The Democratic Party – An Identity Crisis

WTF
Sadly, this is not from the Onion. This was a genuine attempt at messaging from the DCCC. Folks, we’ve got some work to do….

An exchange I had on January 19th, 2017 in front of the Trump building where tens of thousands of New Yorkers gathered on the last night of the Obama Presidency and before the Trump Presidency began.

Me: No, no I’m not interested in the third party option, for a variety of reasons there are too many obstacles to that. We’ve gotta reform the Democratic Party from within and/or take it over.

Activist: Yeah, good luck with that…

When history is written, I’ll probably end up being on the wrong side of the argument, at least the had on January 19th. That is, I will be if things don’t change in a hurry.

While no analysis of how we got here is perfect (although the impeccable “Listen, Liberal!” by Thomas Frank gets close), here is my quick rundown of the top ten “Shatter-points” in the history of the Democratic Party that got them to this point. This is meant to be observational. I morally agree with a few of these developments (Civil Rights and Voting Rights, the need to protest and end the Vietnam War).

  1. Taft-Hartley (1948) | Right-to-work legislation is now on the table and begins in earnest.
  2. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act (LBJ’s quote: “we’ve just lost the south for a generation.” That proved to be mostly true, as no Democrat was able to win a national election without hailing from the south until Barack Obama won with parts of the “new south” like Virginia and North Carolina).
  3. Assassinations of 1960s political and moral leaders (JFK, Bobby, MLK Jr., Malcolm X, Fred Hampton).
  4. The Vietnam War (Considerable domestic unrest, a significant generational divide reared its head during 1968, not unlike what happened last year.  The ’68 campaign cycle is still above and beyond ’16, which was more so depressing because of most of the candidates, and the way the media covered the campaigns, etc.)
  5. Rejecting figures like Ralph Nader (who at one time was one of the most admired figures in America in the late 60’s/early 70’s) and small-d democracy in general. Not putting Nader on the ’72 ticket was but an illustration, the more precise problem was pushing his mindset out of the party in general. There is no doubt the ’72 defeat was crushing, but the Democratic Party overreacted to it. McGovern did not lose because he was too far left (political scientists keep telling the spectrum is real, but ask the average voter and they’ll look puzzled), he lost because he was not a good national candidate, ran a bad campaign, and was facing the best and most shrewd politician of his generation in Nixon. Did you see the GOP overreact and moderate themselves in the long run after Barry Goldwater was crushed in ’64? No. They stuck to their principles and in the long run were rewarded for it).
  6. Carter bailing on labor, Clinton bailing on labor. (Both post-New Deal-era Democratic Presidents hailed from the south, which was never a strong base for organized labor, but that doesn’t excuse the party becoming less and less friendly to one of its most reliable constituencies historically. Free trade policies like NAFTA ensured organized labor had no place to go in American politics and that their long decline would continue. Labor today stands at just over 11 percent (from a point where 1/3 of all workers belonged to a union, as high as 40% in the manufacturing belt of the Midwest and Great Lakes states at on time) and just like the post-NAFTA era, stands at a crossroads themselves.
  7. Clinton triangulating on a plethora of bad policies that directly punishes reliable democratic constituencies (NAFTA, Crime Bill, Ending Welfare as we know it, Financial De-Regulation, and Telecommunications De-Regulation all but ensuring the AM talk radio and cable news dominance for the next generation). At the end of the day, Bill Clinton (both his direct influence and mindset) deserves a lot of blame for some incredibly short-term thinking that may have benefited his popularity personally and politically at the time, but in the long run ruined the Democratic Party. There may be a lot of ink spent on how many seats were lost during the Obama years, but the damage was already done, and former President Barack Obama mostly inherited a Clintonian Democratic Party that was built around Bill and built around Hillary taking over the White House in a Clinton restoration in 2008…or 2016…or 2020?
  8. Doubling-down on the Corporate Alliance (Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Auto, Big Tech, Big Everything, against the Little People) In the late 70s the Democratic Party began openly courting corporate sources for campaign funding. One of the key issues that gave Obama momentum during the ’08 primary was refusing Super-PAC money early on. The party itself ended its ban on corporate lobbyist and Super-PAC money late in the Obama years, in anticipation of President HRC.
  9. Failing to Cultivate the Young Talent and Build the Farm from the Obama years. Ultimately, it was the ground effort and labor of the millennial generation that put Obama over the top in Iowa in 2008 and then in the general election. The Democratic Party has failed to cultivate its young leaders, paying only lip service to this. “Lip service” is a continuing theme with the Democratic Party of the 21st century. Whether it is about the problems facing an indebted (both student and public) generation, ending forever war, the corporate takeover of the country, or racial equity. What strong talk there is on these issues is often not backed up by strong actions. The proof is in the outcomes.
  10. And finally, yes, I’m sorry, but going with Clinton over Sanders was a mistake. (It is my belief that Bernie Sanders, if nominated, would have won, and his coattails could have been substantial, perhaps saving the party from the rock bottom that this website has consistently predicted was around the corner. The Democratic Party should have listening to its younger members which overwhelming went with Sanders across-the-board, the members they have failed to cultivate, and in-fact are more likely to attack these days.)
Sigh...
What could have been.

