Trump keeps giving the Democrats opportunities to assert itself, present a stark contrast, or to inspire action and to motivate the masses. “A Better Deal” (remember that?) didn’t do it and the silence as the Dems shuffle off for recess, is certainly no better. What can be done?
Wake Up Sleeping Democrats: We have a Crisis at Hand–And an Opportunity
I have hesitated to publish this blog as I feared it would be received by some as rehashing the 2016 election or critiquing a party that has finally been winning some elections and may be poised to retake one or both chambers of Congress. But recent wins have far more to do with two factors for which the Democratic Party can hardly claim credit: 1) a huge increase in progressive candidates elected on the strength of their adherence to progressive principles and values; and 2) a Trump-GOP regime that has gone off the rails. It is not as if the Democratic Party has suddenly become inspirational, is advancing bold new ideas or is encouraging nonviolent resistance to immigration, tax, environmental, or judicial policy affronts or preparing America for resistance should Trump fire Mueller or mass pardon all those who end up charged? Where is the strident Democratic voice, calling America to arms? Nowhere. And it is this empty voice that is at the root of the Democratic Party’s history of election failures. To wit:
From Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis. “Since Obama’s victory in 2008, the Democratic Party has lost control of both houses of Congress and more than 1,000 state legislative seats. The GOP now controls the governorship as well as the entire legislature in 26 states, while Democrats exercise such control in only six states…. Despite this Democratic decline, bold proposals with the national party’s imprint are scarce.”
I had written briefly about Autopsy some weeks ago, click here, to review this blog. But today I want to focus on the last sentence of the quote above, as it is a fitting segue from the last blog that wondered aloud: In the face of Trump, why is it that all we hear from the Democratic Party are words? Right now, the Democrats are behaving as if national civic discourse is really a debate between two competing, introspective parties wrestling with science, facts and truth and seeking a better world for most of us. In the face of a tax bill that is nothing more than a shameless wealth grab, why hasn’t the Democratic Party called us to the streets? Asked for a 3-day general strike? Encouraged people to delay payment of their taxes?
Maybe civil disobedience is more than one can ask from a Democratic Party unable to extricate itself from the clutches of Wall St., but why hasn’t the Democratic Party published its own tax reform bill, one that is built upon a principle of economic and social justice? Sadly, the answer to that question also lies in the Party not wanting to offend its corporate bedfellows. And what is the result of this absence of voice?
A poll in spring 2017 found that two-thirds of the public sees the Democratic Party as “out of touch with the concerns of most people in the United States today.” Autopsy identifies the root cause of this disaffection among Americans. “The idea that the Democrats can somehow convince Wall Street to work on behalf of Main Street through mild chiding, rather than acting as Main Street’s champion against the wealthy, no longer resonates. We live in a time of unrest and justified cynicism towards those in power; Democrats will not win if they continue to bring a wonk knife to a populist gunfight. Nor can Democratic leaders and operatives be seen as real allies of the working class if they’re afraid to alienate big funders or to harm future job or consulting prospects.” Spot on and I love the reference to a wonk knife at a populist gunfight.
Autopsy points out that during the 16 years of the Clinton and Obama presidencies, when so many U.S. jobs were “outsourced” to cheap labor countries, you almost never heard a discouraging word from the Democrats. Indeed Obama appointed the CEO of General Electric (a leading exporter of jobs) to chair the Jobs Council. That is kind of like asking PNM to become your solar partner (dig at our Mayor). But, the Democratic Party’s acquiescence to these policies nurtured a breeding ground that made Trump’s histrionic claims credible to those millions who felt that the Democratic Party had long abandoned them.
Not only had the Democratic Party abandoned the very poor and working class (increasingly the same group) in terms of policy, but even in terms of campaign strategy. It is as if the Democrats noticed that the GOP was a mess, so it could ignore its own constituents as the Democrats could only be seen as “better than Trump,” an utterly uninspiring slogan and a worse strategy.
