Egalitarian prospects in the US single-member district plurality system

Bill Domhoff does absolutely necessary work. See his books and website

Here I will adumbrate what I view are the problems (to be further investigated) with his thesis that the US Democrat Party primaries can and should be taken over by egalitarians (leftists). Domhoff’s provocative suggestion that egalitarians can today take over the Democrat Party as the right took over the Republican Party in the late 20th century is good fodder for research.

With a public policy scientist and radio documentary producer, I am formulating a research program that traces the legacy of the US Democratic Party “machines” within contemporary Democratic Party and AFL-CIO institutions, politics, and culture, and uses those findings to assess the structural and cultural openness to radical reformists of Democratic Party primaries in comparison with that of the Republican Party. We will endeavor to use our study data to address the political sociology common-sense claim that American egalitarians would make most effective use of their political energies by attending Democratic Party primaries, where an ideological vacuum is presumed to exist. The literature presumes that egalitarians can reform the Democratic Party to mirror the late twentieth century radical right renovation of the Republican Party. The fate of Dr. Howard Dean (D-VT) in the Democratic Party primary process, for one example, suggests otherwise. Our proposed methodology uses historical sources and secondary literature, Democratic primary participant-observation, and interviews to test the claim that the anti-egalitarian commitment disappeared from the Democratic Party as a result of the Civil Rights Movement and political keynesianism (given the ensuing transfer of Southern elites and their followers to the Republican Party as well as the decline of northern machine infrastructure).

Suspecting that too many analysts accidentally adopt as common sense the crafted Republican Party discourse that claims that Democrat Party members are void of deeply-seated moral commitments, we seek to test the assertion that among this range of American political actors, it is the egalitarians who are especially moral and inclined to reject political compromise. This assertion runs counter to widely-held Anglo-American beliefs about the historical political opportunism of, for example, East European and Latin American egalitarians. Is it the US egalitarians’ uniquely moralistic political approach that causes the failure of coalition-building with Democrat Party members, as political sociologist Bill Domhoff suggests, or is it possible that Democrats maintain an emphatic legacy of liberal moral commitments that favor, for example, class inequality, rendering many egalitarian political positions much less palatable to Democrats than rival Republican Party politics? Further, we critically evaluate the assumption that elite interests in the two US parties have been equally opposed to and vulnerable to reformist challenges, irrespective of the challenges’ egalitarian or anti-egalitarian content.

In conclusion, we will strive to put the ox back before the cart in political sociology and social movement strategy by reviewing the historically fundamental imperative of extra-institutional mobilization and organization for socio-political change within the context of the single-member district plurality system. The contrasting case of the occasionally-cooperative relationship between the Social Democratic Party and the Left Party in Sweden presents one example of the possibility that those liberal political organizations prone to restricting egalitarianism will compromise with and incorporate egalitarian goals where disparate agendas can be fostered within separate political organizations.

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