Home > Uncategorized > What Direction Forward for the Democrats? – posted 5/21/2017 and published in the Concord Monitor on 5/27/2017

What Direction Forward for the Democrats? – posted 5/21/2017 and published in the Concord Monitor on 5/27/2017

With so much focus on the Trump presidency and its daily spectacle, it is easy to overlook the dilemma of the Democrats. The Democrats are having an identity crisis. It is not clear where the Democratic Party is heading and what kind of Democratic Party will emerge.

I do not think the question of what kind of Democratic Party we need gets asked enough. Maybe some Democrats just want to be a big tent that is not Republican with no further self-definition.

While according to a new Gallup poll, Trump has a 38% favorability rating which is one of the lowest a president has ever had, especially early in a presidency, Democrats’ poll numbers are equally bad. The Democratic Party has a 40% favorability rating. The Democrats’ favorability rating has dropped 5% since the November election.

More people now identify as independents than as Republicans or Democrats.

The opinion that the Democrats are out of touch is widespread. In a different poll authorized by the Washington Post, only 28% of those polled felt the Democrats were in touch with the concerns of most people in the United States today. Among Democrats themselves, 44% felt the Party was out of touch.

Certainly the accuracy of any poll can be disputed but by any objective standard, the Democrats are weak. All the losses speak for themselves. The Democrats have been losing badly for some time now, especially in rural America.

To think it is enough to be simply anti-Trump would be a big mistake. There are many possible ways to oppose but opposition to Trump alone guarantees nothing about the Democrats’ future prospects.

Looking at statements made since the election by Democratic Party leaders, I find the Party lacking in genuine self-reflection. I would begin with the previous standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton. In her public statements and apparently in her upcoming book, Secretary Clinton faults Russian meddling in the election, former FBI Director Comey’s actions, Wikileaks’ theft of emails from her campaign chair, John Podesta, and misogyny as the reasons for her loss.

So far nothing has been articulated about the role of the DNC and the failure of the Democrats to highlight a resonant message for how the election of Democrats would change the lives of ordinary Americans.

Sadly, and I speak as a progressive Democrat, I do not think the Democratic Party establishment gets it. They do not grasp what went wrong in 2016. Right now I would say there is a good chance that in spite of widespread revulsion to Trump, the Democrats could blow it again.

At the outset, let me say that this is not about Hillary versus Bernie. That is water under the bridge. There are no doubt hard feelings on both sides but that is the past and the Party needs to move on.

So what is the Party not getting? I think it is a matter of vision and self-definition. The Party does not clearly stand for anything. Even with its silos of position papers, it lacks a bold vision. No one can really say what the Democratic Party would want America to look like in 2050.

Although it has a history of being the political party allegedly representing the little guy, in 2016 it gave up on being a party of change. Instead, Democrats were widely viewed as the status quo party.

Democrats allowed Trump and the Republicans to define themselves as a party of change. Stealing the mantle of change was shrewd campaign strategy and the Democrats never grasped the harm.

The absurdity of the Republicans as a change political party cannot be emphasized enough. The Republicans have always represented the interests of the 1%, the most conservative billionaires. No amount of public relations will ever change that.

In an era defined by economic inequality, the Democrats have failed to recognize the economic desperation of masses of working people, including those in rural America. This desperation has been right under their noses but, with some notable exceptions, they have missed it. Clinton’s failure to even campaign in Wisconsin maybe be the best single example of this cluelessness.

It should probably not need to be said but for the last 40 years, the American working class was hammered by our own corporate class who closed up shop and sent jobs to cheap labor in the Third World. That was all about maximizing profit at the expense of American workers. So many of the previously good-paying union jobs disappeared and when jobs have been replaced too often they are low-paying Mcjobs. Economic mobility has declined, especially for those lacking a college degree.

Instead of representing the interests of working people, the Democrats have too often acted as representatives of the prosperous professional class or of liberal billionaires. The Democrats failed to show working people both that they understood the misfortune inflicted or that they cared about it.

I see the last election as a smackdown on the Democrats for their elitism. Even though Trump is a phony populist who will not deliver for working people, many were willing to roll the dice and bet on him because at least he promised change. He talked a good game about forgotten Americans even though he is a con man of the first rank.

So what would a pro-worker agenda look like? It is not just a laundry list of issues like $15 an hour minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, Medicare-for-all health insurance, expanded union and worker rights and free college tuition at public colleges and universities. It is more of an outlook of caring and concern for hardworking Americans wherever they are. Whether you are white, black, Latino, or Asian, it does not matter. Democrats need to leave behind the division between red states and blue states. The Party needs to care about working people issues in all 50 states.

There is a need for the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for our own hollowed out economy that rebuilds infrastructure and cares about the many places in America that have been neglected. This needs to be done with an ecological awareness too.

While the FDR coalition is a long time ago, Democrats could learn from that historical experience. There was a reason working people loyally supported FDR for years. He did much to support them. Hope will replace economic fatalism when Democrats have a vision, outlook and agenda that genuinely speaks to the needs of the masses of Americans.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. paul2eaglin
    May 21, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    I’m an independent so the pains of the Democrats is not my difficulty. But the puzzle to me is why the Dems seem to be reluctant to build on what appears to me to be their greatest successes. The Dems have had two presidents who served two full terms. In fact, Pres. Obama pulled off a rarity by winning more than 50% of the popular vote twice (as did Reagan before him). Pres. Clinton and Pres. Obama managed and presided over sustained economic growth. Clinton produced a surplus and left that to Dubya, while Pres. Obama managed an economy and took it from the cliffs of destruction to solid, sustained job growth that continued into Trump’s presidency.
    But I see no apparent attempts on the part of Dems to offer this as an indication of what the Dems will offer in future. In fact, the party seems to run away from Obama’s successes. Yet one sees evidence of similar Dem success at the state level. Look at California under the Dems, which gives some indication of the ability of that party to succeed in governing for the benefit of the populace by pursuing similar economic policies as did Clinton and Obama.
    The average person/voter wants success such as that. But the Dems don’t seem to have an interest in featuring their successes as evidence of what the party might do in power.

    As for your piece more generally, as I read it it occurred to me that you could say basically all the same about the GOP. What direction forward for the GOP, indeed? The question doesn’t get asked about the GOP because it is in power, and thus the presumption is that its successful acquisition of power suggests that it has a program. It does not. Trump is not a program or a plan; after all, he seems to be all over the place, subject to whoever last talked to him. He’s not wedded to any traditional GOP program, which is why so many in the GOP condemned him during the campaign. And he is the antithesis of much of what the GOP has tried to offer up as its distinctive brand, so to speak. He’s no “family values” man, for sure, and it’s risible to suggest that he is. It was hilarious to note his warm reception last weekend at Liberty University as commencement speaker, and more generally the welcoming attitude of Evangelicals toward him shows the hypocrisy of their message and the emptiness of their supposed religious/moral principles. They are about power. Because Trump as president can appoint justices to the Supreme Court, so many in the GOP who formerly portrayed themselves as principled conservatives are revealed for the hypocrites that they are.

    Paul Eaglin

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