Friday, December 5, 2008

Should Chris Matthews Run for Senate?

Over the past month or so, the political community has been speculating a possible Senate run by MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews.

Apparently, Matthews has long said it was a lifetime dream of his to be a U.S. Senator, and his contract with the liberal cable news network expires in June.

Matthews, who would run as a Democrat in his home state of Pennsylvania, has already started meeting with party operatives and politicians to discuss the possibility of a campaign. He also has some staff set-up for exploring candidacy, and the former candidate for that seat - former Democratic Rep. Joe Hoeffel - told The Washington Post recently that Matthews is "clearly interested" following meetings with the TV pundit.

Should he run? Well, the most important factor for anyone considering candidacy for office should be "can I win?"

So Can He?

The #1 reason his candidacy could be successful is name recognition. Everyone knows who Chris Matthews is, and most folks already have a good idea of where he stands. His celebrity status will also make it easier for him to raise money - a point that cannot be ignored.

The #2 reason is the Blue Shift. As we've mentioned many times before, the country is realigning towards the Democratic Party. The East Coast is abandoning even moderate Republicans. For this particular seat, there is truly no better year for a Democrat to run than 2010.

Finally, the #3 reason is the already positive outlook. A recent Rasmussen poll shows Matthews trailing by only 3% in this hypothetical Senate race.

However, there are seemingly countless reasons his candidacy could fail.

The first that comes to mind is his opponent. The incumbent GOP Sen. Arlen Specter is extremely popular - even with liberals. Nationally, he is viewed as the last moderate Republican in the Senate - if not all of Congress. He has demonstrated what many consider common-sense leadership on the Senate Judiciary Committee, often the sole Republican challenging the Bush Administration's legal policies.

The second obstacle is the Hillary Clinton camp. Many - if not most - Clinton supporters in the 2008 Democratic Primary season believed Matthews treated the New York Senator unfairly. His treatment of the future Secretary of State has even been called sexist.

Matthews could possibly face Democrats such as female Rep. Allyson Schwartz, or Clinton friend Rep. Joe Stestak in a primary election. And according to a former Clinton aid "Clinton staffers would flock to the state to beat him…they wouldn't even want to get would be like a volunteer army."

Given the support Sen. Clinton had in Pennsylvania, it is more than likely that Matthews would have difficulty winning over his most important voting bloc - the Democratic base.

Finally, there is the vetting issue. Being an opinionated journalist puts the prospective candidate in a very difficult situation - everything he has said during his career at MSNBC will be combed through, and he is on TV nightly. There have undoubtedly been self-damaging remarks made by Matthews that could hinder his run - especially when he tries to deliver a consistent and sustainable message for his vision for Pennsylvania and the greater United States.

Overall, the reasons his candidacy will be difficult outweigh the reasons he could win. Matthews would experience something more than an uphill battle - his campaign would require a miracle.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 5 - Communists (and other Marxists)

Although few have achieved any prominent status - such as an FEC-recognized national committee - there are several political parties in the United States that support communism or some other form of Marxism.

Many claim to be socialist - although these tend to be more extreme than the admittedly Communist party.

They include

Because there are so many (and all so…interesting) we will not be able to go into too much depth with each. Here are some summaries.

Communist Party USA

The fact that Communist Party USA has survived for nearly 90 years is truly remarkable given the turmoil they suffered during the Palmer raids, two Red Scares, McCarthyism, the duration of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The party was founded in 1919 when leaders of the Socialist Party refused to join Comintern at Vladimir Lenin's suggestion. After Stalin exiled Trotsky, about 18,000 CPUSA members (or 3/4 of the party) left to join the Communist League of America (the Socialist Workers Party today) as part of the Fourth International.

CPUSA continued its relationship with the Soviets during the Cold War - with some members engaging in espionage against the United States. As a result, the party was outlawed in 1954. The Supreme Court would later overturn the ban.

Since 1984 CPUSA has restrained from running any candidates. At the time this was largely due to the popularity of President Reagan's anti-communist rhetoric. Since then CPUSA has worked first and foremost to keep Republicans from power.

