Q&A on the Democratic Party - An Interview with Dan La Botz
FREQUENTLY ASKED questions about whether or not to vote for
the Democrats or to support a Socialist, Green or
progressive independent candidate.
Dan La Botz is the Socialist Party candidate for the U.S.
Senate in Ohio.
Question: You are a progressive activist running as the
Socialist Party candidate for the U.S. Senate. You chose not
to run as a Democrat. Do you really think that the
Republicans and Democrats are the same? Most progressives
don't seem to think so. Most people on the left think that
the parties are quite different and that it matters greatly
whether or not they vote Republican or Democrat.
La Botz: I agree that the Republican and Democratic parties
are not the same. They have different platforms, different
histories, and different reputations. Many consider the
Republicans to be more conservative, more pro-war and the
Democrats to be more liberal and pro-peace. The platform
positions and reputations of these parties, however, do not
tell us how they actually act or how they will behave in the
The Democrats seldom live up to their liberal reputation and
seldom fulfill the more progressive planks of their
platform. The war? Since the election of Barack Obama, he
and the Democratic Congress have expanded the wars in Iraq,
Afghanistan, and the drone bombing of Pakistan. The
environment? Obama announced-and then after the BP
geyser-retracted expansion of offshore oil drilling in the
Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast. Labor? After
making a campaign promise, the Democrats dropped the
Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which they had promised the
Immigration? The Democrats put immigration reform they had
promised Latinos and other immigrant groups on the back
burner while increasing deportations and making it harder
for immigrants to get jobs. Health care? The Obama
administration rejected the best option, single-payer, out
of hand, and also ditched the public option. Women's right
to choose? Some prominent Democrats-especially the Blue
Dogs-do not support abortion rights and played a key role in
eliminating abortion from the 2010 health care bill. Civil
liberties? The Obama administration has continued to condone
or excuse torture, rendition limiting domestic civil
liberties, and promoting governmental secrecy and outsized
power for the executive branch.
The Democratic Party's neoliberal national, state, and big
city leaderships have betrayed rank-and-file voters looking
to them for support. Voting for Democrats does not lead to
substantially more liberal or progressive national politics
on most issues because the corporations dominate the
Democratic Party. The Democrats are a corporate party, a
capitalist party. And because of the Democrats' loyalty to
the corporations they are demoralizing many supporters and
Question: Most of us think of the Republicans as the
corporate party. What do you mean when you say the Democrats
are a corporate and capitalist party.
La Botz: American corporations play almost as large a role
in the Democratic Party as they do in the Republican Party.
First, of course, they provide campaign funding for the
party and its candidates. Most big corporations hedge their
bets, contributing to both Republicans and Democrats, though
some definitely lean toward the Democratic Party. ) Large
corporations, for example, bankrolled much of President
Barack Obama's campaign. Now that the Supreme Court has
decided that corporations are persons and can give unlimited
sums, Republicans and Democrats both will be even more
beholden to the corporations.
Second, corporate executives and corporate attorneys provide
Democratic Party candidates and party staff, and provide the
Democrats their policies. When it comes to policy, the
Democratic Party works closely with the largest corporate
associations to develop legislation. When Obama designed the
health plan, he met with the insurance companies, the
for-profit hospital companies, and the pharmaceutical
industry. Liz Fowler, vice-president of WellPoint (with its
affiliates Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield) wrote
substantial portions of the Patient Protection and
Affordable Health Care Act. Not surprisingly, the reform did
not eliminate insurance companies or the profit motive from
Third, the Democratic Party campaigns operate, just like the
Republicans, principally through advertising and the media.
So the Democratic Party also becomes linked to those sorts
of advertising and media corporations. The Democratic Party
has close ties with the corporations- and no intention to
Question: But don't you exaggerate? Even if the corporations
dominate both parties, aren't the Democrats more progressive
on certain issues such as labor?
La Botz: At one time, the Democrat Party held more
progressive positions on many of those issues. During the
post-war period of American capitalist expansion, from 1939
to 1969, the United States with its vast power and wealth
could make concessions to the working class.
Today, facing an economic crisis, the Democrats have to
manage the crisis, have to impose austerity, they have to
make cutbacks. The Democrats were more liberal back in the
1970s when there was both more elasticity in the economic
system and a mass movement pushing them.
