Across the nation grassroots activists, many new to the Democratic Party are plunging into efforts to reform the party, often encountering resistance & resentment. In this post we try to understand this decline.
Actions & Events
Election Day for Pre-K. In Santa Fe, it is ballot day for the Universal Pre-K initiative. By now you know what it is and hopefully why you should vote for it. But if not, click here for an issue summary. Bottom line, this would certainly pass by a wide margin if not for over $1M in outside soda industry money being used to disseminate all kinds of misleading information. This is not a big government ploy; it is an effort to do what the State can’t seem to do: ensure all our children can access quality early childhood. Oh, and a side benefit, maybe reduce the consumption of soda. If you are on the fence, click here. But do vote. Today is the day and this is all about Retaking Our Democracy from the corporatocracy.
Democratic Party of New Mexico Elects New Leadership. Along with electing former Chair of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party, Richard Ellenberg, as Chair to the State Party, other leadership elected include: Vice Chair Neomi Martinez-Parra (Hildalgo), Secretary Katharine Clark (Santa Fe), Treasurer Robert Lara (Dona Ana), CD1 Vice Chairs Pamelya Herndon (Bernalillo) & JD Mathews (Bernalillo), CD2 Vice Chairs Stephanie DuBois (Otero) & Stephen Jones (Dona Ana), and CD3 Vice Chairs Tarin Nix (Los Alamos) & Willie Marquez (Santa Fe). There are some solidly progressive folks in the mix, especially when you consider the individuals elected to the Platform Committee. More importantly, throughout the Party there are strongly progressive activists new to the Party working at the Ward, County and State levels, and over time, with persistence, this can begin to open up DPNM still more. I will report on this on an ongoing basis.
Why Has the Democratic Party Lost So Much Ground?
While New Mexico was one state that both provided Clinton a strong victory while retaking the Roundhouse, on a national level, the table at left taken from a Pew Research study, illustrates the erosion of the percent of Americans who identify as Democrats since 1940. Peaking at over 50% in the early 60s under Kennedy and Johnson, while the GOP and Independents both were hovering in below 30% each. The chart illustrates a nearly uninterrupted decline in American’s identification with the Democratic Party to today where it hovers at just over 30%, while the GOP has experienced its ups and downs over the decades but now rests at just over 20%. The clear takeaway from the chart: increasingly Americans do not identify with or trust either major party. A Brookings Institute study conducted in 2008 illustrates clearly that this erosion in identification with the Democratic Party has been largely from the low and middle class sector of America, with the decline among low-income Americans being from a high of 67% in 1962 down to 52% in 2004. Among middle class Americans that decline had been almost as steep, declining from a high of 57% in 1962 to 46% in 2004. Over this time frame, support for Democrats had remained largely flat among upper income Americans. Of great importance, this study does not account for the plummeting of support for Democrats among middle income Americans during the Obama era, a time in which time Democrats have lost a staggering 68 House seats, 11 Senate seats, 11 Governor seats, 16 bodies of state legislature, and a complete loss of control of 10 states (both chambers and governor). And now Trump.
It would seem that Democrats would want to reflect on the causes of this continuous decline in party identification, especially given the other piece of incontrovertible evidence of loss of seats at all levels of government. One would think that there would be tremendous introspection among Democratic leadership to try to better understand why this is happening and how to reverse the trend, especially given the tremendous opportunity presented the Democrats right now with a historically unpopular and blundering GOP president offering the Democrats a chance to make sweeping gains in the House, Senate, and State legislatures. But the Party seems wedded to the past and, rather than looking within, has a penchant for circling the wagons and preventing any real introspection. Three recent national party leadership elections provide evidence of this:
- In December, Nancy Pelosi was challenged by Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who argued Dems must do more to speak to working-class voters in the Rust Belt and not just coastal liberal elites. Pelosi won that battle by a comfortable 134-63 margin despite being destroyed in the Rust Belt in both the presidential and house races. Her takeaway from the election was “I don’t think people want a new direction. Our values unify us and our values are about supporting America’s working families.” And that is why so many of those working families didn’t vote for Democrats in 2016 and why so many no longer identify with the Democratic Party.