Although CPUSA is officially supportive of a communist revolution, they stress the importance for peaceful transition to what they see as a Marxist utopia. The current party chairman, Sam Webb, claims there to be over 15,000 registered members.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation

The PSL was founded in 2004 after splitting from the ranks of the Workers World Party over inter-party squabbles. Soon after, PSL published a 64-page pamphlet entitled "Who We Are, What We Stand For" - a manifesto for revolutionary socialism in the 21st Century.

The PSL has grown quickly over the past four years. They ran their first national ticket - Gloria La Riva / Eugene Puryear - for the 2008 elections. The La Riva campaign achieved ballot status in twelve states and earned 7,311 votes, finishing ahead of Socialist Party USA candidate Brian Moore. Another ten candidates ran under the PSL ticket across the country, including Michael Prysner (an Iraq War veteran) in Florida's 22nd Congressional District.

Not only does the PSL tote the traditional Marxist-Leninist line, they are strongly "anti-imperialist" and link capitalism directly with war. The PSL is on the Steering Committee for ANSWER and strongly supports Cuba, Palestine, and Venezuela.

The Socialist Workers Party

The Socialist Workers Party was formed as the party of Trotskyites in the United States. A significant number of CPUSA members left to join the Communist League of America (due to CPUSA's support of Stalin) in 1928. Six years later they merged with the American Workers Party to form the U.S. Workers Party - which lasted all of two years.

But as the U.S. Workers Party dwindled away, many of these Trotskyites went to join the Socialist Party of America - and the SPA quickly expelled them. The expelled members then founded the Socialist Workers Party and entered it into the Fourth International.

While the SWP has had some electoral success (as far as third parties go) in the past, it is far less significant today. The 1960s and 70s were really the party's Golden Age - peaking in 1976 with SWP Presidential candidate Peter Camejo receiving over 90,000 votes.

In 2008, the SWP Presidential nominee, RĂ³ger Calero received only 7,182 votes with ballot access in five states. That was, in part, due the fact that Calero is not an American citizen (he is a Nicaraguan national) and his running mate is only 29 years old. For the states that do not allow such nonsense, the SWP ran its 2000 ticket, which appeared on five other state ballots. Between the two tickets, the SWP received 9,668 votes.

Their views have distanced from Trotskyism in the past few decades. In 1990, they officially broke off from the Fourth International. Since then they have maintained a more socialist stance towards dissolving the class system - although the title of their newsweekly remains "the Militant".

The Workers World Party

The Workers World Party was formed out of a schism with the SWP over several issues. The leader of the split was Sam Marcy, who differed with SWP leadership on the question of class in the Soviet state, and the SWP's opposition to Mao Zedong's revolution in China.

The SWP held to their Trotskyite origins, affirming that the USSR was still a nation of the workers despite the influence of Stalin, and supported Khrushchev (who had recently de-Stalinized the USSR) in splitting with Mao. Marcy argued that a Soviet elite had been created in Moscow and that communist states should stick together.

The WWP has always had difficulty bringing Marxists into their party - mostly because they send a lot of mixed signals, arguing for solidarity between communist nations (they supported the Russian invasion of Afghanistan) while also criticizing communist nations for not being true worker states (such as the current regimes in Cuba and China).

They have achieved some electoral success in the past - the most notable case was the 1992 U.S. Senate race in Ohio, where they garnered 6.7% of the vote. They have had difficulty running candidates recently, following the West-coast split in which several branches left to form the PSL. In 2008 they endorsed the Green Party's national ticket.

The Progressive Labor Party

In 1961, several CPUSA members left their party to form the Progressive Labor Party, citing their feelings that the Soviet Union had betrayed the true spirit of Communism as laid out by Karl Marx. They also felt that CPUSA had become too democratically-oriented and hid desires for revolution behind reformism.

The PLP built their base with anti-war students during the Vietnam Era. At the 1969 convention for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) the PLP won a majority of the convention's support. They had intense rivalries within SDS, however, occasionally getting into fist fights with the Weathermen and Young Lords.

