In a stinging indictment of both political parties, Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia economics professor, called for the rise of a third party because of the failure of the Democratic and Republican parties. While I agree with most of his criticisms, I differ on his conclusion; we do not need a third party, we just need the Democratic Party to be true to its historic role. As I argued here,

In recent decades, however,  instead of working out this  mission for modern times,  the Alabama Democratic Party rested on past accomplishments and entrenched power-sharing arrangements. It surrendered the intellectual and moral high ground and thereby failed to inspire this generation to claim the banner of the Democratic Party.

Sachs hones in on the Republican Party first:

Consider the Republican Party’s double-mantra that the deficit results from “runaway spending” and that more tax cuts are the key to economic growth. Republicans claim that the budget deficit, around 10 percent of GDP, has been caused only by a rise in outlays. This is blatantly untrue. The deficit results roughly equally from a fall of tax revenues as a share of GDP and a rise of spending as a share of GDP.

Spending, for example, is higher in part because of unemployment compensation, food stamps, and other federal spending to help the downtrodden in a weak economy. That’s the “cyclical” component. Part of the higher spending reflects long-term patterns, such as rising health care costs and an aging population, as well as America’s chronic addiction to wrongheaded wars and military occupations in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Taxation is lower also because of short-term factors and long-term factors. The short-term factors involve reduced federal revenues in an economy with high unemployment. The long-term factors involve repeated tax cuts for companies and high-income individuals that have systematically eroded the tax base, giving unjust and unaffordable benefits for America’s millionaires, billionaires, and multinational corporations.

The Republicans also misrepresent the costs and benefits of closing the deficit through higher taxes on the rich. Americans wants the rich to pay more, and for good reason. Super-rich Americans have walked away with the prize in America. Our country is run by millionaires and billionaires, and for millionaires and billionaires, the rest of the country be damned. Yet the Republicans and their propaganda mouthpieces like Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, claim with sheer audacity that taxing the rich would kill economic growth. This trickle-down, voodoo, supply-side economics is the fig leaf of uncontrolled greed among the right-wing rich.

He next goes after the Democrats for their malfeasence:

The Democrats of the White House and much of Congress have been less crude, but no less insidious, in their duplicity. Obama’s campaign promise to “change Washington” looks like pure bait and switch. There has been no change, but rather more of the same: the Wall-Street-owned Democratic Party as we have come to know it. The idea that the Republicans are for the billionaires and the Democrats are for the common man is quaint but outdated. It’s more accurate to say that the Republicans are for Big Oil while the Democrats are for Big Banks. That has been the case since the modern Democratic Party was re-created by Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin.

Thus, at every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class. He refused to tax the banks and hedge funds properly on their outlandish profits; he refused to limit in a serious way the bankers’ mega-bonuses even when the bonuses were financed by taxpayer bailouts; and he even refused to stand up against extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich last December, though 60 percent of the electorate repeatedly and consistently demanded that the Bush tax cuts at the top should be ended. It’s not hard to understand why. Obama and Democratic Party politicians rely on Wall Street and the super-rich for campaign contributions the same way that the Republicans rely on oil and coal. In America today, only the rich have political power.

Obama could have cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending that has been wasted on America’s disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, but here too it’s been all bait and switch. Obama is either afraid to stand up to the Pentagon or is part of the same neoconservative outlook as his predecessor. The real cause hardly matters since the outcome is the same: America is more militarily engaged under Obama than even under Bush. Amazing but true.

The stimulus legislation, pushed by Obama at the start of his term on the basis of antiquated economic theories, wasted the public’s money and also did something much worse. It discredited the vital role of public spending in solving real and long-term problems. Rather than thinking ahead and planning for long-term solutions, he simply spent money on short-term schemes.

Obama’s embrace of “shovel-ready” infrastructure, for example, left America with an economy based on shovels while China’s long-term strategy has given that country an economy based on 21st-century Maglev trains. Now that the resort to mega-deficits has run its course, Obama is on the verge of abandoning the poor and middle class, by agreeing with the plutocrats in Congress to cut spending on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and discretionary civilian spending, while protecting the military and the low tax rates on the rich (if not lowering those top tax rates further according to the secret machinations of the Gang of Six, now endorsed by the president!)

Sachs proposes the rise of a third party to these conditions:

The American people, who have said repeatedly that they want a budget that sharply cuts the military, ends the wars, raises taxes on the rich, protects the poor and the middle class, and invests in America’s future not just in Obama’s speeches but in fact.

America needs a third-party movement to break the hammerlock of the financial elites. Until that happens, the political class and the media conglomerates will continue to spew lies, American militarism will continue to destabilize a growing swath of the world, and the country will continue its economic decline.

A third party is not necessary if the Democratic Party would return to the ancient paths for the 21st century.

The Alabama Democratic Party must offer the people a distinct vision and agenda of reform. To be successful, it will need be an enlivening third-way: an alternative to the stupefying labels of right/left, conservative/liberal. The people of Alabama yearn for something that is not on the table currently. Generally today, Alabamians do not fit well within either party or the stated platforms. Our people demand something unique and different.

This alternative path cannot be some triangulation strategy nor a Republican-lite gimmick.  Neither does it include an ideology of “completing the the New Deal.”  Only 21st century solutions which appeal to Alabamia’s deepest convictions,  morals, and spiritual heritage will suffice to satisfy this desire.

