Monday, February 1, 2010

I Want to Par-TAY

After reading my op-ed, a few people have asked me why, if I'm so thoroughly disgusted with the Democratic Party, I end the piece by predicting or hoping for some new party to emerge. Maybe, these friends have suggested, it's futile to look to political parties at all to heal our society's ills.

Part of me is very responsive to this argument: the part of me that agrees with Thoreau, Gandhi, and King that civil disobedience, protest, and other forms of direct citizen action are the best (or only) way for citizens in a stiflingly complex sociopolitical system to "break through" and effect real change. Such an argument, taken to its logical conclusion, would dispense with political parties (or government itself) entirely: for what possible use could it be to align oneself with a preconstituted party (or even one of one's own devising) if the point is to liberate oneself from the very structures that exclude, or at least distance, citizens from direct participation in the political process?

So in that respect, I sort of wish I'd ended not with a plea for a new party, but with a plea for a new social consciousness, conscience, and conviction among ordinary citizens. That might have made the article stronger.

But at the same time, there's a large part of me--call it Socialist if you want, or if you must--that believes in the fundamental power of social collectives to multiply the clout, and soften the selfishness, of individuals. Political parties, of course, aren't the only such collectives; the organized, grassroots movements of Gandhi, King, and others are too, and may be even more powerful examples of the form. And yet I continue to find the promise of political affiliation, if not its practice, appealing; I continue to find myself believing that there must be a place, however small, for politically constituted collectives to guide and shape the political process.

Maybe this makes me wishy-washy, an independent not worth his name. Maybe it shows I'm still very much a child of my parents' New Deal legacy; maybe it says I've been drinking our political system's Kool Aid so long I can't imagine a true alternative to the junk it's been selling me. I'm not sure. I'd like to hear what others have to say about this, though. Maybe, together, we can figure out a way to party without parties.

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