THE COMING DEMOCRATIC WAVE: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY FOR PARTY CHANGE
There is anger in the country. The election of Doug Jones to the United States in arterial red Alabama points to this. Granted, Judge Roy Moore was likely the worst candidate fielded by Republicans since Donald J.Trump. However, unless you have been sleeping under a rock, Trump is currently President of the United States and Moore lost by a stadium’s worth of voters. Still, we are talking arterial, well oxygenated, buckle of the Bible Belt, Alabama.
There are other indicators of this. Democrats lead in the generic Democrat poll. Meaning, Republicans are not favored in 2018. then there is Virginia. Democrat Ralph Northam Won the governorship. Ed Guillespie should have done well, but he did not. This was a surprise that broke a long standing pattern in Virginia elections when power tends to go back and forth.
Most importantly, the House of Delegates is tied. It will come down to chance. The last race is literally tied. The electoral map in both Virginia and Alabama betrays some of the story. It was, like the 2016 election, a story of urban vs rural voters. But it was also a suburban revolt. Many of Trump voters were found in suburban areas of the interior of the country. Trump won with that vote and working class whites in places like Wisconsin. A year later a similar group of voters rejected the G.O.P.
So many political observers are now declaring a Democratic wave in the making. There are more reasons for that. Americans are not happy with Republican policies. They see the rejection of net neutrality, the tax cut and the repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act as those favoring the extremely well to do. Moreover, the president has such low polling that he has yet to break out of his true base. Nor does he seem to care.
How Is This a Missed Opportunity?
This should be a moment for the other party to offer a vision. They are not. They are running on a platform of we are running against Trump and Republicans. They seem to be imitating Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who famously said they were going to make Barack Obama a one-term President. This seems to be the goal for Democrats.
This lack of vision is a problem, and could diminish the size of the wave. It is also the problem Republicans had in 2010. They ran against the Affordable Care Act, but once they got into power it was a mystery what they were going to do that was positive. That said, they knew they wanted to capture the tiger, and were willing to do anything to do that. However, once they got it by the tail the only thing they could do was oppose all Democrats, and chiefly Obama wanted.
That was not a positive governing philosophy, and now that they have captured both the White House and the Hill they have been pretty ineffective as a governing group. Granted, they managed to pass a tax cut that will blow up the deficit to the tune of $1.5 trillion dollars, and incidentally will lead to austerity in all areas of life, including Social Security and Medicate. Republicans might be close to achieving their goal of destroying the New Deal, which they have pursued for 70 years.
In a way, paralyzed Neoliberal Democrats are the best allies in this that Republicans could have. They are running on we oppose what Republicans are doing. Fine, we get it. What are Democrats running for?
Over the last year, Democrats have spent a lot of time in the Russia intervention in American politics. We all know the Russians did it. That is not a political platform. It is a legal matter, it should be pursued, and the Special Counsel should doggedly go where the evidence takes him. However, that does not make a governing platform.
Defending the New Deal has been more something Democrats say they do and less something they actually do. This has been the case for years. Partly, there is no belief among many leading upper tier Democrats in the safety net, as weak as it is. It is part of the Democratic myth, but not truly the reality.
Workers rights are in a similar plight. Democrats in Congress might claim they want workers to organize, and to fight for a livable wage. However, actions have spoken louder than words. These range from the failure to repeal Taft Hartley, passed in 1947 by a Republican House and Senate, to the failure to enact card check, never carried out. It was a campaign promise by Senator Barack Obama. As president he became silent on the matter.
So what are Democrats in the modern day stand for? The issues were released partially in the DNC autopsy. The document itself is damning. It speaks to a few facts that Democrats in leadership are having an issue with. This from the executive summary should offer some starting points for useful discussion:
We are emphasizing the populism section for a reason. These are:
• The Democratic Party’s claims of fighting for “working families” have been undermined by its refusal to directly challenge corporate power, enabling Trump to masquerade as a champion of the people. “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.”
• “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.”
> • “After a decade and a half of nonstop warfare, research data from voting patterns suggest that the Clinton campaign’s hawkish stance was a political detriment in working-class communities hard-hit by American casualties from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
• “Operating from a place of defensiveness and denial will not turn the party around. Neither will status quo methodology.”
The last point is critical. Democratic middle class, coastal elites are still in denial of what happened. They cannot believe, let alone understand, why people are not into their version of the party that much. Yes, the party has lost over 1000 legislative seats since 2008, and also lost the White House to the worst candidate ever. Yet, many in that party elite still blame the voters.
