Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Democratic Irrelevance

In 2006 the South Carolina Labor Party secured a statewide ballot line by gathering more than 16,500 signatures (10,000 were required) from rank and file South Carolinians of all races on the basis of the following statement:
For too long, we have watched the other political parties make concession after concession to the corporations that rule this state while our jobs have disappeared, our incomes have eroded and our children have gone uneducated. We are tired of the politics of fear and division that keep us divided and weak. We understand that only a party that is run by and for working people can speak to our real concerns.

We will conduct a never-ending campaign to secure the promise of the American Dream of opportunity, fairness and justice for all South Carolinians.

We will fight to create and preserve decent jobs and living wages for all who want to work.

We will work to establish the right to universal and quality health care in our state.

We believe that every South Carolinian deserves equal and free access to educational opportunity from pre-school through college to the maximum of their human potential.
The situation in South Carolina is bleak. As the 2006 Labor Party analysis noted:
South Carolina has the seventh slowest rate of wage growth in the United States. This is partly because the state is one of only six that have no state minimum wage. It ranks 48th in job growth, ahead of only hurricane and FEMA-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana.

The state also has the second highest rate of unemployment in the nation and lost 76,000 manufacturing and textile jobs between 1999 and 2004. Unsurprisingly, therefore, in key textile areas, such as Chester County, unemployment is greater than 10 percent.

More than 600,000 South Carolinians—over 14 percent of the entire state—are without health insurance, and this, of course, doesn’t count the thousands who think they have insurance until they get sick. To compound this problem the state legislature and governor adopted a “reform” that will eliminate traditional Medicaid in the state and replace it with skimpy personal health care accounts. They did this without significant Democratic opposition.

Working people in South Carolina clearly are hurting, and neither major party is at all inclined to address their most pressing concerns. Politicians from both parties boast that the state’s average wages are 20 percent below the national average. Republicans offer working people only corporate plunder and bigotry. Democrats abet them.

In just the last five years, Republicans have sought to divide South Carolina’s workers over whether the Confederate battle flag should fly at the state capitol, whether prohibition of same-sex marriage and civil unions should be written into the state constitution, and whether evolution should be taught in the state’s public schools. They have been able to make these into “hot button” issues because Democrats have not countered them with a political agenda that seeks to unite working people by speaking to their real, everyday needs.

Forty of the state’s eighty-three districts are classified as “disadvantaged.” The situation is so dire in many of these districts that several joined in a lawsuit against the state for not living up to its obligation to provide decent education to all South Carolina’s children.

The state Supreme Court ruled this past December that South Carolina’s only obligation is to provide a “minimally adequate” education. The remedy the court imposed is that K-3 education must be improved in the school districts that sued.

With only a shoestring operation, the South Carolina Labor Party was able to gain support among multiracial, working people for a progressive agenda directed at redressing these wrongs.

The SCLP is not itself going to win the state for progressive causes, but its minimal success should have pointed the way for Democrats supposedly interested in "change." The lesson here is that there's no need to pursue politics as usual, no need to tack to the right, to build a majority movement for progressive change.

Yet with three putatively progressive candidates vying to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, we’ve had a debate about South Carolina that has pushed these issues virtually off the table. Bob Herbert in the Times today noted the catastrophe that is South Carolina public schools, but emphasized only the racial dimensions of the problem, while even the idiotic David Brooks observed that conservative South Carolinians aren’t salivating at the mere mention of such issues as abortion. Nonetheless our would-be progressive leaders are hammering away at each other's character and integrity.

What was this election supposed to be about anyway?