STEVE JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Notably, the week of May 1, 2011 was marked by two major political deaths. The one receiving huge attention, around the world, was that of Osama bin Laden. It will likely have a major impact on everything from US domestic politics to US relations with Pakistan ranging from the fairly short-term (US domestic politics, given the media-driven incredibly short attention span of most US voters) to the possibly rather long-term, on policy and politics in South and South-Central Asia.
There was a much less noted death during the same week, of the political kind. If only it is paid attention to by certain political forces in the US, it could have a much more long-term impact than the death of Osama and a much more positive one as well. That is the death of the mythical "Political Middle" in our neighbor to the north. In the Canadian elections of 2011 the Conservative Party maintained its control of the government. But finishing second, taking a significant numbers of seats in the Parliament, was the heretofore vocal but rather small New Democratic Party (NDP), a self-styled social democratic one. The traditional number one or two party in Canada, the Liberals, took a major loss and the traditional fourth party, the Quebec nationalists (and sometime separatists) were reduced to the point that they might no longer be considered an "official" political party under Canadian law.
In the context of modern capitalism the NDP is a fairly left-wing party which certainly makes the center of its policies and platforms the clear differences between itself and the Conservatives. The Liberals have traditionally been a party of the "middle," in recent years working very hard to "get along" with the right wing Conservatives, while the Bloc Quebecois distinguished itself with its focus on Quebec independence or more home rule or what have you, but never presented itself as a national party. So what happened in Canada? The NDP presented itself as a clear alternative to the right on everything from the national health service to education to environmental policy to dealing with climate change to bringing Canadian jobs back home. As Jack Layton, Leader of Canada's New Democrats, said, "It's time to turn this momentum into action - and start building the Canada we want. A Canada where families come first, and no one is left behind." Notice that he didn't say something like, "the time has come to get the parties to work together." What's the lesson for the US? Plenty.
In this country there is a mythical "middle," largely the creation of the GOP and the bulk of the media. "You have got to go after the independent voters." This message is of course directed for the most part at the Democratic Party, hardly ever the GOPTP (Tea Party). "You/we have got to work together," meaning "let's go to the middle" (without ever defining exactly what that is , except that it always sounds very much GOPTP-ish) and this is the message that President Obama has preached ever since he arrived in the White House. What you hear from the GOPTP side is such positions as "I hope he fails" (the party's titular leader Rush Limbaugh) and "our number one task is the defeat of Obama in 2012" (Mitch McConnell). And then what you hear from the right-wing, Blue Dog, Democratic Leadership Council (yes, I know that it no longer exists on paper but there are a bunch of successor organizations, like the "Third Way") is "it's up to us to meet them half-way."
This is the position even if the GOPTP is not the least bit interested in doing that. Speaker Boehner has said on more than one occasion is the "compromise" is adopting the most reasonable (sic) GOPTP policies. The real issue here is that on major issue after major issue there is no "middle." That is a myth created by the GOPTP and their allies in the media to prevent the organization of a real opposition to the GOPTP policies that have governed the country since the Reagan Revolution, to prevent the rebirth of a true Democratic Party in the New Deal/Great Society tradition, a party that would take the Preamble to the Constitution seriously, recognizing that it mandates a major role for the Feral government in governing the nation for the benefit of all the people (see Jack Layton, above), not just an-ever shrinking minority of the corporate power/oligarchy.
Just consider just some of the major issues. Either you believe in the criminalization of any belief about when life begins other than at the moment of conception or you don't. Either you believe in a public education system, supported by taxation, that exists for the benefit of all the people of the country or you don't. Either you believe that our nation needs a major infrastructure rebuilding, redevelopment and future-oriented development program, again tax-supported, or you don't. Either you believe it's time for a major reduction in the reach of the US international empire or you don't. Either you believe in a health care system that focuses on the health and health care of all the people of the country and that profit-making has no place in its payment mechanisms or you don't.
Either you believe that the equal protection clause of the 14ht Amendment applies to homosexual population or you don't. Either you believe in a firm wall of separation between church and state or you don't. Either you believe that Article VI of the Constitution, which makes all treaties part of the supreme law of the land, prohibits the use of torture for any purpose, or you don't. Either you believe that the tax structure and code needs a major overhaul, to significantly increase Federal revenues and to end the export of capital and with it US jobs, or you don't. Either you believe that as many people as possible should be encouraged to vote or you believe that as few people as possible should be allowed to vote. Either you believe that something very serious has to be done about human-caused climate change and the dependence on (the very profitable) fossil fuel industry or you don't. Either you believe that the theory of evolution is the basis for understanding how life works and doesn't or you don't. Either you believe in the power of science to explain life and the natural world or you believe that fairy tales and mythology do it just fine. Either you believe in the mythical middle or you don't.
And so on and so forth. On one side or the other there is room for compromise within the sides, like some anti-abortionists would prohibit it in all cases while others would allow it in cases of rape and incest (although boy the woman would really have to be to prove that she was raped on the father was a family member). And on the other side, health policy analysts (like I used to be) could have great fun working on such issues the role of prevention and real wellness in the health care delivery system and how to pay for it/them. But that's not the "middle," the mythical middle that the GOPTP, the right-wing "Democrats," and the bulk of the media pretend exists, only for the Democratic Party to go to, of course, not the GOPTP. The only thing the latter has right is that for them, for real, there is no such thing. Don't believe me? Just try listening to Savagely Beckoning Le-vinitating O'RHannibaugh or Boehner or McConnell or Cantor or Gingrich or Palin or Bachmann or the Christian Reconstructionist Huckabee for awhile. You will quickly get the picture.
The Canadian New Democratic Party has shown the way. We'll see what they do with it. The time has come for at least a few elected officials and some of the moneyed lefties to see it the way it is and begin a national party on the left with some political clout and some financial muscle. If this does not happen, the Democratic Party we have will be permanently searching for the mythical middle while the GOPTP becomes the party of permanent government.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-