Why? This is a critical question they refuse to even ponder upon. Perhaps it is because they really do not want to admit the answer. The party of the people is no longer the party of the people. It is, like Republicans, a party that serves the same moneyed elite that they are part off.
Mind you, we are not talking of your average working class member of a city council, though that is changing as well. We are talking of the stratosphere of party leadership. We are talking of people like Robbie Mook, who ran the war room for Hillary Clinton, and all his strategy was based on mathematics and analytics. Indeed, we are also talking of Hillary Clinton herself, who used some classic examples of faux populism and identity politics during the campaign. They ranged from a southern drawl, to a bottle of hot sauce in her handbag during the primaries.
The people at the highest levels of the party socialize with the same people who donate money to them, and Republicans. They go to the same schools and do not share the same exact anxieties as the people who rejected them in 2016.
Yes, the middle class people living in the suburbs of Wisconsin were better educated than the poor coal miners in Virginia. Yet, they share something in common, why they voted for Trump. They both lost jobs. Whether this is to a changing economy (a factor), or not is immaterial. People were ready for the message of a populist, and this is why Senator Bernie Sanders did well with those same voters, and why I was not surprised that Trump did well with them either. I know that I am rare when I write this, but I was all but shocked at the results of the election.
Democrats have an opportunity to remake themselves. To do that they need to leave the rarified social circles they like. They need to get down to the dinners, and Union halls they once actually believed in, and listen. They also need to go to the PTA in Racine Wisconsin and talk to mothers and fathers about college, and grandma. They also need to start believing in government again. It is not the problem, as Ronald Reagan once said, nor is the era of big government over, as Bill Clinton quipped a few years later. In order to lift millions out of poverty we need government, good government.
Some of the things that Democrats will have to decide is how to switch back on the idea that public education matters. I mean, it is not like Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has not been attacking it in Chicago. While Democrats are big critics of school choice in the Federal Government, they are fans of it locally as well. That double view has to stop. You either defend the public system, or you do not. Pick a lane.
Democrats are starting to make noise about single payer. Never mind that this was never allowed onto the table during the debate leading to the ACA. Yes, it works. Yes, healthcare is a sixth of the American economy. But you cannot be a fan of it only when you are out of power. You have to fight for it when you are in power, and face your donors.
Higher ed, is another area. It is at the heart of middle class discontent in suburban districts. Mind you, many in the elite of both parties went to college when it was still affordable, to nearly free. However, it is out of reach for most middle class families. Investing in college educated youth is not just about those young people’s present. It is about the future of the country. We will not be able to maintain a leadership position in the world without an educated workforce.
Incidentally, the present tax cut is a perfect opportunity to point out many of these things. When a school teacher cannot deduct the markers she buys for her class (wait, why is a teacher doing that, our tax money should fund that) is a perfect opportunity. So is the fact that private university attendees, most from the top tier of American life, will be able to deduct their education. However, graduate students will have to pay for grants.
What Democrats continue to miss is a coherent philosophy. Party platforms are hardly that. Why? They have the force of the tissue paper they are printed on. So here are some suggestions.
* Do not run from populism. Some populism is a good thing. See New Deal, War on Poverty.
* Do not run from a role of government in American life. We need to return, not run away, from 20h century mid-century liberalism.
* The market is not the answer to all problems, this is part of the Neoliberal creed, reflected in Bill Clinton’s dictum that the era of big government is over.
* We need to confront income inequality head on. Some policies that will help are indeed investments in education from pre-K to Post Docs. Others include strengthening the rights of labor to organize, card check will be a good start. Repeating Taft-Hartley should finally be done.
* Single Payer is the solution to many of the problems in American medicine. So is regulating the cost of medicines. Both will be opposed by powerful special interests with the siren call of money spent on campaigns.
* Don’t talk infrastructure. Invest in infrastructure.
* Banking needs to be further regulated, not deregulated as Republicans want to do. Own to the mistake of getting rid of Glass-Steegal under Bill Clinton’s presidency as well.
Yes, we expect a Democratic Wave. The conditions are ripe for it. But that will not last as long as Democrats do not rethink much of their philosophy. The country is in the midst of a political realignment. This means that both right wing parties will have to change. One will be pulled left. Which one is still a good question.
Wave elections cannot become permanent majorities for either party until things that the people want are done. None of the things I espoused above are unpopular. That is unless you are in the top one percent that benefits from the current order.
Incidentally, due to the tax cut I expect to see what we have seen every time after trickle down is passed. We will see a slow down in the economy. We may also see a recession, how deep time will tell. That is also another opportunity to embrace some measured populism. This recession will aso lead to an open attack on the New Deal. Time will tell if history forces the kind of political realignment that 1929 brought, and at what price.