And as a bonus: lets be honest — there simply is no “membership” in the Democratic Party.

Populism is associated with President Trump right now, and that is a shame. Because populism isn’t so much a political ideology, it is a mode and theory of who is going to be empowered and where influence will come from and be most respected.

The simplest explanation of how we got to where we are is the GOP embracing its populist movements, no matter how uncomfortable it may have made the GOP elites, and the Democratic Party refusing to embrace its own populist movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Depressing turnout among the progressive base and youth, and running campaigns that are characterized more so by what you are not, rather than what you are and what you stand for, and will do, is what has created the current situation. The voices and so-called membership of the Democratic Party refuse to listen and simply do not get it. Anyone who has attended fundraisers or meetings knows what I’m talking about. It’s a very top-down led party that does not deal with criticism well and as is incredibly evident in 2017–refuses to do the soul searching that is necessary after historical defeats.

In addition to this top-down, failed strategy, the Democratic Party has become a “fundraising machine” of coastal elites.

If it wants to survive — it has to become a movement. It must embrace movement progressivism in the same way the GOP embraced movement conservatism.

If you think I’m being too harsh, come back next week as I take down the GOP from top to bottom. I’m writing these words out of love for my country and its people. Any political system that produces these results must be thoroughly analyzed and criticized across the board.

This is not about Hillary Clinton (who full disclosure, I fully expect will run again in 2020 because my wife has a bizarre track record of being right about these things). In a lot of ways and in some parts of the country, HRC is more popular than the party brand itself. Take a look at the 30 million dollar special election in Georgia. Jon Ossoff, a millennial, who ran on meaningless platitudes of everything being “connected”, the need cut wasteful spending, all while refusing to endorse popular policies progressives and other Americans support like single payer, tax hikes on the wealthy, and ending big money in politics. Ossoff, despite all of the money and the attention, lost by a larger margin than Hillary did in the district. The Democrats have tried to message these closer losses than before as “moral victories” rather than an indictment of establishment politics, corporate neoliberalism, or the generational and ruling class consensus. I’m sure Jon is a nice guy, but there will be no big millennial turnout to reverse the direction of the country if millennials are not allowed to run on what most millennials actually prefer. If young candidates run to please the establishment and status quo it won’t work.

But lets end with something productive — where do we go from here? There are two paths the progressive movement can go, and the answer can be BOTH.

 

Plan A: Take the grassroots movement, and eventually go through the Democratic Party as the vessel (50 states, 3000 counties, primary corporate Democrats, and don’t listen to the Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi’s of the world, etc.)

Plan B: The viable third party movement path (a combination of Draft Bernie for a People’s Party, adding and creating a coalition with WFP, who exist in 13 states, the Green Party, Progressive Democrats of America, and non-party affiliated issue-based movements, in addition to realizing the two fundamental loopholes the two party system has never covered up: 1. There is nothing that binds a state or local party org to its national organization. In other words, if progressives takeover the Wyoming Democratic Party, they can later attach themselves to the People’s Party AND 2. Just because a progressive candidate goes through the Democratic or Republican primaries to win, does not mean they have to continue to stay there. If turncoats like the IDC in New York state can block needed electoral and voting reforms, single-payer healthcare in NY State, why not just pull off the opposite?)

