Rogers explains that his short-term goal is to create “new forms of domestic regulation more heavily reliant on citizen watchdogs.” This “democratization” of the economy would not only constrain capitalism, without quite replacing it, but would also build long-term momentum for deeper structural change: “The reforms proposed…would permit the qualification of capital’s property rights and a demonstration — essential to mobilizing support for more stringent democratic efforts….” (Here, the word “democratic” again serves as a kind of euphemistic synonym for “socialist.) Or again, Rogers speaks of his proposed reforms as initial small steps toward major systemic change: “Also, the reforms facilitate greater popular control of capital itself, which would permit experimentation with different forms of ownership and production….”
What exactly does Rogers mean by “new forms of domestic regulation more heavily reliant on citizen watchdogs”? The obvious answer is ACORN. ACORN’s founders were central to the creation of the New Party, and the strongest New Party chapters (very much including Chicago) were built around preexisting ACORN-dominated organizations. ACORN’s systematic campaign against America’s banks was a crusade to “constrain capitalism” through “citizen watchdogs.” Unfortunately, ACORN’s “citizen watchdogs” forced the entire banking system to abandon traditional credit standards, thus paving the way for our current economic meltdown. (See “Planting the Seeds of Disaster.”)
Yet what Rogers and his ACORN allies obviously desire is to extend the model of ACORN as the “watchdog” of capitalism to our entire economic system. ACORN moved from local community organizing, to pressuring local banks, to gaining influence and even a semi-formal role within the federal government and the banking system itself. Rogers wants to spread that pattern through the whole economy.
Rhetorical Smokescreen Rogers is fairly open about his strategy of rhetorical disguise. For example, he wants his economic reforms to be couched as a new “bill of rights.” What would these new economic “rights” entail? A de facto guaranteed minimum income, wage controls, and guaranteed full employment established by a mandated shortening of the work-week. Rogers calls this “employment redistribution.” Technically, Rogers wants to do all this within the existing capitalist framework. Yet skeptics could be forgiven for probing behind the euphemism and incrementalism for a long-term agenda that plausibly appears to have socialism as its end-point. More important than resolving this labeling dispute, however, is recognition that the New Party agenda is both radical and exceedingly redistributionist.
Perhaps understandably, the New Party was extremely reluctant to put forward a formal platform. In 1996, however, the same year Obama won his first office as a New Party-endorsed candidate, Harvard economist Juliet Schor authored a programmatic statement for the New Party entitled, “A Sustainable Economy for the 21st Century.” (This was later expanded and published by Schor as a book.)
The original pamphlet was reviewed by David Levy, a sympathetic scholar from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, in Dollars and Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice. (You can find a slightly reworked copy of Levy’s review here.) Some passages from Levy make it clear that if the New Party is not socialist, this may have more to do with calculated political presentation than with underlying ideology. In any case, socialist or not, the New Party’s proposals are radical:
…Schor is careful not to sound too radical either–there is not talk of socialism or other language that might scare away a public suspicious of left-wing rhetoric. [New Party co-founder] Dan Cantor is emphatic in stating that “this is not a socialist party.” Cantor prefers the term “egalitarian democracy”…
Rather than specify a detailed blueprint of the “ideal” economy, the New Party’s approach is to emphasize the process of transforming the one we have. Engaging in this process would, of course, entail a radical change in the economic system: it requires a shift in power away from owners of corporate capital toward workers, consumers, and other groups of disenfranchised by the current system…
While the pamphlet does not advocate nationalization of the means of production, or discuss forms of ‘market socialism”…many of the policies would indeed be considered radical in the context of contemporary American (and even European) politics.
Radio Barack The New Party’s approach to the problem of economic redistribution closely parallel’s Barack Obama’s 2001 radio remarks on economic redistribution. Obama may not have had any principled objection to bringing about economic redistribution via the courts. Yet he voiced a pragmatic preference for promoting redistributive change through “community organizing and activities on the ground.” Like Rogers, Obama implicitly distinguished between the contemporary “liberal” attempt to promote change (to the extent it was willing to do so at all) by direction from above (i.e. the courts), and the bolder “progressive” desire to build an organized base for “major redistributive change” from below.