This year I joined the Democratic Party.
It was easy. I gave up ten dollars and filled out a little form. I did so for a reason. In Michigan, there are two Democratic Primaries. One is the regular primary, the other is the State Endorsement Convention, where those who show up with Democratic Party ID in hand can vote. The latter is far less Democratic, but it is also how the MDP selects its nominees for Secretary of State, Attorney General, and the State Supreme Court. So it’s an event that required getting as many people as possible to Detroit (this year) to cast a ballot. In this case, Our Revolution, the loose formation of activists coat-tailing the Sanders challenge in 2016, who recruited me for this as well, had also joined the party across the state, and were intent on nominating Dana Nessel, a social democratic outlier and former defense attorney. That was easy, too. Here in my little county, OR essentially joined, outnumbered, and took over the local Democratic Party. And it worked. The Democratic nominee for Michigan Attorney General is Ms. Nessel, who beat out Pat Miles, the Democratic establishment candidate. Now labor, environmentalists, African Americans, immigrants, and women in general have a candidate who, if elected, will actually represent their interests for four to eight years.
The perennial crabs of the uberleft, philosophical idealists posing as historical materialists, have turned categorical opposition to any “cooperation” with Democrats or the Democratic Party into a kind of purity code. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of these particular folks are men, and a goodly number of them are — like me — on or approaching the geriatric end of the age spectrum. As Mary Douglas and Paul Rozin have shown, pollution in purity-pollution codes is dose insensitive . . . meaning even the tiniest contact results in wholesale contamination. Everything, then, that constitutes pollution must elicit a disgust reaction as a kind of prophylaxis against that contamination — stay away! — because a single scratch can turn into gangrene. (People who haven’t studied disgust psychology, an actual and valuable thing, are missing out.) Democrats! Ick!
These folks stood on the sidelines and threw polemical stones at those (mostly young) people who managed to nominate Dana Nessel; and I’m quite sure they were proclaiming the superiority of their standpoint throughout the country where similar insurgencies broke through. I have been guilty of this approach often enough myself to know, this is born of decades of frustration and despair, hardening serial disappointments into a defensive and impermeable scar.
It is also born of uncorrected errors, because the left (until recently, with the infusion of youth energy) has been hamstrung by the failure to adapt its various political schemae to emerging realities. I myself scoffed at the Sanders campaign when I saw it meeting with twenty people on someone’s lawn; but within three months, Sanders was pulling in standing room only crowds. I was depending on my past experience; but in the meantime, something that had not been visible — some shift in the public mood — had occurred, “out of sight” for those of us whose windows on the world were otherwise restricted, that found its expression during the elections, where breakaway candidates in both parties suddenly came to the fore — in the case of Republicans, seizing the nomination for POTUS.
Sanders, as many Democratic establishment folks will remind us, wasn’t even a Democrat. And now I am a member of the Democratic Party — me, a pacifist Christian socialist and an anti-imperialist. I’ll be working a table this Friday during a small town street party to promote Proposition 2, to reverse Michigan’s Republican gerrymandering that has essentially absorbed and neutralized the African American vote in places all over the state.
What is an American political party?
We can look up the answer on Wikipedia or something, but how should we see it from the left? Here is where I want to challenge uberleft thinking, not only as a former uberlefter but as a former career soldier.
The Democratic Party is not a “vehicle” or a “building” or a “person” possessed of its own agency. As a former “operations” guy in the Army, someone who collected intelligence, analyzed intelligence, and wrote operations orders, I see this cumbersome old institution — which is both structure that resists change and membership that invariably changes — as terrain. And terrain is a key component of tactical planning. (Those who are interested in the distinctions between tactics and strategy go here.)
Terrain can be simultaneously what we want to gain and hold and what we need to occupy to conduct further operations. In analyzing terrain, we used an acronym OCOKA (now changed to OACOK): observation and fields of fire, avenues of approach, cover and concealment, obstacles, and key terrain. Terrain analysis is essential, because terrain is something uponwhich operations are waged.
My contention is that the Democratic Party must be seen as one of several terrains upon which political struggle is unfolding. We are not within the Democratic Party, but upon it. Taking that analogy a step further, when you make gains on one piece of terrain, you don’t abandon the battle after the first skirmish, and cede that terrain back. This is giving me flashbacks, but the old basic tactical intelligence formats I memorized to construct operations orders in the army keep popping up in front of me.
Acronym METT-T: Mission, Enemy, Terrain and Weather, Troops Available, and Time.
The “enemy” is not a party, it is a class that is spread across both parties, but which is now making a play through one party to consolidate a mailed fist and depending on the other party to catch the ratchet if that fails then establish the new more neoconservative (Clintonite) normal. When you see the DP as one of several protean institutional webworks of relations that we can analogize as terrain, as part of the landscape upon which we fight. That landscape, or fortress, or whatever analogy you like, has been shaped by the ruling class, but it is not the ruling class.
Terrain is incorporated into the larger intelligence summary: Mission, Actually Existing Capacity, stuff like that. And Time. Strategy tries to reduce time to space. Tactical agility makes an ally of both. (Again, see Strategy and Tactics.)
Enemy Situation (another intel category) includes Strength, Composition, Disposition (matched to terrain), Capabilities and Limitations, and Probable Course of (opposition) Action.
You can begin to get hold of that tactical mindset, and it becomes apparent that regarding the terrain itself as the enemy is a form of self-delusion that underwrites failure after failure.
I have to go take mushrooms or something now to get all this Army crap out of my head again.
That is all.