Consider the following description of the Democratic Party by ZZ Packer, a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. The article in question is “ZZ Packer Takes on Geraldine Ferraro,” March 15, 2008, and the context, the immediate aftermath of Ms Ferraro’s notorious remarks concerning Mr. Obama’s qualifications.
“The Democratic Party is a loosely held federation of voters whose concerns range far and wide; there are working-class whites who would otherwise be Republicans if they weren't in unions; there are Catholics and other religious voters who believe in peace and social justice issues despite being wooed by the right's pro-life extremists; there are the progressive East and West Coast middle and upper-middle class whites, Latinos in Texas and California and Arizona. There are gay and gay families who believe the Democrats' championing of civil rights is their best hope as a safeguard against bigotry. There are socially conservative African-Americans in the cities like Detroit and Chicago and New York, but also in the ‘Solid South’; a region whose support is absolutely necessary to for any party's nominee to win the presidency. The party is a sort of connective tissue for various issue voters; a loss of one constituent threatens the viability of the entire organism.”
Whether we agree with Mr. Altschul on some or most of the details is less important than to recognize that he’s onto something. The Democratic Party is “a loosely held federation of voters” and “a connective tissue [of sorts] for various issue voters.” Understand, further, that by “the party” Mr. Atschul doesn’t simply mean the politicians or their appointees. Nor does he (necessarily) mean registered Democrats, only those who, when in the ballot box and faced with the moment of truth, will vote the democratic ticket because of the issues.
Fair enough, you say. So we’re dealing here with a fairly comprehensive definition of the Democratic Party, let’s state this at the outset. There are, besides, many elements in the aforementioned definition which could well be applied to the Left, like the kind of core values, for example, around which the Left tends to coalesce, or the fact that it is a coalition, in a manner of speaking. Even so, I’d like to argue that it fails to describe the Left (not that Mr. Altschul had intended for it to do so). And furthermore, that to understand how Mr. Altschul’s definition is defective in the mentioned respect is the first step to understanding the Left and how it differs from the conventional meaning(s) attached to such traditional institutions and terms of political discourse as party, voting bloc, and the like.
By all reasonable calculations, the Left should have petered out by the mid ‘70s. Whether for lack of our political will or the wherewithal, the Vietnam conflict was over. With little or no resistance, the North Vietnamese entered Saigon on April 30, 1975, and the Thiệu government collapsed. To beat the impeachment charges, Nixon resigned (Gerald Ford serving the remainder of the term), and the concept of transparency in government was more or less restored. The Civil Rights had been won and the radical element of the Black Power movement lay dormant. Jimmy Carter was in, and the hippie movement had given way to the yuppies. Even Ronald Reagan’s two-term presidency didn’t raise much of a stink, except for the Iran-Contra affair and “letting out the homeless” by denying funding to state hospitals and institutions (or so the perception was). Likewise with the first of the Bushes and the First Gulf War. And then, there were the Clinton years, surely the Left’s panacea. In short, the Left had won its significant victories and, by all reasonable accounts, it should have faded away in glory. The fact that it didn’t, that it kept on resurfacing off and on, time and again – and at the least expected of times and places -– is a testimonial to its staying power. It also tells of its nature.