Despite opposition from 52 percent of the American public according to a CNN poll, tax “reform” has now passed both the House and the Senate largely on party line votes. All that remains is for the GOP Congress to reconcile the two bills. The exact details are yet to be determined, but what is not in doubt is that the Republicans are set to deliver lavish tax breaks to the 1 percent.
This giveaway to the rich will be accompanied by major cuts in the 2018 federal budget (another piece of legislation that must be reconciled before the end of the year) for initiatives that help the rest of us, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). In 2016, SNAP fed many of the 41 million Americans — including 12.9 million children — who suffered from food insecurity and hunger.
The Democrats’ ability to adequately respond to this one-sided class war, waged by GOP donors and their legislative puppets, is in doubt. The party of Franklin Roosevelt today lacks the moral authority — and the appetite — to take on this challenge because, as Theo Anderson notes in this month’s print cover story, “The party’s New Deal-era critique of concentrated wealth and power has been supplanted by a corporate-friendly worldview.”
This brings us to the current struggle between corporate and progressive Democrats for the future of the party. Will it be a party of the rich and powerful or a party of the people?
In 2018, the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee will vote on whether to implement the reforms advocated by the Unity Reform Commission, established as part of a deal between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns at the 2016 convention in Philadelphia. One of the key proposed reforms is a drastic reduction in the number of Democratic superdelegates.
But will the Democratic establishment agree to cede this advantage?
Reforms are also required at the state level, where in not a few cases the Democratic Party is ruled by election laws structured to preserve the status quo, protect incumbents and prevent popular participation. Take the New York Democratic Party, one of the most corrupt and unaccountable state parties in the nation.
Not coincidentally, New York, a largely progressive state, is home to the Independent Democratic Conference, eight Democratic state senators who vote with their Republican counterparts, giving the GOP de facto control of the state senate and allowing Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to govern as a centrist. Thanks to these eight Democrats, progressive initiatives passed in the assembly routinely die in the upper house.
New York is one of 12 states that hold “closed” primaries, in which only those who are registered with a party are allowed to vote in that party’s primaries. So, say you would like to register as a Democrat in order to vote for the progressive candidate who is challenging your local state senator — a member of the Independent Democratic Conference — in the 2018 primary.
Well, you are out of luck.
According to New York election law, if you want to vote in the September 11 state primary (or the June 26 congressional primary) you should have registered as a Democrat by Oct. 13, 2017.
As Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, told the Huffington Post, “The party apparatus here has managed to intertwine its tentacles around the election law … and they are strangling it, like a tree with a parasitic vine.”
Progressives can and should put up as many brilliant candidates to challenge establishment Democrats as they are able to muster. If, however, Democratic officialdom continues to protect the status quo with restrictive primaries in states like New York, it will wall itself off from a generation of young, newly engaged progressives and set the stage for more voter disaffection, spoiler campaigns and defeat. It will also pave the way for more tax “reforms” that will transfer our nation’s wealth from the majority to the 1 percent.
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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.