Consistent with the Democratic principles, by embracing policies which relocalize our economy, reject crony capitalism, rebuild wealth to the poor and working people, and rehumanize our markets, the Democratic Party itself would “break the hammerlock of the financial elites.”

As you may know, I ran unsuccessfully for the Alabama State Senate in 2010;  not many Democrats were successful in Alabama in November. Nevertheless, during the campaign, people regularly questioned me about my positions on abortion; I was openly and expreslly pro-life. I find no inconsistency between being pro-life and being a Democrat.

I was (and am) continually frustrated that the perception in Alabama (and elsewhere) was that Democrats could not be pro-life and that the Republican Party is the “Christian, Pro-life Party.”

I found a recent interview with pro-life, former Congressman Democrat Bart Stupak sheds light on the falsehood of the perceptions. It revealed another example wherein the Republican leadership merely used the abortion issue as a political tool, wedge; it reveals also something about President Obama.

The Atlantic: You were a central player in the abortion fight. You supported the Hyde language throughout, and then at the last minute it passed on the agreement that President Obama would issue an executive order clarifying the language that was in the bill. Do you still feel that executive order was enough to live up to your expectations on abortion policy?

Stupak: Yes, because the president has had three opportunities to throw us under the us, if you will, and he has not. Number one, in the high-risk pools. Remember how New Mexico send theirs in and had abortion in there, and Right to Life and all of them jumped right on it, and [Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius and all of them said, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t do that. We had an executive order.’ They changed their law. So did Pennsylvania. So in order to apply for the high-risk pool, their law had to be reflective of the executive order, which says no public funding for abortions. They held firm to it.

Secondly, the community health centers, which the law was silent on. The executive order says you cannot perform abortions or advocate for them in public health centers. That has been upheld.

And, last but not least, there’s a number of grants you can apply for right now, especially for developing health care professionals–that’s going on right now in the bill–and if you go online and look at the applicaiton form, it says you must comply with the Hyde language, even in your application for the use of these federal funds. So there have been three opportunities for Secretary Sebelius or President Obama to just sorta look the other way, and they haven’t. They’ve upheld it. So there have actually been less abortions now because of that executive order and the health care bill than there would have been if we’d never had it. . . .

Atlantic: Was it unpleasant talking to Rahm? Everybody thinks he’s just a screamer and shouter and would just wave his fists around–

Stupak: No, Rahm doesn’t scream and shout at me, ’cause he knows better. I’ll just tell him to go to Hell and move on. No, no. rahm and I had a couple of good conversations. The executive order came up in the conversations we had a few weeks before it ever came.

But, to be honest with you, I’d been working with some of the Senate Republicans on trying to find some way to do a technical corrections bill. And actually, truth be known, the Republican leadership in the Senate pulled the rug out on me on that on Thursday night, the Thursday before that Monday [when the final vote occurred]. Most people don’t realize that.

Anyways, long story short, I always thought we would have some statutory language. It wasn’t until Thursday before the vote that when the Republican leadership on the Senate side said no go … and the reason was that it would pass.

Atlantic: Health care would have passed the Senate with Hyde language?

Stupak: Yeah. It would fly though the Senate. So they weren’t interested in getting health care passed, they were interested in killing it. So every suggestion, every legislative proposal I had–and I knew I had to get to 60 votes in the Senate–I was led to believe up to that point in time they’d work with me. And they pulled the rug out that Thursday before. Remember, they went home that Thursday night, or that Friday night there. They weren’t around that weekend when we voted on the health care bill.

Republicans used abortion as a talking point to bash the healthcare plan, but when the President and other House Democrats agreed to include the pro-life provisions the Republicans were demanding, it was the Republicans which “pulled the rug” on the compromise. The reason: they would lose their political hocky-puck, their wedge.

The President though remained committed to his word to Stupak on an pro-life executive order:

Stupak: And I give [the President] credit. I’ve called him and told him, ‘Thank you.’ He’s upheld that executive order. When he signed it, he said this was an ironclad commitment–those were his words, ‘ironclad commitment,’ and I’ll give him credit. He’s done it. I say that maybe with a little bit of surprise in my voice, I always thought he would, but there was so much outrage from the Bishops and Right to Life that, ‘How could we trust this president, cause he’s the–’ I hate to use the word–but ‘the most pro-abortion president ever, and you can’t trust him.’ Well, I trusted him, and that trust was well founded.

Here is another example where partisanship trumped commitment to principle. The Republican Senators did not want to give up their wedge, their talking point, their fundraising issue so they “pulled the rug” out from under Stupak and the Pro-life Democrats. Following this “rug-pulling,” the President and Stupak were then attacked for not having the Hyde Amendment language in the bill when it would have passed but for the Republicans.

The National Right to Life Committee argued that seven objectionable pro-abortion provisions in the Senate bill are unchanged.

“The executive order promised by President Obama was issued for political effect. It changes nothing. It does not correct any of the serious pro-abortion provisions in the bill. The president cannot amend a bill by issuing an order, and the federal courts will enforce what the law says,” the group said.

Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund President Marjorie Dannenfelser said the group was revoking its “Defender of Life” award to Stupak, which was to be awarded at its Wednesday night gala.

“We were planning to honor Congressman Stupak for his efforts to keep abortion-funding out of health care reform. We will no longer be doing so,” Dannenfelser said. “Let me be clear: any representative, including Rep. Stupak, who votes for this health care bill can no longer call themselves ‘pro-life.’

Let’s us not uncritically accept partisan rhetoric nor be fooled that either party has the exclusive province of purity and righteousness.

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