From Autopsy: “In spring 2016, when the progressive independent expenditure groups first outlined their plans for $200 million in spending, they did not allocate any money at all for mobilizing black voters.” While officials did spend some token funds on radio and digital outreach to black voters, major financial support for the sort of door-knocking and phone-ringing that has been crucial in countless races was limited — this despite the fact that a grassroots, person-to-person ground game is proven to be the most effective tool in getting would-be voters to the polls.” The Party may as well have been saying: Who else will black voters support
From Autopsy: “In 2014, Albert Morales, then the Hispanic Engagement Director at the Democratic National Committee, proposed a $3 million plan aimed at raising voter turnout in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Texas. Despite the meager cost, the plan was nixed. “I just asked for what I needed,” Morales said. “I ended up getting closer to $300,000 and it all went to radio…. It was just pitiful.” The lack of funding was compounded by poorly-timed spending; the Clinton campaign did not launch a sustained Spanish-language ad campaign until September, putting her well behind the calendar successfully implemented by the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012. The Party may as well have been saying: Who else will Hispanics support?
Clinton’s campaign also fell short in its outreach to Native Americans. Notably, Clinton refused to condemn the Dakota Access Pipeline, despite the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s land rights and major protests generating headlines in the immediate run-up to the general election.
The Party is also ignoring an unmistakable generational split. Last summer, two authors asked Fast Company readers a simple question: “Are you ready to consider that capitalism is the real problem?” For millennials, the answer seems to be increasingly “yes.” A 2016 poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics found that just 19% of Americans aged 18 to 29 identified themselves as capitalists; only 42% claimed they supported the economic system. Another Harvard poll, released on December 5, found that two-thirds of that same age group is fearful for the future of the country. Just 14% think we’re headed in the right direction. This should not be surprising as the median earnings of millennials in 2013 were 43% lower than someone who was their age and working in 1995. And average student debt, has, since 2008, climbed from around $24,000 to over $37,000.
The Party’s inability to fathom this divide was most evident when Rep. Nancy Pelosi was asked about the party moving left “to a more populist message” on economic issues. The Minority Leader jumped from her seat and insisted, “I have to say, we’re capitalists, that’s just the way it is” before offering a dismissive chuckle. This is as tone deaf to the realities of real people as you can get.
Instead of a strong message that might resonate with Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and youth, we got “A Better Deal” a largely vapid, uninspiring policy initiative that was followed up with ….well nothing. Have you heard it mentioned again? At all? That was to be the launch of the Democrats big mid-term election campaign. And given the depravity of the current administration, not taking a more activist stand right now and posing a counterpoint to the GOP is an extraordinary missed opportunity.
Here Autopsy again hits the nail on the head: “For the Democratic Party, the goal of outreach cannot be only to get votes. The enduring point of community outreach is to build an ongoing relationship that aims for the party to become part of the fabric of everyday life. It means acknowledging the validity and power of people-driven movements as well as recognizing and supporting authentic progressive community leaders. It means focusing on how the party can best serve communities, not the other way around. Most of all, it means persisting with such engagement on an ongoing basis, not just at election time.” Like maybe asking Democrats to take to the streets on New Years’ Day. Or to stay home on Jan. 2 and do nothing but call friends to encourage increased activism.
And so I return to the question that introduced this blog: Where is the Democratic Party leadership advancing a bold vision in between election cycles? Where is their call to action? And to be clear, a call to action is not an email asking me to contribute to the Party or to a specific campaign. While the Democratic Party seems to have no ideas, ironically, yesterday afternoon I received the following from one of our subscribers, Cristy Holden.
“In a capitalist system where the flow of money equates power, the people have always had the power. In addition to nonviolent acts of civil disobedience, a work stoppage of 3 days will bring great awareness. At the same time, ask all who resist the corrupt government and economic system to simply not pay credit card bills, mortgage bills, insurance bills for one month. Pick a month, promote this monetized resistance action and watch the corporate world go crazy. Yes, there will be minor “late fees”; but the system will grind to a halt as the beast of capitalism turns on itself. The people have always had the power to bring government to a stop. The question is, do we have the will to do so.”
The will may be lying dormant ready to erupt, but for now we don’t seem to have the leadership to catalyze an eruption. Thank you, Cristy, for making that obvious. Over the coming weeks, we will have more and more on specific ways in which we can coax leadership out of a tepid party and/or take the reins ourselves. Suggestions?
Paul & Roxanne