I am a Loco-Foco.
I was not always a Loco-Foco – until recently, I was content with the label "disaffected Dem." Alas, recent circumstances have compelled me to re-examine the nature of my allegiance to the Democratic Party, and in so doing, I came across the tale of a group of liberal (for the 1830s) forebears of ours. These original Loco-Focos faced a situation not dissimilar to the one in which we find ourselves:
…with the visible fact that the sovereignty of the people over the legislature had passed into the hands of chartered institutions — all these, and other circumstances, contributed to excite hostility against chartered monopolies and the politicians who sustained them. Consequently, the Republican Party became divided within itself.
Rendered into modern American English: It was obvious that the legislature had ceased to care about the little guy and was owned by corporations; for this and other reasons, some Jacksonian Democrats were so pissed at their political leadership and the business interests pulling their strings that the party factionalized.Join me, if you will, in the Cave of the Moonbat, where tonight we'll light up the place with some of those new-fangled sulfur-tipped matches – and while we're there, maybe we'll discover that we’re not the first Americans (or even Democrats) to have found their party usurped and corrupted by banksters and corporatists. In fact, it's been happening almost from the start.
A Modest Proposal
I propose that here, at the dawn of what's clearly becoming a broad left-wing backlash against the powerful conservative element which has infiltrated and co-opted our Party, we adopt and promote a name for ourselves that we can live with. That naming ought to be on our terms, but we need to remember that the teabaggers saw their own cutesiness turned upon them due to a simple lack of googling. I don't want the same thing to happen to us when the press realizes that there's enough leftist discontent with Democratic leadership that they need to collectively call us something, but I should also say that since I've never been paid for a single shred of my philosophy, I can't really be considered a member of the "Professional Left," and "purist" just doesn't provide enough specificity.
This is why I further propose that the name we adopt be "Loco-Foco." It's a term that initially denoted leftist political activism – again, in the context of a time only 20 years removed from Napoleon and still more than a decade before Marx and the Manifesto – but did not represent a third-party splintering. Instead, the Locofocos promoted the solidification of a left-wing voting bloc within one of the major parties, and wound up having a lasting impact on Democratic politics. Plus, the name’s got a great backstory.
You Might Be A Loco-Foco and Not Even Know It
I understand that the Democratic Party as it existed in 1835 bears very little resemblance, organizationally and policywise, to the Democratic Party of today, so please spare the flames on that front. My reasons for advocating Locofocoism, and why I think we should resurrect the name, are more symbolic; think of it as a trans-temporal connection to people who shared a similar set of frustrations with a Democratic Party gone similarly rotten from the top down. Some of the issues that drove the First Locofocos no longer incite political passion – by the late 1800s, populist types were firmly on the side of paper money, and the tariff hasn’t been much of an issue since even before we sold our national soul to the WTO – but Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry provided lists a few other Locofoco beliefs that we definitely share:
Locofoco Party, in U.S. history, radical wing of the Democratic Party, organized in New York City in 1835. Made up primarily of workingmen and reformers, the Locofocos were opposed to state banks, monopolies, paper money, tariffs, and generally any financial policies that seemed to them antidemocratic and conducive to special privilege.Sound like anyone you know? President Obama’s budget (and his failure to close Guantanamo, and his corporate education “reform” policies, and his inability to restrain himself from pre-capitulating to Republicans at seemingly every turn, and, and, and…) certainly qualifies as something “workingmen and reformers” should oppose. It’s regrettable, but it has now become necessary for the “radical wing of the Democratic Party” to once again band together in defense of the core values that unite us.
The Meaning of Locofocoism
New York Democrats had a problem in the mid-1830s: increasing numbers of their membership were becoming aware that their state party had fallen under the control of greedheads and machine politicians. William Leggett, a journalist and one of the disaffected group, was as angry and dismayed as so many of us are about the President’s most recent preemptive surrender that he began organizing his fellows around
“bring[ing] back the Democratic party to the principles upon which it was originally founded.”It’s important to note that the Locofocos weren’t trying to split from the party – like their modern descendents, they were hoping to resurrect a spirit that was suffering from years of depredations by the 1%ers and their bought-n’-paid for political lackeys. The chronicler of the Locofoco movement, Recording Secretary Fitzwilliam Byrdsall, explains that
“These Methodists of Democracy introduced no new doctrines, no new articles, into the true creed; they only revived those heaven-born principles which had so long been trodden under the foot of Monopoly”In other words, they were about restoration, not revolution – but they were willing to use the tactics of populism (and a few ideas that could be considered revolutionary) to get the Dem house back in order.
