Tue, Dec

Why ‘No Party Preference’ is Becoming California’s Preferred Party


GELFAND’S WORLD--The frantic filing of lawsuits by Trump supporters in these, the last days of his presidency, reminds me of nothing so much as the frantic legal maneuvering that happens when a convict is facing the death penalty the next day.

Every manner of legal theorizing and scuffling to find some long-missing piece of evidence comes up, even as the conservatives look on from the sidelines and mock the proceedings. Donald Trump is treating this blow to his ego as something akin to a pending execution, except he is showing less class than the typical convict. 

To my normal conservative and Republican friends and colleagues: Aren't you a little embarrassed by what your party and its leaders are doing right now? Is this the way you want to go on with your political lives? 

Let me offer a suggestion. 

I'll start with a page out of my own playbook. Back in the 1990s, I was a pretty active Democrat here in California. But honestly, I got a little tired of the infighting among the party faithful, and to be most blunt, I became tired of the core principle that loyalty was always above principle and even above honesty. I was weary of the idea that I was expected to support (or at least refrain from attacking) the local state senator who was an out-and-out crook. I was tired of being expected to look away from the deeds of the state legislator from the valley who was equally as bad. So one day I quietly reregistered as an independent. We don't call it "independent" here, but something like No Party Preference (NPP), but it means the same thing. 

And with that, I felt free to speak my piece and eventually to type these columns. 

By the way, this does not mean that I rebelled against Democratic Party principles. It's rather the opposite -- I feel free to defend those principles, even when it involves -- let's pick a random example here -- asking about the current members of the LA City Council -- What did they know and when did they know it regarding the Seabreeze development payoffs? 

The thing is, you Republicans have it a lot worse than I ever did back when I was a registered Democrat. The current (soon to be gone) presidential administration is about the most corrupt in American history. You have to know that --  all you have to do is look at the data. Now you may prefer the political principles of this administration, such as the reduced taxes on the rich and the reduction of all those rules that businesses had to put up with under previous governments. But that would be to claim allegiance to basically centrist conservative values. That's a long ways from defending the rights of the rich to break all the rules. More importantly, that is a long way from defending the racist core of the current Trump movement: Remember that Trump built his movement starting with the big lie that Obama was not born an American citizen. 

But you could be supportive of core American and conservative principles without also being supportive of gross corruption, and without being forced to look the other way while the president and his sycophants lie their heads off about everything and anything. 

Again, you don't have to like the Washington Post and the New York Times, but they are members of a journalistic establishment that has upheld rules and principles of honesty in journalism for a century. I realize that the right wing media do their best to pretend that reality is something opposite to this, but many of you understand that real journalism involves checking your facts diligently, and when you compare Fox News to the Times, the Post, or CBS, Fox News comes in dead last because it chooses to slant the facts. 

Creating the Sane Center 

I think there is a place for people in the center-right, just as there is a place for people in the center-left. There is plenty of room for all of us in the non-affiliated center, ranging from my own liberalism to your conservatism. What we have in common is that we accept democracy, including the idea that we decide things by voting. 

We've got a bit of a problem in this country right now, because Donald Trump decided in advance of the election that it must be impossible for him to lose. To understand how bonkers this idea is, all you have to do is think back to those long lines of people in solidly Democratic areas who stood for hours in order to vote. Also think of all those votes that were dropped off in special ballot boxes well in advance of election day, and the millions of people who routinely vote the Democratic ticket in the big cities -- and how those millions would not have skipped voting just because they faced the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Or put it this way: If you have half a brain and a decent sense of reality, you understand that this election is long since over and Donald Trump lost by 306 - 232 electoral votes. Nobody is even bothering to dispute that Joe Biden finished 7 million votes ahead in the popular vote. 

But here you are, stuck in a political framework that depends on full-fledged denial of reality, has looked the other way as the presidential administration advanced corruption to previously unheard of heights, and (sorry to be so blunt) has looked to the racist edge of American society for part of its support. To be blunter still, you have to admit that Donald Trump hoped to gain the edge by joining that racist edge to traditional conservative Republicans and thereby to cobble together something like his 2016 victory. 

You should not be accepting of this kind of political amalgam. 

The intellectual independence to be had in a sane center 

I'll start by conceding that this is not the place for organized labor, because it has different objectives and goes about getting them in a different way. Those of us who are concerned about how much money our city spends by routinely raising wages without considering the fiscal consequences -- we belong in a different political place. I'd like to think that sane centrist conservatives have analogous issues and would enjoy the intellectual and moral independence that comes from refusing to pledge undying loyalty to an organization that is undeserving. 

Is this just independence in name but not in fact? 

It's a good question. If I generally support Democratic Party candidates based on their adherence to a few political positions, doesn't that make me a Democrat, even one without the name? The answer has to be something like this: It's yes and no. It's no because back when I was willing to have speakers from both parties at the local Democratic club, I was attacked pretty nastily by my fellow Democrats. They can't threaten to disown me from the Democratic Party anymore. It's actually a good feeling. At the same time, my current political positioning makes me about as close to being a Democrat as it's possible to be, except for that amoral loyalty that the insiders demand. Or put it this way: If the party convention collects sponsorships from fossil fuel interests and the gambling industry, am I beholden to those interests? Not now I'm not. As a further aside, I would like to imagine that the recently growing "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party has cast off those chains of amoral loyalty. 

What could we gain by creating a sane center? 

A compelling question, to say the least. I'd like to suggest that we consider the history of the Affordable Care Act as the prime bad example. When Bill Clinton pointed out that we needed to fix our health insurance system, he was just following in Harry Truman's footsteps. It's said that even Richard Nixon had some thoughts on the matter. But none of them could accomplish even a bit of reform against the powerful interests they faced. When Obama set out to gain something in health insurance reform, he was wise enough to leave it to the Senate so as not to upset their fragile political egos. And for one near-miraculous moment, the Democrats put 60 votes together in the Senate and got the best compromise they could develop among their own number. 

The point here is that since the days of the Obama presidency, there has never been so much as one Republican vote in the Senate towards reforming or strengthening the Affordable Care Act. They've done a lot of play acting and posturing, and have attempted to overturn the ACA, but didn't quite succeed. What they've not done is to allow sane centrists to vote for constructive fixes that would improve the ACA. 

Along about 2018, it became obvious that the American people really support the protection of those who have preexisting medical conditions. 

Suppose we had had a functional sane center with political influence. Would there have been some possibility that we would have constructed a health insurance system based around the humane and effective systems already in place in Europe and East Asia? If nothing else, a few Republicans might have voted along with Democrats for constructive fixes to the ACA. It needs some fixing -- everybody knows this -- and it's long since time that Mitch McConnell be constrained from holding back real progress. 

There are lots more issues that a sane center could make constructive improvements on. It's time we gave it a try. 

I should point out that in America's political future, and as demographics change, the alternative to a sane center is not continued reactionary conservativism, but an eventual migration to something like the Democratic Socialism (really just a more European kind of liberalism) that Bernie Sanders represents.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])