After Howard Dean became head of the Democratic Party, he
worked to move the party more toward the center and even
toward the right. The Democratic Party platform's liberal
planks have been watered down. Dean encouraged the party to
bring in more conservative politicians to compete with the
Republicans. Blue Dog Democrats, as they are known, are
often anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, and anti-labor. The growing
number of these Blue Dogs has made the party as a whole more
conservative. If you vote Democrat you find yourself backing
a party that is moving to the right, and taking you with
Even on social issues where the official positions of the
Democrats have often been better than the Republicans, such
as abortion and gay and lesbian rights, their commitment has
been tepid and uninspiring, and all too often compromised on
important points. Moreover, the Democrats' conservative
economic policies alienate people who could be won over to
more progressive social positions if there were a party that
stood firmly for both economic and social equality.
Question: But shouldn't we try to move the Democrats to the
left? Can't the Democrats be reformed? Don't you see any
merit in being involved with movement people in the
Democratic Party campaigns? Don't you see that as a vehicle
La Botz: The most impressive example of this strategy was
Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition in the 1987 Democratic
Party presidential primary. Jackson traversed the country,
marching on picketlines, participating in demonstrations,
and standing on the U.S. Mexico Border with Rosario Ibarra,
a socialist and the first woman candidate for president of
Mexico, calling for rights for immigrants. Jackson won
almost 30 percent of the vote in a campaign based on
supporting the struggles of working people. It was a
Then, having lost his bid for the nomination, he took all of
those whom he had mobilized and kept them imprisoned in the
Democratic Party. Time magazine reported in 1987: "Instead
of threatening to bolt the party, [Jackson] embraces it. At
a gathering of Democrats in Atlanta, Jackson declared that
while the party has both a conservative and a progressive
wing, it needs two wings to fly. Democrats let out a sigh of
relief. During a debate among the presidential candidates,
the preacher sounded so reasonable he was almost
irrelevant." The Jesse Jackson Rainbow Coalition campaign
served primarily to keep the most active, militant and
radical Democrats from leaving the party. After the
campaign, that movement disappeared.
This is the historic role of the Democrats: in the Populist
era of the 1890s, in the labor upheaval of the 1930s, in the
post-war upsurge of the 1940s, in the radical period of the
1960s. The Democrats role is to round-up the insurgent and
dissident elements that are making change and bring them
back into the Democratic Party and to chloroform them, put
them back to sleep.
Question: The Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) seem to
agree with you about the corporate control of the Democratic
Party, but still they want to reform it. What do you think
about their strategy to reform the Democratic Party?
La Botz: Many Progressive Democrats of America members are
movement activists. I admire their stated goal. As the PDA
website says, "We seek to build a party and government
controlled by citizens, not corporate elites-with policies
that serve the broad public interest, not just private
The Democratic Party has such strong institutional ties to
government, the military, professional politicians, and the
corporations that the kind of reform the PDA seeks is not
possible. The Democratic Party is not a block club, or a
community center where people could actually organize and
vote out the leadership. It is a top-down party completely
enmeshed in professional politics and government.
I imagine that many PDA members will also come to the
conclusion that reform of the Democrats is not possible. My
hope is that, when they do, they will not become cynical
about politics and the possibility of change, but will
organize to lead those progressive out of the Democratic
Party, to work for independent, progressive politics. And
today, when progressive candidates are defeated in
Democratic primaries, I hope PDA members don't play by the
party rules and go on to support "centrists" and "moderates"
who have demonstrated their commitment to reactionary
policies at home and abroad.
Question: So you don't see any chance for reforming the
La Botz: We have to look at the Democratic Part in the
context of the contemporary American economy and society.
Working people, labor unions, the movements for social
justice used to prefer the Democrats. They knew the
Republicans wouldn't negotiate, but with the Democrats
negotiation was always possible. For all intents and
purposes, those days are over.
We have entered a period of capitalist crisis, a structural
crisis of modern American capitalism that finds it
increasingly difficult to compete internationally with
Germany, Japan, the rising power of China, and now the new
competitors such as Brazil and India. While the U.S.
economy-that is American capitalism-could in the past afford
to be more expansive and liberal in its social programs,
that sort of largesse is no longer possible in the current
The Republicans and the Democrats have both become parties
of economic retrenchment, looking for ways to cut reduce
universal social programs, such as Social Security, and to
restrict their benefits. Under these conditions, the
Democratic Party will continue to move to the right, despite
the best efforts of genuine progressives within the party.
