Party Has Forgotten Populist Roots
In point of fact, both major parties today are for sale and available to any candidate with a sufficient bankroll. Both parties look to the same sources for huge quantities of campaign money and both employ identical techniques of manipulation. Their programmatic differences increasingly lie in the eyes of the beholder.
It is no accident that Bill Clinton used high-powered consultant Dick Morris to win his 1996 reelection campaign. Morris honed his skills in ``family values'' propaganda working for Republican Senate leader Trent Lott and far-right conservative Jesse Helms. Morris chose as his role model Lee Atwater, creator of the infamous Willie Horton commercial. His ability to slide effortlessly between Republican and Democratic candidates gives testimony to the de facto merger of the two parties. I challenged the Democratic Party to adopt a reform platform in 1992 when I sought its nomination for president. Taking no donations in excess of $100 was my way of setting an example by beginning the process of reform in the campaign itself. At the New York convention, before any votes were cast, the party hierarchy ruled that only those who pledged allegiance to Bill Clinton would be allowed to speak. The microphones on the convention floor were turned off, rendering the delegates mere extras in the TV performance. In an almost Bolshevik thrust, the party managers had abolished debate among the assembled delegates.
In a written document, I asked Bill Clinton to commit the party to serious political reform, including the $100 donation limit. He not only refused but opposed any new limits on political fund-raising.
Subsequent events demonstrate the incredible venality -- and illegality -- which followed as both national parties embarked on their respective fund-raising binges.
When my father ran for governor of California in 1958, ordinary people were at the heart of politics. The California Democratic Council (CDC) had almost 100,000 members who eagerly manned the precincts, stuffed envelopes and argued the great issues of the day. Stevenson versus Eisenhower, Nixon versus Kennedy, Johnson versus Goldwater, Pat Brown versus Ronald Reagan. These were times of clear philosophical difference that excited and engaged the electorate.
Compare this to our current campaigns in California, where two virtual unknowns of enormous personal wealth are competing to buy the Democratic Party's nomination for governor. On the Republican side, in the race for the U.S. Senate, a similar buying spree is taking place. At the national level, both parties make a mockery of popular democracy with their slavish dependency on $100,000 donors. Not so long ago, the Democratic Party claimed a higher standard.
The major political parties no longer offer genuine alternatives, just alternative business enterprises. For Democratic activists, there remains a muted liberal rhetoric with token concerns for the poor. In a real sense, Democratics represent only a softer, fuzzier version of harder-edged Republican policies.
It was a Democratic president who eroded American liberties in the so- called Anti-terrorist Act and stripped away due process enshrined in the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus, who pushed NAFTA and GATT without protections for American workers and who needlessly siphoned tens of billions of dollars from the poorest neighborhoods through callously designed welfare reform. It is a Democratic administration that is pushing dangerous nuclear technology and fossil-fuel dependency in Asia while promoting Al Gore's environmental image at home.
You can say I have separated myself from the Democratic Party, but I say the Democratic Party has forgotten its democratic and populist roots. My cause is reform grounded in the creative participation of a reawakened citizenry. People where they live have the power to transform their community through collective effort. The true democratic ideal assumes a ``government of the people, by the people, for the people.'' This idea of people-based politics is not what the two major parties represent. It is time to break new ground. That is why I am running for mayor as an independent.