or they will lose. And what makes this midterm election more interesting than your typical mainstream media horse race is the question of what happens to the extent neither party does what it needs to do.

While many have criticized the Republican Party for contemplating a “purity” test, the Democratic Party has demonstrated in the fiasco surrounding the health care bill the failings of a “big tent” approach that accommodates too much diversity of views. Republicans might be criticized for fascist tendencies, but Democrats can be said to stand for nothing but election. Democrats have been desperately shifting right since the 1984 defeat of Walter Mondale. And 2009 has made that plain to all but the most determined Obama backers. The sensible thing would be for progressives to split off, to leave the Democratic Party to so-called moderates including those who fail the Republican purity test. Democrats would then likely be unable to govern without cooperation from progressives, whose support they could no longer take for granted. Progressives need to seriously consider this possibility, and my question is whether or not we will.

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