It's time to leave and create a working peoples party.
Question: Some people fear that the Tea Party movement and
the ultra-conservative candidates they have successfully
nominated in the Republican Party mean that the country is
moving toward fascism. Faced with rightwing Republicans and
currents of fascism, they argue, we have to support the
La Botz: There is a growing rightwing movement in the form
of the Tea Party and in it one can find some real, though
still small, fascist organizations at work. The question is,
does the Democratic Party represent some sort of bulwark
against such ultra-conservatism and fascism? Do we see the
Democrats mobilizing to create a massive movement as an
alternative to the rising rightwing or even fascist
movement? Not at all. The entire goal is to get people to
vote for the increasingly conservative Democrats. How does
that stop the right wing?
Do you stop the right by supporting the corporate-dominated
Democratic Party? Do you stop a growing conservative trend
or emerging fascism by moving to the right with the Blue Dog
Democrats? I don't think so. I think we fight the right by
building powerful independent labor and social movements and
offering an alternative to both corporate parties, that is,
to both the Republicans and the Democrats.
Question: Alright, but from a completely pragmatic point of
view, given our two party system, doesn't your campaign run
the risk of taking votes away from the Democratic Party
candidate and electing the Republican?
La Botz: No, I don't buy that. It's not like this is a
zero-sum game. Half of the eligible voters in the United
States don't vote. Most of those are working people and
low-income people. The Democratic Party, which claims to be
the party of working people, should be able to get its votes
there. If it cannot, that's their fault. Not mine.
When the Democratic Party loses elections, it generally
loses to the Republicans, not to third parties. The argument
that Ralph Nader and the Green Party cost Al Gore and the
Democrats the 2004 election is completely specious. The
Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and the Supreme
Court won the election for George W. Bush.
Every party and every candidate has the opportunity and the
responsibility to go out and win voters.
Right now Rob Portman is predicted to beat Fisher by 55 to
35 percent, according to a Rasmussen Poll. Why is Portman
running ahead? First, Portman has about $9 million in his
campaign treasury to Fisher's $2 million. Portman's
advertising is burying Fisher. Equally important, Lt.
Governor Lee Fisher cannot attract votes because Ohio has
lost tens of thousands of jobs while the Democrats held
power in both Washington, D.C. and Columbus, Ohio. The
Democratic Party has failed to deal with the economic crisis
and to provide jobs. The Democrats have consequently lost
their appeal to working class and low-income voters.
Question: Would you want people to vote for you if the vote
were really close, if the vote for you might mean the
difference in who wins the election?
La Botz: Yes, I ask people to vote for me even if a vote for
me might make the difference, because otherwise the
Democratic Party will continue to be able to blackmail
progressive voters. Most working class, African American and
Latino voters only vote for the Democratic Party candidate
because they believe that he or she will be better than the
Republican. And all too often they are disappointed.
The Democrats extort votes from voters with the threat that
the Republicans will be worse. Meanwhile both parties,
arm-in-arm, move to the right. The Republicans will always
tend to be worse than the Democrats, even as the whole
political landscape shifts rightwards. We can't let this
serve as a permanent argument for accepting whatever the
People should vote for what they believe in, for what they
know would be right for our country, not for a supposed
"lesser of two evils." We will not be able to go forward
unless we are prepared to break with both corporate parties
and construct a new political party on the left.
Question: Some would say: All that sounds very nice, but
this is a two-party system, like it or not. You are a
spoiler, so you are helping the Republicans.
La Botz: I have to say, this is the most common argument I
heard from liberal Democrats. I hear this argument from the
real party loyalists and it really disturbs me. Some tell me
I shouldn't run as a Socialist and tell others that they
shouldn't run as Greens or independent progressives. I find
it deeply distressing that people who consider themselves to
be "liberals" would attempt to squelch any attempt to create
a more democratic system.
The Democratic Party organization, despite the party's name,
always opposes other parties and candidates that appear on
their left. If we really believe in a democracy, then we
have to recognize that people have the right to organize
political parties and to put forward their point of view. If
we are really progressive, then we should welcome a
broadening and a deepening of the development of left
political alternatives. We should recognize that healthy
debate on the left will be good for the left and for the
Question: It sounds like you dislike the liberal Democrats
about as much as they do you.
