To my progressive friends:
Let me remind everyone as to why we are all once again drawn to national politics, some of us after a lapse of many years. Things are terribly wrong in this country and in the world. The Bush “New American Century” crowd is determined to rule the world, to create a Pax Americana, to transfer wealth in this country from the poor to the rich and to devastate the operations of government that constitute a safety net for the poor in favor of military spending and corporate welfare.
That frightens and troubles us greatly. I think every one of us wants to move the political dialogue in this country to the left. We want an internationalization of international problems, an end to U.S. meddling in the internal affairs of countries that do not constitute a threat to the security of the United States, universal health care, fair wages and decent conditions for workers, clean air and water, alternate energy, available housing, an end to poverty, etc. That means moving the political dialogue leftward. That seems to me to be a given; but most of us also agree that our first priority is to act so that the Bush crowd will not have four more years to rule the world and impoverish its citizens for the benefit of a few.
Many of us have tried working to accomplish that in other venues over many years or (in my case, decades), but without much success. So it was agreed by those of us in the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, and other venues, that an attempt would be made to do that in what looks like the only viable game in town: the Democratic Party.
That does not mean we like or accept all Democrats; after all, what we are seeking to do is to change the Democratic Party for the better. But it does mean that we can’t expect to demand perfection in all politicians who seek our support or endorsement. And it means that we must realize that our ability to move the dialogue leftward inside the Democratic Party will be leveraged in direct proportion to the work that we do to get Democrats elected.
As Joseph Stalin once said, “How many divisions has the Pope?” At the risk of that being misunderstood by people with no sense of humor, let me point to the California Democratic Council (late 1950s and 60s) and its example for us. Democratic politicians had to address the issues that the Council advanced (and they were progressive issues) because the Council provided the footsoldiers of the party.
The current Democratic Party has few footsoldiers (that is why Labor is so important to the party, and Labor doesn’t provide many troops very often); now, after an absence of many years, new progressive Democratic Clubs are forming, or gaining strength. If we now act to elect reasonable Democrats, we will have to be listened to on issues. Democratic candidates won’t always agree with us; but they will, more and more, have to address our issues! That is how the political dialogue moves leftward—just as right wing ideologues have moved the dialogue steadily rightward by providing the troops for the Republicans for 20 or more years.
None of that happens overnight. And the recall provides an anomalous incident on which to focus. No one picked the candidates, and there was no chance to affect the political dialogue in the short time we have for this election. And our movement is new, can field relatively few troops, and has little influence as yet. But this gives us the chance to start building our cachet with the party, while we also seek to expand our numbers here and in other locations. Progressives mostly agree that this recall, used against a governor elected not even a year ago, who has committed since no act of misconduct, is anti-democratic. It is bad public policy, on a par with term limits and three strikes. Furthermore, it appears to be part of the right wing scenario to steal government despite elections that started with the Clinton impeachment, shifted to the stolen 2000 election, moved to Texas where the Republicans are seeking to redistrict to gain new Republican House seats even though the state was reapportioned in 2001, and now is focused on California, where the Republicans are seeking to steal the governor’s office in a traditionally low-turnout election.
In these circumstances, to oppose the recall is morally right and politically correct. If the recall succeeds, Bustamante is the constitutionally appointed successor of the governor, like him or not. He is a Democrat, opposes the recall and is our best chance to thwart Republican efforts to seize this governorship. If Bustamante is elected, the Republicans will not be appointing our judges, vetoing legislation passed by the Democratic majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate and the Republicans will have less of a chance to prevent an honest budget from being adopted in this state.
Though he is not our candidate, there was no primary in which we could have supported a better candidate. And note that Bustamante has become a minor league populist recently (as has Davis).
For all those reasons, for me there is little choice but to oppose the recall, support Bustamante and seek to build up our progressive influence by earning it in the Democratic Party. Were we to adopt the purist’s approach of “give with one hand, take away with the other” we might as well disband as a Democratic club and reconstitute ourselves as another example of how not to accomplish anything at all. The history of the left has been too full of such groups, organizations and clubs, and I’ve been a member of too many of them myself. The bottom line for me (in my dotage) is: “Does what I am doing help advance the cause of civil rights, civil liberties, the fight against growing economic disparities among our people, the battle for a cleaner and less polluted earth and the struggle against the increasing religious bigotry we see in public life in this country?”
Mal Burnstein is a retired Berkeley attorney and longtime civil rights activist. He is also a member of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, to which this letter was originally addressed.