I’ll end with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s 8 point plan for a new Democratic Party (pay close attention to number 8)

1. Overhaul the DNC
2. Embrace populism
3. Mobilize, energize and educate the base
4. Expose Trump as a fraud
5. Focus on 2018 now
6. Look to the state and local level
7. Protect groups threatened by Trump
8. Failing all else, look outside the party

We will disagree in many measures, but one thing we all must agree on is this — “change will not come from the Democratic Party, change can only be brought to it.”

If we continue on the same path, if we listen to what Mark Penn wants to do (NY Times July 6th op-ed “Back to the Center, Democrats“), not only will Donald Trump be re-elected, but the incredibly deep bench of younger GOP national candidates could very well win in 2024.

This should go without saying but nobody should listen to Mark Penn, who is more interested in protecting his consultancy than improving outcomes for all Americans.

We should listen to the youth, and let them build a movement that has a realistic plan to deal with the dangers and realities of the 21st century.

Not just change we can believe in, but a future we can believe in.

Not just the Resistance, but Beyond Resistance.

Not just “mere politics”, but Beyond Politics, backed by a moral worldview and value-set that can then work its way toward the policies we’re fighting for and the change we need.

In Order to Win the Future — We Must Rediscover the Past

img_0411
The above photograph (courtesy of either Jacqueline Van Moer or myself…I don’t remember) is Alexander Hamilton’s “the Grange” homestead. Hamilton completed this home a few years before he was famously shot by Aaron Burr, another New Yorker, in the famous duel just across the Hudson River from where we live. Hamilton, although born elsewhere, is the quintessential first generation American. Hard-working, enterprising, ambitious, and brilliant. He served as Aide-de-camp to General Washington during the American Revolution and was our nation’s first Treasury Secretary. You may recognize him from the ten dollar bill, and now Lin Manuel Miranda’s famous musical.

Full disclosure, I’m an amateur historian. But I’ve always read and loved history. Much of my private, personal (not academic or campaign experience) political education has been learned and read through a historical lens. I’ll do my best, but I’m no pro.

Agreeing Loudly dot com introduces you to two new historical series; one that will be locally-based, at least my version of local (New York), and the other a national story intended to give the read perspective on our ongoing, beleaguered, but bizarrely nonexistent national conversation.

I invite you all to help me out on this journey, and point things out that I am overlooking or may have missed. Give your thoughts and feedback and contribute, especially *actual* historian Allan Branstiter of “The Margin of Error” and a frequent “Agreeing Loudly” guest and contributor. As well as Justin Norris, especially for the latter half (discussed below).

Also, especially for longtime residents of NYC and NYS — feel free to join in on the conversation. Come one, come all, and bring friends.

For anyone friends, family, acquaintances, or readers that will be visiting the area — I’ll also try to use this space to recommend really good walking tours or double-decker bus tours that are affordable and valuable.

In the spirit of “piercing bubbles” I’d also like to invite any other amateur or professional historians to contribute to this site and explore their states in a similar or unique manner.

I’ll be covering the New York-focused series in two places: right here at AL.com in the form of longer articles and in more photographic and anecdotal form on Instagram @nycwalkinghistory – which will no doubt be changed to @nywalkingonhistory or @nyswalkingonhistory as goals are accomplished. What goals? Read below:

Double-decker bus tour in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

Goal — in the next three years (2017, 2018, and 2019) — my beautiful wife, Jacki, and I (and sometimes just me) will be doing a walking historical tour on the streets of every neighborhood in the five boroughs of New York City. We’ve already covered nearly every neighborhood in the Borough of Manhattan, and have been pretty decent progress in the Bronx and Brooklyn as well. In the years to come, we’ll be covering the rest of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, as well as venturing past CitiField (where the New York Mets, my National League loyalties lie there) in Queens and getting out to Staten Island.

Furthermore, and especially as we get closer to covering every neighborhood in New York City, we’ll be venturing Upstate via the Hudson Valley and into Long Island past JFK airport and be doing for the 62 Counties of New York State what we did for the neighborhoods of New York City.

counties-of-nys
Unfortunately and unfairly, New York City hogs most of attention and spotlight in the public imagination (for understandable reasons). However, there is so much history in each and every county. A lot of it — I don’t even know yet, but I’m excited to find out. In addition to NYC, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley, you’ll find seven other main regions Upstate. I speculate (and we’ll see if I’m right) that the Finger Lakes area is not too different from the Lakes Area of Minnesota where I grew up. I’m also really excited to see Buffalo, NY — and see how similar it is to Duluth, MN, my only previous exposure to a Great Lakes city outside of Chicago, IL.