- In February, the DNC had a chance to take a stand on getting money out of politics, but chose to vote down Resolution 33 which would have restored and strengthened the ban on corporate PACs imposed by Obama but quietly dismantled by Wasserman-Schultz. They voted not to do so, opening the doors to corporate influence within the Party.
- Lastly, the DNC vote for Party Chair was held last month, and with tremendous pressure from the Party establishment they elected Tom Perez (who took no position on Resolution 33) over Keith Ellison, the party reform candidate.
These are votes that suggest that the Democratic Party has learned little from the 2016 election. And Pelosi’s statement is beyond being tone deaf and echoes HRC’s “We don’t need to make America great again; it is already great,” when so many rust belt Americans have been displaced largely by Democratic policies (NAFTA, etc.). Establishment Democrats in power are stating clearly: We do not have change course; we do not have to listen to our constituents. We do not have to accommodate the new enthusiasm in the Party. Middle class be damned, we are sticking with corporate America. And we will continue to take our constituents for granted, as now their only choice is Trump and an increasingly regressive GOP.
How the Democrats Have Turned Their Back on Working People. It is not debatable that the Democratic Party has lost it connection with the American people, particularly among low and middle income America. But why. The video below from Thomas Frank does an excellent job of breaking this down. Frank points to four major policy initiatives of the Clinton era: 1) NAFTA which cost America millions of jobs, jobs that had been the foundation of so many Rust Belt communities; 2) Welfare “Reform” which essentially consigned millions of poor children to poverty; 3) De-regulation of the banking industry to allow the unfettered profiteering of Wall St; and 4) the War on Crime which criminalized minor drug offenses, created policies like three-strikes, and resulted in the mass incarceration of communities of color across the US. What Frank points out is that all four of these policies had been GOP initiatives that could never gain approval in Congress, but under the new Neo-liberal version of the Democratic Party, all four were passed.
Barack Obama, an African American community organizer from Chicago who spoke hope and change you could believe in galvanized millions of Americans, particularly as he came at a moment of financial crisis where the corruption of capitalism had brought America and the world to the verge of economic collapse. What’s more, during the primaries, he ran head-to-head against Hillary Clinton, the inheritor to the Neo-liberal throne. Progressives flocked to Obama and he was swept into office on a wave of hope for the future. I recall sitting in my living room with two dozen friends on the evening of the election, with many tears of joy shed. When Clinton had won in 1992 it was more relief than joy that filled that same room with those same friends. But in 2008, all were certain: things were finally going to be different. Alas, eight years later and as Frank describes in the video below, Obamacare has far more in common with RomneyCare than with Single Payer, with millions of Americans still uninsured and millions more underinsured and paying heavy co-pays and premiums; the TPP looks a lot like another NAFTA; and the bailout benefited no-one but Wall St., while foreclosed homeowners looked for something to rent. Frank failed to note Obama’s deporting more immigrants than any President, never closing Guantanamo, saddling Puerto Rico with crippling debt, and keeping the US at war throughout his presidency. But the evidence presented by Frank in the video below is more than enough.
So it is no surprise to find low and moderate income Americans turning away from the Democratic Party. What is stunning is the total lack of capacity of Democratic leadership to read the tea leaves. With an opportunity to return to its FDR roots, to build on an immense wave of grassroots energy, to prepare for the clear demographics of the future, it tipped the scale, undermined the Sanders campaign and now we have Trump. I want to be clear: this isn’t about Hillary. This is about 40 years of Democratic Party malfeasance and its self-absorbed, prideful refusal to reconsider Neo-liberal policies and Wall St. alliances that are an affront to most Americans. This is the challenge that the national and DPNM face. And it is disheartening the degree to which emails over the past two weeks as DPNM voted on leadership has shown a refusal to consider a new path, viewing progressive activism as betrayal instead of as a desire to return to the values of FDR. We will continue to consider how this debate and battle unfold in Washington and in New Mexico. The challenge is clear: to restore the party to FDR values and initiatives, activists will continue to have to work locally and at the state level to push for reform and for a culture where debate and dissent are welcome, not evidence of betrayal. The video below is well worth a watch.
Paul & Roxanne