Since the 1980s, the PLP has moved away from the nationalist/fascist-hating New Left to develop unique views on Marxism. The most unprecedented view was that socialism was unnecessary in the process of feudalism to democratic capitalism to communism. They argued that socialism was a lesser of evils and declared "workers must never again share power with class enemies."

The PLP rarely runs candidates for office - as they believe in Dictatorship of the Proletariat - and spends most of their time doing marches and getting into confrontations with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

The Workers Party

The Workers Party is a political organization that spends less time trying to work its way in to the political system and more time publishing their newspaper, The Worker. They are convinced that capitalism is in its last throes and a revolution is soon to spring from the ground-up.

The majority of their work is educating the people about the evils of capitalism and the coming salvation that communism will bring through revolution. They appeal for working people to organize for when capitalism falls.

World Socialist Party of the United States

The World Socialist Movement is an international organization that supports communism as Karl Marx described it. The World Socialist Party of the United States is the American affiliate. It was formed in Detroit in 1916.

The WSPUS has perhaps the most interesting platform for communism - they have long argued that the Soviet Union, China, and other communist states have not lived up to the true principle of socialism, but have rather instituted a form of state-based-capitalism. They argue instead for an almost anarchist version of socialism.

"For socialism to exist, or even a move towards socialism, it's not enough for expropriation to take place: what's essential is that the means of production cease to exist as capital. In other words, the capitalist principle of production has to be overturned. The capitalist principle of accumulated labour commanding living labour with a view to producing surplus value must be replaced by the principle of living labour commanding accumulated labour with a view to producing consumer goods to satisfy the needs of society's members."

They do not run candidates for office because they believe partisan politics "are but the expression of class interests."

Final Thoughts

The Communist and other Marxist parties that we have examined today are extremely insignificant (for the most part) to the political system in the United States.

But they do, in fact, do more than create schisms amongst themselves, write for bad publications, create bad websites, and march in protests. They provide us with unmatched amusement. We hope you've enjoyed it too, comrades.

Coming Monday - the Prohibition Party.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Election is Almost Over - We Promise

After a month of uncertainties, here are the latest developments in the fight for Congress:


Republican state Senator Tom McClintock appears to be the Congressman-Elect in California's 4th Congressional District. After weeks of county recounts, McClintock's lead has soared from 400 to 1,800 votes.

Todd Stenhouse, from the Brown campaign, told the San Francisco Chronicle "We're evaluating the results and our options right now and will have more to say in the next few days."


The run-off election for this year's U.S. Senate race in Georgia took place yesterday. Incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss handedly defeated the Democratic challenger, Jim Martin. Despite the GOTV efforts of former Obama staff in the Peach State, Obama supporters did not come back to the polls on December 2nd - turnout was estimated at 30% - 35%.


The heated race between Democrat Paul Carmouche and Republican Josh Fleming in Louisiana's 4th Congressional District wraps up with the election on Saturday.

Carmouche has taken hits from Fleming in recent days because of Barack Obama's endorsement and radio ad in support of the Democrat - Fleming accuses him of being too liberal and a potential White House pawn. Carmouche has distanced himself from Obama and attacked Fleming for his extremely conservative tax policy ideas.


The recount for the Franken-Coleman Senate race continues. Franken picked up a net of 37 votes yesterday as the recount in Ramsey County wrapped up. Although no one knows what the tally really is at the moment, the Minnesota Secretary of State's official tally shows Coleman ahead by 340 votes.

The Franken campaign, however, has announced their internal tally only shows Coleman ahead by 50. Coleman's campaign would not give an exact number for their internal tally, but says it is "well north of the Franken number."

Still at the center of the issue are rejected and uncounted ballots. For example, at the Ramsey County recount, officials found 171 ballots that were not counted on Election Night - the machine that counted them broke down on Election Day and poll workers forgot to feed the ballots through the machine again when it was replaced. The Coleman campaign is considering a challenge to these ballots.

