I'm writing this post very late because I've been pretty busy today: did the weekly grocery shopping, called friends and family, cleaned out the garage, staged the last of the boxes from our move so I can unpack them, made a great dinner of fish baked over fennel with a spicy tomato sauce, and dropped off the change of address for my voter registration. I did not change my party affiliation and remain a Democrat.
Given my views of the behavior of the party (antithetical to everything the party is supposed to stand for), why do I remain a Democrat? There are a number of reasons.
First and foremost is power. The point of a political party is to amass and maintain power. That is a feature, not a bug, and is something we should be thankful for when the power is in our hands and wary of when it belongs to our opponents. The structure of the national government is partisan. All states also govern themselves this way as do most cities and municipalities. Those that are officially "non-partisan" are simply not owning up to their partisan allegiances, such as my own city, San Diego. At the national level, the system of seniority and the allocation of committee positions is based on the relative strength of a party, and only two parties have enough national organization to effectively participate in that environment. In a system of large power blocks, to be Independent or in a minority party is to be isolated and vulnerable.
Before people start caterwauling about the evils of power and the hegemonic control of the two major parties, just shut up. The point of politics is power - to gain access to and receive the benefit from public goods. Parties allow agendas to be established, policies to be drafted, programs to be created and laws to be defended. They are institutions that permit power to persist over time and during periods of turmoil or electoral defeat. This is why people don't actually want to have movements as ends in themselves; a movement is a way to capture the apparatus of an established party and leverage its organizational structure for votes, money and labor. The two party system is not, in my opinion and after reading way too many studies of party systems in my grad school days, inherently better or worse than parliamentary systems. In most cases, even in parliamentary systems, you will usually find two very dominant parties, usually center-left and center-right, and the extremes break away but form coalitions with one of the two major parties. Without parties in modern mass democracy, there is no way to reliably develop long-term platforms and objectives.
This gets to may second point which is, as lame as the Democrats have been since about Reagan, the party has vastly more power than any other 3rd party and certainly more than any movement. It is cost-prohibitive to try to recreate this structure. It is foolish to abandon it, unless to another comparably situated institution, which in this case would mean the Republicans. As a matter of historical fact, most Democratic attrition of the last 50 years has been to the Republicans as Southern white Democrats lost power in the party due to the tectonic realignment to defend civil rights. To retain their power, they shifted to a party that is not so fussy about treating entire classes of people like shit and brought their support networks with them. That shift was finalized in the 90s as the last hold outs jumped onto the Gingrich bandwagon.
Thus, the problem is not with Democratic rank and file or even with the party as such, but with the current leadership, which is not acting in the interests of increasing party power vis-a-vis the Republicans and with the Obamacan coup, which is trying to capture the party apparatus for its own purposes. Given the sewer of patronage and corruption that is Chicago politics, I think I see exactly what this faction wants in terms of power. My goal is to stop both of these problems, and I think the best location to do this is within the party itself. Impossible? Perhaps, but failure is certain only if I don't try.
Another reason not to abandon the party is because movement conservatism has captured the Republican Party. It may no longer be growing the way it did since Reagan, but they need to be beaten down and only the Democratic Party has a comparably sized and distributed organization to do this. Thus, the problem is how to oust the current regime before they cede too much power to the Republicans.
Finally, it's my cantankerous refusal to go sit on the sidelines and shut up, pushed out of my life-long party by Johnnie-come-lately hacks like Markos and Arianna.
What did Hillary's speech focus on? Getting power and retaining power in order to do right by her constituents. It really can be boiled down to that. One of the deep problems with the Stevensonian wing of the party is its deep, almost pathological aversion to explicitly wielding power. It's dirty. It's corrupting. It's pandering. It's buying people off when you should act for the sake of principle. It's favoritism and particularity. (Who knew that the election would come down to a practical example of the dialectical problem posed by Marx in On the Jewish Question? Oy!) There is an illusion among the technocrats, even those who make the right noises about being "fighting Dems" that you can somehow govern without ruling, that you can escape the demands of power and have only agreement, rules, abstract principles and guides, predictable outcomes and, above all else, unity in the statehouse. This is the bloodless vision presented by all of our losing presidential candidates since LBJ. To be partisan is to pick sides and fight for advantage in pursuit of a goal. Voluntary relinquishing of that power, which is what we have watched Pelosi and Reid do time and again, is simply stupid. Pretense that you are above all this infighting and grabbing for power, that you can bring people together through the force and wisdom of your ideas is as false today as it was when Stevenson ran - false that power can be retained that way, false that the person speaking isn't madly grabbing for power.
So I chose to remain in my party and be a gadfly, returning fundraising letters with diatribes, nagging my Congress critters, making my dissatisfaction known, and being involved in thwarting the current corrupt regime. Also, when the present gang of idiots falls, there has to be a substantial group ready and waiting to step in.
At the same time, I see nothing wrong with moving to Independent status to record dissatisfaction with the party. That also removes from the party what it most needs from rank-and-file - the money, the votes and the volunteers. It is simply not what I'm going to do.
The Democratic Party leadership is acting in ways that damage the ability of the party to expand its power. In the end, all personalities aside, that is what matters. They appear to enjoy engaging in Republican tactics against their own members while getting screwed over by the Republicans on matters that affect ordinary people's lives.
It's time for Democratic partisans to come to the defense of their party.
Update: Umm, spellcheck has been run. Sorry for the earlier typos...