La Botz: Dislike the Democrats? Not at all. Most of my
co-workers, neighbors and friends are Democrats. I
absolutely oppose the Democratic Party organization, because
it is a political arm of the corporations. But I find that I
agree with most grassroots Democrats about the issues, and
find that we share many common values. After all, when I
participate in an anti-war demonstration or a union
picketline, I am usually marching alongside a bunch of
Democrats. While I walk with them, I talk with them, maybe
even argue with them, and try to change their minds, try to
convince them of the need for independent politics.
What we have to recognize is that the functional role of the
Democratic Party. That is, whatever it says about itself,
the Democratic Party in fact functions to prevent the
development of an American political party that can
represent the real interests of working people -- from auto
workers, teachers, bus drivers, steelworkers and clerical
workers to nurses, freelancers, home health care workers and
That's why the Republican Party isn't sufficient for the
corporations to run the country. The American ruling class
needs two parties. The Republican Party keeps the small
business people and corporate managers in line. The
Democratic Party exists to keep the working class majority
under control. The Democratic Party-and especially its
leftwing-functions to keep the labor unions, African
Americans, Latinos, women and LGBT folk from leaving to form
an independent working class party not controlled by the
Question: Do you think that voting for you could really
change America? Would a vote for you really move us in the
direction of Socialism?
La Botz: I believe that progressive social change comes from
mass movements from below, from working people. All of the
great changes in American society came from such movements,
whether we talk about the creation of the industrial unions
in the 1930s, the African American Civil Rights movement of
the 1950s and 1960s, or the women's movement of the 1970s.
Still today the environmental movement and the gay and
lesbian rights movements have been created by millions of
American working people. Social movements and activism bring
Yet, movements and activism must also need a vision, a
political platform and a strategy. I run for office to
project the vision, program and strategic ideas that can
change American society. If I were elected, or even if 51
Socialist Senators were elected or if 50% plus 1 of the
House were socialist, we could not bring about the change
this society needs. Only the building of a mass movement can
do that-but it would have to be a mass movement with a
political agenda. I am attempting to project that agenda.
Socialists recognize that elections are only part of the
democratic process and only part of changing society. Our
goal is to build working class power in order to change
society. The Democrats really want your involvement only on
Election Day, and then hope you will go back to sleep. We
want your involvement even more on other days, and want you
wide awake and fighting for the future.
Question: Isn't your campaign then really a symbolic
campaign? Aren't you just seeking a protest vote? Aren't
small parties like yours doomed to remain marginal?
La Botz: Not at all. This is not a symbolic campaign; this
is a quite real campaign. To carry out the campaign, we have
built campaign organizations in towns and cities and on
college campuses throughout Ohio. Through the campaign, I
have spoken to thousands of Ohio voters at meetings and
public events. We have distributed tens of thousands of
pieces of literature. I have appeared on radio and
television shows talking about the need for a socialist
alternative and my platform has appeared in newspapers all
over the state. I have shared the platform with candidates
from the other parties as we debated the issues. We will
come out of this campaign having won thousands of votes for
socialism, but more important we will have contributed to
build activist networks and a socialist movement.
Question: So, do you think that Socialists can come to power
in the United States through the ballot box?
La Botz: American history suggests that social movements and
alternative political parties together offer the possibility
for profound social change. We can think back to those small
groups of men and women, black and white who met together in
churches and schools back in the 1840s and who eventually
formed small abolitionist groups and then the Free Soil
Party. The existence of such a social movement and of an
alternative political party provided the catalyst that led
to the formation of the Republican Party which then led the
Civil War to abolish slavery in the South.
We can also think of other small political parties which in
other periods-the 1930s and the 1960s-a vision, a platform
and a strategy. I think of the small labor parties that
developed in the 1930s and of the Peace and Freedom Party of
the late 1960s. While the social movements and the political
alternatives they developed did not coincide to lead to the
radical transformation of America in that period, they did
force the major parties to adopt some of their progressive
Today we are in a period when the combination of a complex
economic, social and political crisis, an emerging mass
movement, and parties offering political alternatives will
be able to bring about the changes we seek. When this crisis
deepens, history suggests that we will pass through a period
of massive upheaval from below. When that happens, today's
left-of-center political parties-the Greens, the Socialists,
and others--can help to provide that catalytic element which
can lead millions of Democrats to leave their party and form
a new party that really represents and is accountable to
working people and has a progressive platform. Clearly, it
will be rank-and-file Democrats and abstentionist and
apathetic voters who will form the basis for America's
working class socialist party in the 21st century.