When Democrats are really Progressives….

Will voters embrace a false flag?

By Alice Dubenetsky

Call it a take-over, a temporary meeting of the minds, or political expediency, but it is apparent that the Vermont Progressive Party has affixed itself to the Democratic party in order to win elections and influence throughout the state.

The most recent example of the Progressive Party’s influence in Vermont politics is in Burlington, where Mayoral Candidate Tim Ashe is running on the Democratic ticket – a strategy that worked well for him in his state senate bids in 2008 and 2010. Originally elected to the Burlington City Council as a Progressive, Ashe changed his affiliation to a Democrat/Progressive “fusion” candidate. Today, with the city’s coffers in ruins, its credit rating damaged, a $48 million shortfall in pension funds and the scandal involving the misappropriation of $17 million to Burlington Telecom, all under the mismanaged administration of Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss, the Progressive label has lost much of it’s appeal to moderate voters, and Ashe is running as a Democrat, dropping the fusion label, at least temporarily.

Fusion? Or a hostile takeover?

This Sunday, Ashe will again compete for the nomination with Democrat Miro Weinberger in the second round of the Democratic Caucus. It will be up to Democratic voters to decide whether they want to run a Progressive/Democrat or an orthodox Democrat against Republican opponent Kurt Wright, who is running a “bi-partisan” campaign and hoping to attract enough moderate Democrats to land him in the Mayor’s office at City Hall next March.

Ashe isn’t the first Progressive to run as a Democrat in Burlington. In December 2002, then Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle also secured the support of the Democratic Caucus. He thereby positioned himself to run for Governor (and lose) in 2004 as a Democratic candidate.

In 2008, long-time Progressive Anthony Polina dumped the Progressive label to run as an Independent for Governor, recognizing that Progressives are too radical for most voters to consider. That bid failed, but then Pollina ran a successful campaign for Washington County Senate by attaching his wagon to the Democrat party.

In a move in the opposite direction, Vermont State Auditor Tom Salmon, a Democrat and son of a former Democrat governor, switched to the Republican Party in 2009, asserting that the state’s Democrats had moved to the left “in a reunion with the Progressive Party”. Salmon said he did not want to be a part of the Democrat/Progressive fusion.

The VPP was founded by Senator Bernie Sanders, the former mayor of Burlington who was later elected to the United States House of Representatives as an Independent and subsequently was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he serves today as an Independent aligned with the liberal Democrats. But even Sanders in his run for U.S. Senate cut a deal with Democrats in which he would win the Democratic nomination then turn it down, thus keeping a true Democratic challenger off the ballot.

The VPP’s platform includes support for “full-spectrum single-payer health care”, and asserts that health care is a human right, supporting “birth to death” care, “free of private corporate interests provided through a nonprofit, publicly financed system”. There is no mention of exactly how this system would be funded. They also promote pre-K through 12 education, replacing the state’s property tax with a progressive income tax, reducing college costs for Vermonters and including free housing to students as well as opposition to the school voucher system (which they contend undercuts public education yet arguably promotes better outcomes through competition). This big spending agenda would call for much higher taxes to support it, which is problematical in a state with 600,000 people, an ageing demographic and a troublesome business climate – a climate that would be made more onerous by the VPP’s own economic platform.

The Progressive movement began in the late 19th and early 20th century in response to social and economic issues brought about by industrialization. It focused on the rights of women, child laborers, housing and other problems brought about by the newly industrialized society. It was a bi-partisan movement at the time, championed by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt during his first term (which would later lose him the endorsement of the Republican party, and his presidency) and Democrat Woodrow Wilson, among others. Today, the progressive label is routinely used by those who advocate social and economic reforms, and with goals that tend to be further left of center than the traditional Democratic tenets.

The election of President Barack Obama catapulted the Progressive agenda to the forefront of American politics. Although claiming to be a mainstream Democrat throughout his campaign, he occasionally hinted at his progressive tendencies with his energy policy initiatives, his embrace of Cap and Trade, and his redistributive economic objectives. While Obama and his supporters routinely scoffed at those who would label him a far left progressive – and who would occasionally go further and tag him as a socialist – Obama has recently begun to let down his guard and reach out once more to the far left of the party. His political base has accused the President of not fulfilling his campaign promise to “fundamentally transform America” even though his administration has passed a massive health care bill, extracted billions from the private sector for initiatives from TARP to Stimulus, has supported failing companies in the “green energy” sector and inserted itself by regulation into every corner of the economy. Conservative political analysts and economists have been dismayed by Obama’s current focus on class warfare and wealth redistribution as he calls for the massive transfer of wealth from the private sector to the government, with little or no concern that his policies punish the industrious and reward inertia.

In a recent speech in Kansas, Obama hammered away at the class warfare theme once again, pandering to his far left base who believe that America is unjust and unfair. In a glowing article in The Progressive magazine (Peace and Justice since 1909), Matthew Rothschild is giddily reported on the president’s tone, saying that Obama has “finally embraced progressivism” by making fun of right-wingers and the wealthy, and quoted Obama saying “this kind of gaping inequality gives the lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America; that this is the place where you can make it if you try.” Obama also indicted the American capitalist system, claiming “it doesn’t work, it has never worked.”

It is doubtful that anyone who has studied American history would agree with Obama’s assertion, given that the founding of America unleashed the single greatest surge of innovation in the history of the world, and raised the standard of living not just for Americans but world-wide. America is founded on immigrants who have made a better life for themselves and their families, and the subsequent generations who continue to work hard and succeed.

Today’s progressives prefer to believe that success is beyond the reach of the average person, and insist on repeating such demoralizing rhetoric until a large enough segment of society comes to believe it and will vote to keep them in charge – as the economy and the national spirit spiral ever downward.