THE BLOG
11/27/2013 04:20 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2014

The Democrats Need a Tea Party

The Tea Party pushes the Republicans to the right. The Democrats need a party to push them to the left. Not the old left of big government and high taxes on the middle class, but a new left of participatory democracy, economic cooperatives, and diversity, not just of race and lifestyle, but of income, class and culture as well. This new party would be based in neighborhoods and workplaces, and steer clear of fat-cat funding.

By "the Democrats," I mean people who vote Democratic, not the Democratic Party establishment. Beginning with DNC Chair Tony Coelho's "Right Turn" in the 1980s, executed to bring in more campaign dollars, the Democratic Party establishment has moved further to the right, into an unholy alliance with big business--banks, multinationals, military contractors, insurance and drug companies--enabling these interests to feed on the middle class and the working class, while the rich get richer.

Mind you, the Republicans are even better at this than the Democrats, using wedge issues and culture wars to mobilize our counterparts, the little people on the right, to support the same corporate agenda.

And it's not just at the national level. I was prompted to write this by some developments in my own Montgomery County, Maryland, a growing jurisdiction of a million or more where developers dominate politics in the way that banks, multinationals and military contractors dominate it nationally. Here, middle-class and working-class homeowners and small businesses are pitted against developers and "Astroturf" advocacy groups financed by a big New York foundation around "smart growth" and a "Bus Rapid Transit" proposal that will cost billions and may make commuting worse, rather than better.

So the Democratic "Tea Party" I'm talking about needs to be just as active in state and local government as it is on the national level, because we're seeing the same problems, top to bottom, from the Presidency down to the precinct captain. Both Democrats and Republicans manipulate us (one of my local Democratic County Councilmembers has put out campaign emails urging constituents to vote for him to counter "Tea Party influence"), but they're not really listening. As soon as elections are over, their doors close to anyone who doesn't have the money or the clout to get in.

I'm really tired of this waxing and waning of our elected officials' affections. Wax on around election time, and wax off for the next two, four, or six years, until they suddenly remember us again.

What do we do about it?

I used to think that a "civic infrastructure," grounded in neighborhood participation and cascading to Congressional-district size, would be enough to discipline the government and business interests that loom so large in our lives. But reflecting on national bailouts and local failing schools, I realize that's not enough.

Business interests decide what we wear, eat, watch and drive, and increasingly, where we live and work. My own local government has the power to take my neighbors' front yards, or even our homes--indeed, upend our whole community--for some cockamamie "economic development" scheme, and then tax us to pay for it. Balance needs to be restored.

So the civic infrastructure I proposed clearly needs a political arm, a Tea Party for Democrats, to raise these issues in Democratic primaries at all levels of government.

For starters, what should we call it? One of my neighbors suggested "The American Revolutionary Party," to remind us that this country was not only conceived in liberty, but also dedicated to the proposition that all of us are created equal.

What do you think?

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