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Towards a Labor-Democratic Party

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Electoral politics has long been said to be "the Art of the possible," while the politics of change is necessarily about changing what's possible.

It is on the horns of this paradox that the so-called change presidency of Barack Obama has been revealed to be a Mas, as they say in Trinidad at Carnival time.

The change Obama promised turned out to be a cultural change, but in political-economic terms, it was just business as usual. It was a masquerade, and now... the masquerade is over.

This far out, no one can say this what will happen in 2012. It's even possible the economy won't completely tank at some point before the election -- though I think I would short that bet.

However, as in the midterms, a horrible economy won't hurt Obama as much as the perception -- correct in my opinion -- that he is de-facto on the side of the ruling elites.

This poses a particular electoral problem for Democrats, and one expects there will be a challenge to Obama in the early caucuses and primaries.

While there could be a Blue Dog candidacy from Mark Warner or Evan Bayh, the most likely challenge to Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada will come from the populist left.

Like everyone else, I've got my own, no doubt, hopelessly compromised favorites for the role of populist dragon slayer, the most obvious being Russ Feingold.

Feingold has been, hands down, the most principled and effective progressive member of the Senate in recent years, with not only the brains and heart to do the right thing, but the balls.

The main problem with a Feingold candidacy is that he's damaged goods, having been defeated in his own state by a rich and clueless, certified idiot. Over the next bit we'll see if Russ can rise again.

The second, not so obvious, choice is Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

Webb is a war hero and self-described Southern populist Reagan-Democrat who could not only beat Obama from the Left, but from the Right. Webb's baggage is that he's not only a former Republican Secretary of the Navy, he's basically a writer, and as we all know, writers are just not credible. Still like the Funkadelic used to sing, "if u got funk, you got style," and for an implausibly proud white guy, Webb's got plenty of both.

The third pick might be the best: Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. The appeal of Kaptur to Labor-Democrats is self-evident. Kaptur has made a career of representing "her people," the largely Catholic, ethnic white working class, Reagan Democrats of the Rust belt who, as a group, abandoned the Democratic Party this election cycle. These are the people who have not only been hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis, but also by the decline of manufacturing and the rise of Finance Capitalism for the past generation.

These are the voters the Democrats need to recover in 2012, while not alienating their black electoral base or other key ethnic constituencies. It would appear to be a no-brainer that running a working class woman -- another first -- would help in that effort.

The problem a Kaptur candidacy would have to address is that, like most of us, she probably figures the Presidency is above her pay grade. Marcy Kaptur would have to really want to run and also have a ready-to-go, build the green economy, break up the-big-Banks, anti-Wall Street program to run on.

The biggest problem though, that any of the three above populists would face is that insurgent Presidential candidacies usually end up as largely symbolic efforts incapable of contesting, let alone breaking, the stranglehold of the corporate plutocracy on our polity.

The obscene amount of money it takes to run a campaign is part of it, but the larger part is institutional: that is, self interest always trumps altruism, and then too, money never gets tired, and people do.

In a simpler world, fusion politics, using the model of the Working Families Party of New York State would be a way out of the insurgent Presidential campaign cul-de-sac.

A new fusion party, call it the Labor-Democratic Party, would systematically oppose
Corporate democrats in primaries where strategically appropriate. It would also keep a 3rd party ballot line where it could list true Democrats and run against the false ones.

The Labor-Democrats might or might not take over the larger Democratic Party but they would in fairly short order become a plurality within it.

The trouble with this fusion model is that it's only legal in seven other states beside New York.

Organizations like Howard Dean's Democracy for America, Move-on, Bold Progressives, Credo and Act Blue, have done excellent work for the past several electoral cycles but to really change politics, a new politics of change is called for.

A broad campaign-- possibly in bi-partisan alliance with the soon-to-be bitterly disappointed Tea Partiers -- to legalize fusion party voting in as many states as possible has to be part of any larger populist organizing effort or conversation.