The second major historical running series that will begin relatively soon is the story of US History as told through Consequential Presidential Elections.

Ideally, I’ll get a bit of an assist from resident scholar Justin Norris, Carson Starkey, Allan Branstiter, etc. for this series. Once again, I’m an amateur historian. And I’ll do my best.

There will be no schedule and the new articles will be published as they are researched, completed, and edited. No time-table and no promises. But I promise this won’t become like Aaron Gleeman’s top 40 Twins of all time series.

A brief rundown of what elections and the time periods around them that I will be researching and writing on:

1800

(Jefferson v. Adams, and the first peaceful transfer of power)

1828

(Jackson v. Quincy Adams, and beginnings of the rural Democratic Party tradition)

1860

(Lincoln v. Douglass v. Breckenridge v. Bell, and the Civil War)

1896

(McKinley v. Jennings Bryan, and Populism on the Prairie)

1912

(Wilson v. Roosevelt v. Taft, the two party system holds, and the Grand Ole Party rejects progressivism for good)

1932

(FDR vs. Hoover, the New Deal, the new policy consensus, and the leader that history called for)

1960-1964-1968

(JFK v. Nixon, LBJ v. Goldwater, Humphrey v. Nixon, a New Generation, a second New Deal, the tumultuous year that was 1968, and the beginnings of the break-up of the New Deal coalition and the New Deal itself)

1980

(Reagan vs. Carter, American Optimism, the opening of an era of boomer short-sightedness, and the beginning of the end for the New Deal)

1992

(Clinton v. H.W. Bush v. Perot, the Democratic Party sells its soul to win back the White House, betrays working people and families, and the boomer Clinton Party triumphant)

2008

(Obama vs. McCain, History made, Opportunities Missed, and the first Information Age election)

 

The Ridiculous Notion of the “Business & Industry” Candidate

 

by Troy M. Olson

fdr-cover-323

After the article: check out the Iowa-centric “Agreeing Loudly” Flagship Podcast. 

It is safe to say we’ve all underestimated the popular appeal of Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States. Left, center, or right, inside or outside the beltway, Main Street, Wall Street or Evergreen Terrace – anyone who pays nominal attention to American politics has to be somewhat surprised by his recent political fortunes. We’ll find out this week just how much that appeal in the polls translates into actual results of course, but we’ve all been just a little bit wrong about Trump.

What I’m interested in taking a look at is not so much the story this week but what the story and Trump narrative could be looking forward. Thus far, Trump’s candidacy is the closest you can get to the “internet comments” running for President. On one hand, his candidacy has been characterized as George Wallace-like in its level of cynicism. On the other hand, as Carson Starkey pointed out this week on Twitter: “Strange times when both parties feature candidates demanding fair trade, higher wages, and economic mobility.”

People forget that the ’68 Wallace candidacy featured similar xenophobia for one group (segregationists and white supremacists in the South), but economic populism for another group (working class voters in the North). Wallace carried the staunch segregationist hold-out states of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia. He was competitive in border states like Tennessee, Kentucky as well as the eastern old confederacy states of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. But where else did Wallace play outside of the South? The rust belt. Industrialized and working class states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana. With Trump as GOP nominee, this type of campaign can only take him so far. This is why I think any ultimate Trump candidacy, especially once the larger GOP establishment gets involved, will be based first and foremost, on his life spent in business. In other words: Willard Romney 2.0 Real Estate Edition.

If you are hoping for a third consecutive Democratic administration, this is a good thing. After all, how is President Willard Romney doing? Every time the GOP has trotted out the so-called “business & industry” candidate that candidate has lost and lost badly. Donald Trump, if he is the GOP nominee and if they take his message in that direction, will go into the dustbin of losing Presidential campaigns. He would be better served strategically by playing to his strengths. Many of Trump’s supporters consider him like themselves: the “unpolished” or non-political “outsider” who disdains “political correctness.”

For someone who inherited a real estate fortune via contacts, businesses, and eventually, the Trump estate itself, this is a remarkable feat that Romney could have never pulled off.

