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November 16, 2013 12:57 PM A Spectre Is Haunting The DNC

By Samuel Knight

It’s official. Voters in Seattle have approved of a ballot measure that will haunt the city for the next four years. Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant cemented her spot on Seattle City Council yesterday evening, after officials spent ten days tabulating ballots cast by mail. As local NBC affiliate KING5 explained:

Longtime Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin conceded to challenger Sawant Friday evening, after new election numbers showed her ever-widening lead of 1,640 votes in the race for Position 2

Sawant, an economics professor and former Occupy Seattle organizer, is the first socialist to win an election in Seattle in over a century, with a platform that includes rent controls, a $15/hr minimum wage, and a tax on millionaires. That has people talking—a conversation that Sawant, herself, is happy to lead.

“There’s a real unrest in the American population for change and things are going to change more rapidly in the coming years,” she told KING5.

She certainly seems to be backed up by empirical evidence indicating that the Occupy Movement wasn’t a one-off. Yesterday, Chris Hayes, in a monologue before an interview with Sawant herself, pointed out the 2011 Pew poll that showed 18-29 year-old Americans favor socialism over capitalism by a margin of 49-43. He also discussed Republicans’ failed attempts to red-bait voters in the 2012 Presidential election (whether voters saw President Obama’s alleged collectivism as a good thing or merely found the socialist label wholly disingenuous is another discussion entirely), and Bill DeBlasio’s recent victory in the New York mayoral campaign.

It’s important to not overstate the importance of a single event, however. The Tea Party’s 2010 mid-term landslide didn’t exactly produce a Bachmann nomination in 2012. Bernie Sanders is still the lone democratic socialist in Congress since his ascent to the Senate in 2007. And these “watershed” events had consequences beyond a city’s limits.

But Sawant’s and (to a lesser extent) DeBlasio’s victories could send a warning to other Democratic Party candidates and incumbents in deep blue territory. As the Socialist Worker pointed out, Conlin wasn’t able to engage in a rational type of “red-baiting” (if you will) given Seattlites’ and New Yorkers’ general distaste for dyed-in-the-wool Red State politics:

As a socialist challenger in a liberal city against a Democratic opponent, Sawant was able to avoid one of the key difficulties that third party candidates typically face: the so-called “spoiler effect.” Without a Republican in the election, the Democrat Conlin wasn’t able to browbeat his party’s much more liberal base into supporting him as a “lesser evil.”

Thus, the Democratic Party itself—or, at least, the centrist wing of it—should be most haunted by the spectre of a socialist alternative (lowercase) in places where the party’s establishment has taken support for granted.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.

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