The Franken campaign, along with the Deputy Secretary of State, is hoping to get the rejected ballots that the State Canvassing Board refused to allow in the recount organized into piles according to why they were rejected - in order to weed out possible mistakes for why they were rejected.

Because both campaigns have challenged so many ballots and procedures, the real tally is impossible to know at the moment. The recount is over 90% completed.


The race between Steve Stivers and Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio's 15th Congressional District will go into automatic recount following the release of the official tally that was due to be finalized last week. But approximately 1,000 provisional ballots are in question, and a U.S. Court of Appeals has sent the question of their validity to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Both Stivers and Kilroy have been remarkably cordial throughout the process. Stivers currently leads by a few hundred votes.


In Virginia's 5th Congressional District, incumbent GOP Rep. Virgil Goode has called for a recount following his defeat to Democrat Tom Perriello. Circuit Court Judge Timothy Sanner has set the recount dates for December 16 and 17. Both campaigns have begun new fundraising efforts to pay for the costly legal process of recounting.

UPDATE: According to the Franken campaign as of a few hours ago, the Democrat now leads by 22 votes by their count - with the process nearly 95% complete. With the status of thousands of ballots in question "both campaigns are bracing themselves for the near certainty that the courts will become involved," according to the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why Do They Keeping Asking for Money?

In the days following the horrific and tragic terrorist attacks in Mumbai, President-Elect Barack Obama has introduced the country to the newest players in his administration - the National Security Team.

In an email to campaign supporters, Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe filled us in on the coming appointments:

"Hillary Clinton, U.S. Senator from New York and former First Lady, will serve as Secretary of State.

Secretary Robert Gates, the current Secretary of Defense, will continue to serve in that role.

Eric Holder, former Deputy Attorney General and a former United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, will serve as Attorney General.

Janet Napolitano, Governor and former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, will serve as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Dr. Susan E. Rice, a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the Obama for America campaign, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, will serve as Ambassador to the United Nations.

General Jim Jones, USMC (Ret), former Allied Commander, Europe, and Commander of the United States European Command, will serve as National Security Advisor.

Barack's national security team has been assembled to represent all elements of American power, diplomacy, and leadership that will be vital in overcoming the challenges of the 21st century."

Then the email directs readers to this video of the Team's recent press conference:

But the email wasn't simply sent for informational purposes. At the bottom of the email is the often seen "Please Donate" button.

As Kenneth Vogel at Politico points out in an article today, the $6.3 million of taxpayer money allotted for the Presidential transition is not enough to pay for the enormous staff required. So the Obama camp is turning to one of the best source of private donors in the country - former campaign supporters.

"He raised $1.17 million in the first 11 days after the election and needs about $4.5 million more in private donations…Recent presidents have raised private transition money because the government's contribution isn't enough pay all the staff needed to vet appointees, study agencies, and chart policy."

But this is the first time a President-Elect has turned to his campaign email list for such fundraising purposes.

So When Will They Stop Asking Me For Money?

You might be thinking that it will be over after the transition is complete and the inauguration is over. But consider this: who will the President turn to after the next Hurricane Katrina, massive forest fire, terrorist attack, or even South Asian Tsunami? Taxpayer money will no doubt be appropriated - but with new efforts to decrease the deficits it will not be enough.

Private donors are a great source of cash for these sorts of tragedies. Many politicians, including Obama, sent similar emails following Hurricane Gustav this summer. Governor Bill Richardson - the future Secretary of Commerce - sent such an email to supporters earlier this year to help with forest fires in California, long after his Presidential Bid was over.

And it will continue with the re-election campaign in 2012.

Of course, you don't have to put your money down every time you receive an email - in fact, you won't. As you get more and more, you will give less and less.

So we have to beg the question. Given the need to raise money again in 2012, is this really what Obama should do with his email list?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 4 - Socialists

Socialism is one of the oldest and (historically) most significant Third Party movements in American politics.