Prior to Trump, Romney and GOP establishment attempted to position Willard as the problem-solving, turnaround artist of the private sector during the 2012 Presidential Election. Romney had spent most of his career in private equity; an impenetrable and unexplainable profession disdained by most voters from both sides of the aisle. Romney came off as overly patrician, too East Coast for a modern day GOP nominee, and compounded this image with his tone deaf 47 percent gaffe at a private fundraiser in front of millionaire and billionaire funders, who did not seem to appreciate the irony that they were the biggest recipients of “welfare” in the country in the form of tax cuts, subsidies and giveaways to choice-industries, friendly inheritance and estate tax laws, and immediate access to the best accountants and tax lawyers in the country to take advantage of every last rule in our convoluted tax code.

Prior to Romney, Herbert Hoover was elected President in 1928 during an age where so-called serious people thought that “boom and bust” business cycles were a thing of the past. Hoover was an actual good version of the “business & industry” candidate image. Coming from a considerably more humble background, Hoover really did “bootstrap” himself upward to the extent that exists in a time when upward mobility, at least for those who had access to it (i.e. White Males), was actually more viable. Hoover had considerable success in the mining industry and was Secretary of Commerce during the 1920s. It seemed sensible to the GOP “Dukes and Earls” of the day to select Hoover to succeed Calvin Coolidge.

Less than a year into Hoover’s first year in office, the stock market crash, the Great Depression began, and it was the humble-pie background Herbert Hoover that played the role of the weak, apathetic, or ineffectual leader in history just prior to a great leader, FDR. Hoover’s philosophy that the economy will run and reboot itself, and that government should take little role in influencing the economy or ensure the economic security of people, fit in well with the “roaring twenties”, but became a tone-deaf, do-nothing figure during the early years of the Great Depression. It was FDR, the New Deal, and massive amounts of Government spending and Keynesian economics that characterized the years when conventional wisdom would have told us that a “business, industry, and economic” leader is needed to have a “calm and steady” hand. FDR was not only patrician, but his politics most resemble Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders today. How things have changed.  

 

So why have “business & industry” candidates or leaders fared so poorly? Mostly, it’s a complete fiction. There is no such “business” experience that prepares anyone for the U.S. Presidency. It can be part of a larger story, but it cannot be the story. Most business experiences create a knowledge of that specific industry, but not how other businesses might work and certainly not how macroeconomics works. Call it the Specialists vs. Generalists problem. 

Mr. Trump may know real estate, he may know the deal, he clearly has proven to be a great marketer of himself, but he is no business expert, and certainly no economic expert. His campaign has been razor thin on specifics, but lets look at two of them:

First, the “wall” and Trump’s plan to deport 12 million people. In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe, resulting in a considerable loss of “soft power” and respect around the world, his deportation and construction of a wall at the U.S. – Mexico border would also wreck the U.S. economy. Very few U.S. citizens are competing for the same jobs undocumented immigrants are currently doing. This labor shortage in these jobs would have a very real effect on the economy creating a “demand” problem.

Second, Trump’s proposal of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports is a pure economic fantasy. The resulting effect would not be aid to the manufacturing sector, but rather would be importing fewer goods period, which would then result in a loss of manufacturing jobs. A “supply” problem. People forget that the U.S. still manufacturers a great deal of goods, but we do it after importing cheaper raw materials, from countries like China. Trump thinks he is getting the best “deal” and doing good for American workers with this proposal. If he seriously believes that, who knows… but I always argue ignorance is more forgivable than cynicism and pandering to fears and prejudices. This proposal could have other negative effects that spill over into geo-politics. China would seek new trading partners to do business with and the second largest economy in the world would grow more isolated from the largest. Increasing tensions with China is the last thing the U.S. or China should seek in the 21st century.

Like Romney and Hoover before him, Trump would fail miserably as a “business” or “economic” expert candidate. Because he isn’t an expert at either. He is like most of us, a specialist.

Public leaders with high aspirations and ambitions should seek to be good generalists as much as possible, with a decent grasp of not just politics, but history, economics, philosophy, and the law as well, starting with the U.S. Constitution, a document I imagine Mr. Trump has never read all the way through.

The real qualities worth looking for in a President, the qualities that are transferable throughout history: leadership, judgment, and character. 

A subject for another day, perhaps further along in the primary season once we have more clarity.