[This post is written from the perspective of the left, but a similar case could be made with respect to the Republicans and libertarianism, for exampleâ€”although there are no current independent congress members of that programmatic bent.]
Something has been on my mind off and on ever since I wrote the following in my post asking “what if the USA changed to PR“:
Get the Waters and Robertson acolytes out of the internal coalition of the Democratic and Republican parties and I, for one, will like both parties a whole lot better than I do now. And I suspect most voters would, too.
I have been trying to reconcile my own political positions with that statement. (I loathe the idea that there could be anything inconsistent about my world view–and, yes, the words before those dashes are meant to be ironic, because being an intellectual means being able to hold contradictory positions and think them through.) Bernie Sanders, a “socialist” member of the House and likely future Senator, helps point the way towards reconciling my positions and my statement.
The ideological political test that Steven Taylor posted a link to some time ago said I was a “socialist.” If we take that to be “social democrat” then it is probably close, though I would note that the “test” left no space for green, which would probably be more accurate. (Like Steven, ideological labels make me “itchy.”)
In any event, why would I prefer a Democratic party that no longer had Maxine Waters (the example used by Chris Lawrence in the post I was responding to), Dennis Kucinich, Barney Frank, and other leftists, if I am a social democrat (i.e. on the “left”) myself? This is where Sanders–a socialist, and not a Democrat–comes in.
We can see a snapshot of the ideological spectrum in the US party system by looking at the rank ordering of members of the US House from left to right. My colleague Keith Poole’s Voteview Web site (a spectacular resource) presents the data.
Bernie Sanders of Vermont actually calls himself an independent and caucuses with the Democrats, but he is labeled a socialist, and not only by his enemies on the right who consider the term a convenient shortcut for nutty, dangerous, subversive, etc. For instance, in a recent Nation magazine profile and in some sympathetic biographies referenced on Sanders’s own Web site, the label “socialist” is used.
So, where is Sanders on the spectrum of US politics, according to Keith’s analysis of House voting? In the 109th Congress, he ranks no. 41 (counting from left to right). In the 108th, he ranked 30, and in the 107th, 47.
In the last three Congreses, there have been on average 38 members more to the “left” than “socialist” Sanders. In fact, as the Nation article points out, quoting a Vermont Progressive Party activist, “Sometimes, Bernie’s biggest critics are on the left,” the reason being that “some social liberals quietly grumble that Sanders maintains too rigid a focus on economic issues.” [My emphasis]
That is, if we had a proportional representation system that fostered multiparty competition, there is no guarantee that the “social liberals” and the “socialists” would be in the same party. Nor, presumably, would social and economic conservatives coexist inside the same partyâ€”this is the very faultline within the Republican party that was exposed by the Miers nomination.
There is nothing inconsistent* about wanting a more centrist Democratic Party shorn of its “social liberals” while also wanting the opportunity to vote for a social democratic (or green or socialist) party that would actually gain representation and thus have a bargaining weight in Congress vis-a-vis the Democrats (and other parties) that my vote could make a small contribution to enhancing.
In the meantime, the best I can do is root from the sidelines of American politics (I live in an utterly safe House district in the grip of the Viper) for Sanders to become one out of 100 instead of just one out of 435: He is likely to win the open US Senate seat from Vermont, exchanging one independent (Republican defector James Jeffords) for another.
*Not that there is anything wrong with inconsistency…
(Thanks to RAC for inspiring this post)