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The following articles appeared in Left Business Observer #58, April 1993, and #59, July 1993. They were written by Doug Henwood, editor and publisher. They retain their copyright and may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form - print, electronic, facsimile, anything - without the permission of LBO.


Old party, new bottle

Sensible observers have long known that the U.S. is desperately in need of a third political party (and a fourth, and a fifth...). Along with Labor Party Advocates, the New Party (NP) initially seemed an effort to found one that was rich with potential. As two of the NP's charter organizers, Sandy Pope and Joel Rogers, put it in The Nation (July 20, 1992), it would be locally based yet nationally linked, broadly social democratic in philosophy, and a vehicle for a fundamental "rethinking of basic institutions like the family, firm, and state." The article provoked a large, enthusiastic response. But based on its activities in New York City, one of its primary targets, that promise looks to be dissipating quickly.

In an odd maneuver for building an independent force, the Newies decided that cross-endorsements -- endorsing "good" Democrats, besides running their own candidates -- will be one of their favored strategies (in states where such strategies are legal). This is supposed to pull the Dems to the left as well as get the NP's name around. It also reflects the NP's half-in, half-out attitude towards the Democrats; rather than making a clean, hostile break with the established party, they hope to use possible endorsements and refusals to endorse as carrot and stick, respectively.

If you think the Democrats are hopeless or worse, that seems like a questionable strategy on its face. Such suspicions are confirmed by a close look at the New York City operation. Mayor David Dinkins, a clubhouse politician of absolutely no distinction who is up for re-election this November, faces a primary challenge from Andrew Stein, a conservative Democrat of even less distinction. While it's not likely that Stein will win, Dinkins is making plans just in case he does. The NP fits the bill perfectly. Dinkins sees a New Party nomination as a certain way of getting on the November ballot, should he lose the primary. Though they deny that a Dinkins endorsement has been decided upon, the NPers see overnight fame and a permanent ballot line.

Whatever the merits of cross-endorsements, Dinkins could never be considered a "good" Democrat; in fact, he's an incarnation of precisely what's wrong with that party. He sustains illusions and disarms opposition while governing with perfect fealty to establishment convention. Despite bursts of progressive rhetoric, his administration has been one of budgetary austerity -- with the exception of a big cops and jails program that was the centerpiece of his first budget. This militarization of city life caused New York State's chief fiscal monitor of the city, Allan Proctor, to question (gingerly) the supposedly liberal administration's sp