- - Sunday, September 21, 2014


The tale of Ferguson, Missouri, is in many respects the tale of two cities. One half is white, overwhelmingly Republican and conservative; the other half is black, overwhelmingly Democratic, and at least nominally liberal.

In a perfect world, such a community would never come into such stark and intense opposition. An ideal political process would have mediated those differences long before their anger engulfed them. Perhaps the zero-sum game of partisanship followed by gridlock is the best the two-party system has to offer at this point, but as a society we deserve much, much better.

On the black side of the Ferguson divide you have a triumph of symbolism over substance. Record turnout of black voters in presidential elections enabled Democrats to achieve stunning victories but in congressional races, Democrats have consistently lost ground to a focused, organized grass-roots conservative movement.

Hoping for change, many Democratic voters got more of the same, only less of it. Here’s why: The Democratic establishment promised less than one would think given its 2008 and 2012 victories, and it was able to deliver even less than what it promised because of the rightward drift in the Congress.

Say what you may about the tea party’s ideology and tactics, one thing is for sure: It has gotten the attention of the establishment. No longer can establishment Republicans get away with ignoring the interests of a significant part of their constituency. Not so the Democrats.

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On the Democratic side, while the party has been more cohesive, it has been less accountable to its electorate. While taking for granted significant parts of its electorate, in particular the black vote, Democrats have failed to even address, much less alleviate the ills facing the community: chronic unemployment, poor education, epidemic levels of incarceration.

At the root of this problem is the winner-take-all two-party system. We have gotten to the point where the nation is too large and complex and diverse to be encompassed within such a framework. Party loyalty has had especially diminishing returns for black Americans.

You look at a situation like Ferguson, where a large Democratic majority is stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no jobs and bleak future prospects. Sure, they voted for President Obama in record numbers, and have been Democratic Party stalwarts for the past 50 years or so. But where has it got them?

Democrats would argue that they have been able to pass civil rights legislation and social safety-net measures that have disproportionately benefited the black community. Some of that was true during the height of the civil rights era and the debut of Great Society programs.

But a casual look at the community today reveals a somewhat desolate landscape and an eroding social safety net. Democrats have not leveled with their electorate to help them understand that the government is essentially bankrupt and cannot afford an expanding set of entitlements amid crushing debt and declining American labor competitiveness.

The problem with the two-party system is that you have to keep the bath water in order to save the baby. And of course, the dirty water ends up harming the baby in the long run. One wonders whether it would be possible for blacks to really get what they need at this stage — jobs and economic empowerment — without sacrificing too much in the way of Democrats’ overregulation and overspending, both of which have had a stifling effect on job creation and American competitiveness.

If blacks or any other group broke away from the Democratic Party and formed an activist pressure group like the tea party, the question is whether they would push the party to the left or to the right. The calculus may not be so simple. Sure, the Democratic Party has had significant victories on social issues — ranging from same-sex marriage to equal treatment in the military. But where it counts on economic issues such as wage growth, job creation and pension reform, Democrats have failed to deliver. The business community has been largely successful in doing an end run around organized labor to convince workers that their jobs depend upon the profitability of the company, not on union power. The extent to which a splinter group would be likely to break left is therefore somewhat questionable.

The bottom line is that we are a country of and for the people. We are not state, we are not parties, and we are not districts. Those can be convenient organizing tools, but at the end of the day the power is invested in the people to change themselves.

People should begin to demand more accountability of their elected officials. For too long the choice has been seen as supporting the lesser of two evils. However the success of the tea party in holding an establishment party accountable should be a lesson learned for the voters irrespective of their political leanings.

Armstrong Williams is sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings and executive editor of American CurrentSee Online Magazine.

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