When it comes to Socialists, there is no one Party to focus on. Several political parties in the United States claim to be socialist parties - although many of them actually hinge on communism, anarchism, or other Marxist principles.

The most prominent of the socialist parties in the U.S. is Socialist Party USA. There are also several state socialist parties such as the Liberty Union Party in Vermont.

History of Socialism in the United States

The oldest socialist party in the U.S. was the Workingman's Party of America - later named the Socialist Labor Party - founded in 1876. It ran its first presidential campaign in 1888, winning 2,068 votes under Daniel De Leon, an academic who devoted himself completely to the party. Four years later, the Party received over 21,000 votes with Simon Wing.

The Socialist Labor Party had frequent inter-party problems with anarchists and radicals. This led to a few schisms, including the creation of the Revolutionary Socialist Labor Party in 1881.

In 1901, the Socialist Labor Party combined with the Social Democratic Party as the Socialist Party of America, frequently running Eugene V. Debs as its presidential candidate.

The Socialist Party of America boomed in a handful of U.S. cities. In Milwaukee, "sewer socialism" led to a socialist-dominated city which elected the first Socialist Congressman and Socialist Mayor of a major city, along with a predominately Socialist City Council.

By the later years of the Progressive Era, the Socialist Party of America had elected two Congressmen, over 70 mayors, and a countless number of State Legislators and City Council members across the country.

The direction of the Party was always a heated issue. New York City socialists and others on the right of the party argued for greater cooperation with the American Federation of Labor in the hopes of creating a U.S. Labor Party with the AFL and Progressive camp of the GOP. The left wing of the Party, including Debs and the Industrial Workers of the World, were opposed to making the party more moderate in order to appease the AFL.

In 1920, the Socialists experienced their first major legal blow when the New York State Assembly expelled five Socialist members for "disloyalty".

But the Party saw dramatic growth during the Great Depression, especially among younger voters. They took the party in a radically left direction, associating with Comintern, and dominating the National Conventions. They also split between the Stalinists and Trotskyites, and in 1938, many of the new members left to join the Fourth International.

The Socialist Party of America then began to decrease in numbers and finally split in the 1970s to form the Democratic Socialists of America (the Coalition Caucus), Social Democrats USA, and the Union for Democratic Socialists (which later became Socialist Party USA). The split was largely due to differences in opinion on supporting the Democratic Party in light of the Vietnam War.

American Socialists Today

Today the socialist parties are far less successful than they were in the past. In 2008, the Brian Moore and Stewart Alexander ticket for Socialist Party USA appeared on the ballot in only eight states, and received only 6,563 votes. The Party cannot claim any electoral victories in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Socialist Party has mostly reserved themselves to supporting Democrats and the Social Democratic Party has supported a strange twist of socialist and neo-conservative principles.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is the only self-proclaimed Socialist member of Congress, although he has not run under his Liberty Union Party ticket since being elected to national office.

On the Issues

As they always have in the past, Socialists have many disagreements among themselves on issues of achieving socialism. While the membership is allowed to differ on specifics, Socialist Party USA openly favors extending democracy and allowing the public to own the means of production.

Among the many points of the platform, they call for a 30 hour work week at no loss of pay, with six weeks annual paid vacation, a $15 per hour minimum wage, and dramatically progressive social policy.

You can read the platform here.

Final Thoughts

While socialists can take credit for believing in Marxist ideals through democratic means, the majority of their views are too far left for them to be taken seriously by the American electorate.

It also does not help that "socialist" carries a stigma of failed policy views on public ownership. This was made especially clear when President-Elect Barack Obama was characterized as a socialist by his opponents during the presidential race this year.

Whether or not the socialists are surviving due to the legacy of their historical prominence is not so clear. For example, membership in Socialist Party USA has nearly doubled in the past eight years. Nonetheless, the growth of Democratic success and the end of the Bush Era may very well bring an end to their resurge.

We expect the different Socialist Parties to move further and further into obscurity in the coming years - although their historical impact on American politics will allow them to continue for a good deal of time to come.

Coming Thursday - Communists and other Marxists.