It’s more common to describe the Democratic Party as largely living (always exceptions) in obsessive, cowering, self censoring fear of the Right — the abused wife syndrome by which many Dems exist in denial or silent fear of being beaten up politically by the Right. But I think the Stockholm Syndrome makes even more sense. The Democrats are a party “under the influence” of the Right wing, a party held mentally hostage so long by the aggressive, adroit, dominant conservative movement, that they have come to identify with their captors, adopt their paradigms, to think like them and then offer us lite versions of conservatism. The entire political landscape and decades of recent history are littered with the examples. I used to think it was the party leadership and its elected officials, and while they represent a special problem of lowest common denominator politics, and extremely risk adverse personalities who will sell out every progressive cause if there’s the least doubt it might hurt their career, or take the path of least resistance through politics, including campaigns, and won’t do the hard hard work of creating grassroots issue-coalitions and door knocking that could elect them and create the progressive power to back a bold agenda, I’ve realized the syndrome extends down to the tips of the grassroots. Except for the exceptions, the Florida Democratic Party grassroots and to a lesser extent the broader progressive movement, nationally, but especially in Florida, are pathetic.
The most overt symptom of the Democrats’ Stockholm Syndrome is the flight from the “liberal” label to the once-but-no-longer-meaningful “progressive” label. I’m struck when I hear the Director of Americans for Democratic Action dismiss “progressives” as “liberals who don’t have the courage of their own convictions” and blame Michael Dukakis at the top for surrendering in his 1988 campaign. And Ralph Nader says so many liberals are “deserting the liberal ship and swimming over to the progressive ship, you have people calling themselves progressives that make me laugh.” It’s true.
Look at the Democratic Party’s agenda, Florida and national, it’s the same mushy platitudes the party’s been selling since it was kidnapped by the right back in ‘68. It’s great that the party supports public education, but it’s safe, passe, and not enough. Stockholm Syndrome: most of the grassroots probably still think the endless Afghanistan occupation is The Right War. The party is holding its annual Jefferson-Jackson convention this weekend and I doubt there will be a single substantial speech made. When the convention at the least could be passing an Out of Afghanistan Resolution, the Stockholm Syndrome will be at work and the conventioneers will sit through platitudinous speeches. I attended JJ in 2002. I quickly got tired of applauding the platitudes with everyone else. Then I became very uncomfortable sitting there motionless while hundreds of people around me gave thunderous applause to meaningless party cheerleading lines.
We need a politics that actually stands for something other than the Lite Conservative Stockholm Syndrome. The original progressive movement of 1890-1929 brought women’s suffrage, child labor limits, workers’ compensation, open government, minimum wage, the progressive income tax, open primaries and bold limits on corporate power.
What’s the agenda today? There really isn’t one, other than watered down Lite Conservative Stockholm Syndrome, such as health reform that leaves insurance middlemen in complete tact when that is the main barrier, of several, to affordable healthcare. The party is so conflicted and Republicanized that on the rare occasions its outnumbered genuine progressives mount a bold initiative it is gutted by the strong, Republicanized elements in the party.
If the Dems had the bold “progressive” agenda of the 1900s they would be demanding abolition of the electoral college, instant runoff voting in all elections, a progressive income tax in Florida and serious restriction of regressive property taxes, banning construction in the hurricane storm surge zone along the coast (or building codes that require structures to withstand 20 foot bashing waves), serious curbing of coersionary plea bargaining, decriminalization of marijuana, oppose government subsidies of nuclear power, phased increases in the gasoline tax, repeal of cruel and once-unusual sentencing, particularly for puritanical “moral” crimes, full public financing of all elections, gay marriage, before birth parent training and licensing, serious curbing of the American military empire, bases and spending, measured-in-months extrication from Iraq and Afghanistan, demand an end to Israel’s expansionism into Palestinian territory and an end to military aid if it doesn’t and wear “I Love Israel — Inside her 1967 Borders” buttons ) to name a few. Notice how the party’s president, where federally applicable, is doing nothing to advance this agenda. And instead of nominating attorneys and corporate attorneys and bankers and war hawks for office they’d be nominating grassroots community leaders and public interest, social justice and anti-war advocates. Of course there is a party that does all of this: The Florida Green Party.