One of the interviews I shot in Kansas City last month at the Autopsy of a Financial Crisis conference at UMKC:
So I was really looking forward to writing-in “Mike Check” on my ballot next November, but looks like now there’s a chance to vote for a breathing person, albeit perhaps just as symbolically.
Anderson, candidate of the newly formed Justice Party (the website currently leaves much to be desired, but is clearly a work in progress) is genuinely anti-war, upfront about his opposition to the war on drugs, a staunch defender of civil liberties & and the environment, and— perhaps most importantly— committed to getting money out of politics. He will not accept any campaign contributions in excess of $100, stating “We launched the Justice Party because the entire system is so corrupt … It’s so diseased. We know that the public interest is not being served by anyone in the system right now, particularly the two dominant parties who have sustained this corrupt system and who are sustained by it.” Remember: Obama took more money from Wall St. than any other candidate, and despite widespread, systemic fraud, no major banksters have yet been prosecuted, much less sent to prison.
As a progressive former Democrat in Utah, the most reliably conservative state in the country, Rocky Anderson is no stranger to long odds or short shrift. Among other things, Anderson has been a fierce opponent of the Iraq invasion, supports gay marriage and is an ardent environmentalist. (Think former London mayor Ken Livingstone surrounded by conservative Mormons.)
As the former mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah’s capital and largest city, he also has a knack for framing an agenda in search of the broadest possible audience. “We don’t talk about gay liberation in Utah,” he told me in an interview in 2005. “We talk about healthy families and strong communities and say that in the most intimate aspects of our lives the government ought to butt out.” He served two terms before bowing out voluntarily.
In the next year, he’ll have to harness both that experience and savvy for the task he has now set himself: launching a new political party, the Justice party, and running for president in 2012.
His agenda is a familiar one on the left. Broadly speaking, he wants to break the hold of corrupting corporate influence on the two main parties and give a voice to ordinary working people. It also chimes with the general thrust of the Occupy movement, even though the latter has steered clear of engagement with electoral politics.
“The more time has gone on, the more it has become clear that we’re not going see change in this country with these two parties,” he says. “There are lots of good individuals in the Democratic party, [but] without Democrats voting the way they did in Congress, we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. We wouldn’t have suffered as a nation because of these Bush tax cuts.
“Obama received more money from Wall Street than any presidential candidate ever. And they got a great return on their investment.”
This would represent the first attempt to apply the principles of the Occupy movement within the electoral area. Anderson points out discussions about launching the party preceded the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street. But while there are no organisational links, he says there is plenty of common ground. “There is clearly a convergence of interests regarding the concerns we have and the concerns of Occupy Wall Street. There’s little I’ve heard from the Occupy movement that I would disagree with and I think there’s little we support that they would disagree with.”
Anderson believes progressives have been paralysed by the fear that they’ll be accused of acting as a Trojan horse for the right; and their inaction has resulted in growing cynicism and political and economic deterioration.
“As long as the fear of being a spoiler prevents people from moving in a direction that will change the corrupt system that’s in place, then we’ll never see change in this country,” he says. “At least, we’ll never see changes move in a positive direction. The choice people have now is to either support a very different way that would signal a revolution and vast correction of the systemic problems in our government – or they can carry on going in the same direction they have been going all these years that’s resulted in so much tragedy for people in this country and the world.”
“It’s a perfect storm for an alternative party that would be a major force in American politics,” says Anderson. “The system’s completely broken. Everyone in this country knows that’s why we’re not seeing policies coming from the White House or Congress that really serve the interests of the American people. They keep selling out. Not because they’re bad people, but because they’re part of the system.
“We don’t only have a two-tier economic system in this country. We have a two-tier judicial system, where the rich and powerful don’t have to worry about violating the law. Not one person from Wall Street has been arrested, charged or convicted for what has happened during this financial crisis.”
As Mayor, Anderson rose to nationwide prominence as a champion of several national and international causes, including climate protection, immigration reform, restorative criminal justice, GLBT rights, and an end to the “war on drugs”. Before and after the invasion by the U.S. of Iraq in 2003, Anderson was a leading opponent of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and related human rights abuses. Anderson was the only mayor of a major U.S. city who advocated for the impeachment of President George W. Bush, which he did in many venues throughout the United States.
Formerly a member of the Democratic Party, Anderson expressed his disappointment with that Party in 2011, stating “(t)he Constitution has been eviscerated while Democrats have stood by with nary a whimper. It is a gutless, unprincipled party, bought and paid for by the same interests that buy and pay for the Republican Party.
For those of you who still believe voting for a third party is akin to voting for the republicans, I kindly point you to Michael J. Smith’s unfinished Stop Me Before I Vote Again— in particular What’s the matter with… liberals? and What is to be done?— and remind you that, in fact, voting for a democrat is nearly akin to voting for the republicans.
I respect those who continue to vote for Democrats for fear of what the Republicans would do to reproductive & LGBT rights, not to mention the legacy of republican judicial appointees. But, it’s quite clear that the Democratic party has been shifting steadily rightward since the 80s. Without a genuine liberal/progressive (both measly words with dubious histories – I am happy that Anderson selected the word “Justice” for his party) threat to the dems, they have no incentive to stop that drift. Which means the few rights you think you’re protecting by sticking with the dems could easily be discarded a few years from now– take the Obama administration’s recent decision to override the FDA on Plan B– just as any non-sham commitment to civil liberties, peace, education, healthcare, and economic justice has been completely rejected by the Dems. So even those who still believe there’s something to be salvaged in the Democratic party ought to consider the role third parties can play in shifting the center back to somewhere left of Reagan.
Personally, there’s no way I can support a president or a party who refuses to prosecute financial criminals despite the destruction they’ve perpetrated; who believes education and prisons ought to be privatized; who quietly ignores the consequences of our “war on drugs” and our obscenely high incarceration rate; who “ends the war” while exponentially increasing the number of drone strikes on countries we’re not even at war with; who is bought and owned by corporate interests including wall st., pharma, big agriculture, and the military-industrial complex; who authorizes the murder of Americans citizens without due process and then refuses to veto a bill stating that all of America is a battleground, thus authorizing the indefinite detention of anyone, including citizens, without a charge or trial … these, to me, are all deal breakers. I will not compromise on these issues out of fear that the other guy is worse.
And so I look forward to having a real candidate to vote for (that is, presuming he can make it on the ballot, unlikely), rather than a symbolic write-in or abstain. Its worth noting that around half of America’s eligible-to-vote population stays home (or more likely, is stuck at work) each election. Not voting could be construed as apathy. Or it could be construed as disapproval of both candidates – of voting “no” on the system itself. So when one considers that half of the population is effectively rejecting the system, it leaves a lot of potential for mobilization around a new paradigm. I’m not at all optimistic, but I’m certainly not delusional enough to vote for any more Democrats.
So, “Does the system behave the way we want it to behave?” is ultimately a moral question, one that we are banned from asking. In economics, this is exactly the sort of a question we’re not allowed to ask, because economics is supposed to be a positive science, not a normative science. The difference is clear: positive statements should describe things as they are (“facts only, baby”), whereas a normative statement describes things the way we want them to be.
Let’s take Milton Friedman, who was, of course, the biggest proponent of positive economics. He wrote the famous essay “Economics as a Positive Science.” In that essay, on the first page, you will find the following sentence: “Economics should be a positive science.” Now, please tell me if that is a positive or a normative statement.