The First Locofocos
Before the name became associated with a political splinter group, “Loco-Foco” referred to a brand of sulfur-tipped match of the “strike anywhere” variety – a new exploitation of the chemical sciences in the 1830s. There are several stories regarding the etymology of the name itself, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter if it is Spanish for “crazy lights” or a vaguely-Italian combination of “locomotion” and “fire,” since that’s not how our opponents are going to interpret it anyway. To tell you the truth, I relish that: I imagine I’ll be called a “Crazy Focker” and the like, but will take solace in the fact that so, too, did my predecessors in locofocoism. They wore the banner proudly, even after their opponents (including fellow Dems) started using it as a pejorative – in other words, they understood that TPTB only mock things they’re afraid of.
William Leggett and his fellows attempted to make their voices heard at a party meeting held in Tammany Hall (in the pre-Tweed days) on October 29, 1835. The Establishment was trying to push the nomination of a House candidate of whom the rank-and-file did not approve, and tried first to pack the meeting with (likely paid) supporters of their chosen man. When that didn’t work, they shut off the gas lamps and plunged the hall into darkness, hoping that the lack of light would cause the dissenters to give up and go home. It was a tactic that had worked before, but this time, the good guys had armed themselves with Loco-Foco matches, by which light they continued the meeting.
They called themselves the Equal Rights Party, but after the Tammany incident, the newspapers quickly dubbed them “locofocos.” Though it was probably intended to be derogatory, the good guys warmed to the name pretty quickly. In his history of the group, Byrdsall wears and assigns “Locofoco” as a badge of honor, while luminaries like James Fennimore Cooper and Ralph Waldo Emerson proudly counted themselves members. Locofocos relentlessly pushed what was, for that era, a left wing agenda, even as they pushed back against the memes in the mainstream press.
And what was the situation in the media in the 1820s? Again, remarkably similar to our own. Byrdsall gives us a glimpse of what he was up against in his homage to William Leggett:
With all the gallantry of ancient chivalry, he counted not the personal cost to himself, but openly attacked monopoly of every kind, and exposed and beat down the sophistries and subterfuges of the Albany Argus, the New York Times, and the prostituted press of both parties.
Taking It All Too Far
It was that very “prostituted press” that TPTB called upon when Leggett finally crossed the line and needed to be told he was being drummed out of the party. Byrdsall cites an 1835 Washington Globe article that chortles over Leggett's heresy:
But he has at last, and we are glad of it, taken a stand which must forever separate him from the Democratic Party. His journal now openly and systematically encourages the Abolitionists."Clearly, he had to go. Advocating the ending of slavery? That was crazy talk, apostasy of the first order. Slaves made wealthy people a lot of money; abolishing the "peculiar institution" in the name of some human rights pony would be tantamount to a jobs-killing over-burdensome federal-meddling regulation.
It's true that abolitionism was still pretty fringy in the mid-1830s. William Lloyd Garrison, Robert Purvis, and Theodore Weld had founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in Ohio in 1833, and they started to evangelize the message at Lane Theological Seminary the following year. To have been an abolitionist in New York in 1835, then, would have meant that one was willing to side with the smallest of minorities against the most entrenched of powers in the name of what is right and true.
But like those of us who see ourselves derided for our support of a single-payer health care system with universal coverage, Byrdsall sensed that there was another, deeper-seated fear that was motivating the men who ostracized William Leggett. They feared the grassroots – the very populist zeitgeist to which Byrdsall refers in this paragraph, which follows the Globe quote above:
Thus, from head-quarters was the ban of ex-communication fulminated, and the hint was clearly given upon what plea the ban could be extended throughout the empire of the party. Accordingly, on the tenth of October, the Old Men's General Committee adopted the plea and echoed the ex-communication. But as regarded Leggett's abolitionism, could not the "oldest and wisest of the party" also respond with the Globe "we are glad of it too?" It is certain, that they had much more cause of dislike and fear of his "agrarian spirit" in regard to Banks, than to abolitionism. The first was near at hand and portentous to themselves, the latter remote and dangerous only to those at a distance.They were quite positive about the role government could play in protecting people from the abuses of the wealthy – unlike the Teabaggers, Locofocos were not anti-government nihilists, though they did want an end to government subsidies of business – and they went on to have a profound influence on the Democratic Party. In the early 1840s, New York Dems split over the issue of slavery, with many of the Locofocos gravitating toward a more radical faction that became known as the Barnburners – so called because it was thought they were willing to burn down a barn in order to rid it of rats. In the election of 1848, the Barnburners refused to support the milquetoast candidate the Establishment tried to foist on them, and joined with others to form the Free Soil Party, which ran former Locofoco Martin Van Buren for president.
How To Be A Locofoco
So where do we go from here? How does one be a Locofoco in this modern era?
Well, it starts with proudly adopting a name with a history that’s associated with some of the more forward-thinking of our Democratic predecessors. We are heirs to those early Democrats who found their nascent party overrun by the forces of finance and the armies of avarice – and we should pledge henceforth to resist them, exactly as did our Loco-Foco forebears of the 1830s. To this end, I'm gonna follow the advice so graciously dispensed by pico in a diary he wrote last August: Don't donate to Obama 2012.
In it, he raised a couple of excellent points, including the idea that Obama (and by extension, the DLC-ridden corporatists whose bidding he does) doesn't really need my $25 – that's a drop in the ocean of their corporate funding – but the hard-pressed progressive Dem in the next District over might. In 2014, we must take back the House, and we must maintain control of the Senate. Ergo, it makes sense to devote our meager resources to Congressional and local races in order to elect candidates that can defeat whoever the Goppers vomit forth, even as we work towards electing a Congress that's ready to drag our wandering leader back to the left.
I’m well aware that modern Locofocoism will share some of the aspects of teabaggery. I'm not saying we should become teabaggers – one of the strengths of the left is that we work best with our brains engaged – but it's undeniable that they stumbled upon (or were led to) a means of asserting their voices that no one on their side had used in a very long time. Like them, I am not advocating for a third party – why build something new when you can simply conquer an infrastructure already in place? In studying and improving upon their tactics, we should strongly consider the idea of primarying Fallen Dems, and I won't deny that a new generation of leaders could well emerge from an old-fashioned leftist teabagging.
I didn’t want to have to be a Locofoco. I wanted to be a member of a party that reflected my values, that I could feel good about donating money and time to support. That, apparently, is not in the cards anymore – our President and far too many of our Senators and Representatives have abandoned those values in the interest of raising taxes on the working class in order to screw retirees, and other such horrifically un-Democratic malfeasance.
So it falls to me to go Loco-Foco on their asses – and there’s nothing I’d love more than to look around and see that there are hundreds and thousands of fellow Barnburners marching under the banner of the burning match with me. Yes, I remain a Democrat, but like my historical namesake, I fervently reject the creeping corporatism and outright abandonment of the core principles of the party I joined all those years ago.
I am a Locofoco. Are you?
DailyKos Blogathon -- Week of April 8th
(All times are Eastern, diaries published by the Pushing back at the Grand Bargain group)
Monday, April 8
10:00 a.m. Roger Fox
12:00 noon eXtina
2:00 p.m. Guest crosspost by Yves Smith
3:00 p.m. poopdogcomedy
4:00 p.m. Horace Boothroyd III
6:00 p.m. slinkerwink
8:00 p.m. joedemocrat
Tuesday, April 9
Wednesday, April 10
Thursday, April 11
Friday April 12
1. Call your senators and representatives and tell them "Hell No!" with a priority on contacting senators. U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. You can find email contact information here
2. Contact the White House and tell them "Hell No!". Switchboard: 202-456-1414. Email contact page is here.
3. Petitions. There are a number of petitions available. Choose from the following or preferably sign them all.
a. White House petition calling for no cuts to Social Security.
4. Social Media. Share this diary and promote this blogathon on Facebook and Google+ using the buttons at the top of the diary. Send this out on Twitter and add the hashtags #HellNo and #NoGrandBargain.
Blogathon diaries you might have missedMonday:
Hell No! #NoGrandBargain: "Pushing back at the Grand Bargain" by Roger Fox
Hell No! Chained CPI will reduce eligability for EITC #noChainedCPI by Roger Fox
Hell No! Dan Pfeiffer: "The President's Budget Shows That He is Serious About Solving Deficits" by eXtina
Guest Crosspost, Yves Smith: Obama Wants to Be the President Who Rolled Back the New Deal by Yves Smith via joanneleon
IA-Sen: Tom Harkin (D) Needs Our Help Telling Obama Hell No To The Chained CPI by poopdogcomedy
Hell No! Stop crushing the poor by Horace Boothroyd III
Hell, No! Social Security Contributes Nothing To Deficit by slinkerwink
Hell No! No Grand Bargain: Chained CPI: Social Security Means So Much To So Many by joedemocrat
Hell No! No Grand Bargain Liveblog 2014 Budget press conference by joanneleon