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

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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)

 

Iowa Results: What They Mean

by Troy M. Olson

Generations Pol. Cartoon

(Part One of Two)

2016 Iowa caucus results: 

Hillary Clinton won by a coin toss (figuratively speaking, but potentially literally depending on who you ask) last night, Bernie Sanders outperformed his poll numbers to gain a delegate and statistical tie, Ted Cruz becomes the evangelical candidate of this cycle, and Marco Rubio is the “comeback kid” of the night. The real story though? Two things: one, I am right about the 2016 Presidential Election, so far. Two, the Bernie Sanders candidacy represents the beginning of the “Millennial Consensus.”

Breaking down the results, there has been a lot of digital ink spilled alright, and as usual, 90 percent of it has been hyperbole. To the best of my abilities and as objective as I can be, here is what I think the 2016 Iowa Presidential Caucus results mean, and what they don’t mean.

What The Results Mean:

Bernie Sanders, as a candidate, but more importantly, his message, issues, and voter coalition – represent the beginning of the “Millennial Consensus”

There was a clear generational divide last night within the Democratic Party. Over-40 Democrats went easily for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders won under-40 Democrats, and especially under-30 Democrats by a landslide. Only time will tell for certain, but it has already been argued that Sanders changed the Democratic Party last night. I agree.

The Democratic Party has been hemorrhaging older voters and been solidly winning younger voters for quite awhile now. Yet, the leadership of the Democratic Party, both politically and in public office is far older and considerably less diverse than the coalition that has supported them. This is a problem. And it will continue to manifest itself if not corrected. However, the politics and policies of Bernie Sanders, like Barack Obama before him, have had a lasting pull on young people, especially a generation who is constantly derided in the media by the generations in power.

This does not mean I think Bernie Sanders will win. I predicted at the end of last year that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President. I predict she will also be the next President, and I further predict that the Democratic Party will sink to its lowest lows in over 100 years within the next half-decade. While they do not have the voter coalition to match, Democrats would be wise to follow what they GOP has done the last few cycles – recruit and encourage younger candidates en masse to run for office.

Hillary Clinton’s voting coalition and the establishment that backs it proves that the ruling Baby Boomer Generation is still very much in charge of the Democratic Party. While Baby Boomers also still run the Grand Ole Party, the establishment’s grasp on power is slipping further by the day and unlike the last few cycles, the GOP has many younger Generation X candidates that will help their party get a bit younger while the Democrats trot out the same faces we have seen for years.

Bernie Sanders has injected important issues into the race, but at 74 years old he is a poor vessel to accomplish and implement these changes. Rather, Bernie may just end up being the Barry Goldwater of the left. When Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, mere years after he was considered too conservative and too radical by the DC Beltway and political establishment, many movement conservatives credited the failed Goldwater ’64 candidacy as being historically necessary to wrestle the mainstream of the Republican Party away from the Northeast, moderate-to-liberal, Rockefeller wing of the party.

If the Democratic Party is to ever again reach the heights of FDR’s New Deal, Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, Johnson’s Great Society, and the large congressional majorities that accompanied those years, they need to first decide what type of party they are going to be. They need to go through that intra-party, soul-searching battle like the Republicans did in 1964.

I don’t think Bernie Sanders can win (the reasons why to be explained in Part Two of this article), but he can be the prophetic candidate that makes winning possible down the road.

On the GOP side, Marco Rubio, by peaking at the right time and surpassing expectations, is now the front-runner. People on the Street, defense contractors, and “chicken-hawk” advocates for the Iran War from 2017 to 2029 (or 2021 to 2033) can rest easy. The GOP establishment has a viable candidate that is actually winning some votes.

Yes, it’s true Ted Cruz won the Iowa Republican Presidential Caucus. This means he is likely to be the Rick Santorum (2012) and Mike Huckabee (2008) of this cycle. Cruz will finish with either the 2nd or 3rd most delegates when it is all said and done. Even a solid victory in South Carolina will not make Ted Cruz the GOP favorite. He faces a fundamental problem. No one likes him. He inspires no love. And only in the days of the smoke-filled rooms at the convention where a dozen or so people chose the nominee of their party can someone so fundamentally unloved and widely disliked become a major party nominee for President.

If you want a more empirical basis for how hard of a road it will be Cruz, consider the fact that the blue, delegate-rich states are that way in both parties. There are more delegates to net in Florida, California, Texas, New York, etc. than Iowa, South Carolina, and SEC primary states that Cruz is likely to do well in. Evangelicals may make up a sizable part of the Republican Primary electorate if they show up, but they are only influence makers that are part of a strategy, they cannot be the strategy to winning the nomination. Outside of his home state of Texas, does anyone think Cruz beats Rubio or Trump, who has the highest name recognition in a large state?

I’m not saying Cruz has no chance, I’m saying his “slight” upset win over the Donald, does not make him the front-runner, and he has a long road to the nomination still.

One factor that plays in Cruz’s favor, is the stubbornness of the Duke of Bullingdon. Jeb Bush received less than 3 percent of the vote last night. He should probably drop out now, but he won’t because he can’t. His stubbornness will cost the GOP greatly if it drags on past a 5th place or worse NH primary finish.

Really, if he doesn’t finish ahead of Rubio in NH, or even Kasich, he needs to drop out. A surprise finish in NH can keep John Kasich’s campaign going, because he is largely undefined to the electorate, but Bush needs a huge “comeback kid” moment. His performance all year has been lackluster and confusing. It would be a shame and deeply unpatriotic of Jeb to keep dragging this out in an “outlast everyone because I’m a Duke” strategy, especially in a year where there is fundamentally more energy on the GOP side. Their chances, if they nominate someone like Rubio or Kasich, are pretty much a 50-50 proposition historically.

Last night, over 187,000 turned out to caucus on the GOP side, while about 140,000 turned out on the Democratic side. Granted, the GOP has a million candidates and the Democrats had three, but the possibility for an enthusiasm gap looms large for November.

The Field Matters Most (for the 100th time).

Donald Trump reportedly spent as much on those “Make America Great Again” hats as he did on his field organization. In close races, and especially close races at the Iowa Caucus, organization matters. While the polling could have been off, Trump under-performed his polling by 8 points. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders outperformed his poll numbers, that is what a good organization is able to do. Hillary’s field effort was also reportedly far better than it was in 2007-08.

A good field and turnout effort can make all the difference in a close race. One of the reasons Obama beat Clinton eight years ago was because his organization was better. The strategy was better. Chalk this up to the fact that Trump knows less about American politics than a sophomore political science major. I’ve worked with candidates who spent lots of money and time on stuff that does not matter. Do yard signs, hats, swag help with name recognition? Yes, a little bit. Especially if you don’t have it. However, nearly everyone in the country, especially people who never think about politics, knows who Donald Trump is. He is a celebrity candidate in an age where the distinction between entertainment and politics is growing thin. He did not need to invest half a million dollars on hats. But I digress.

Tomorrow I will post my thoughts on “What The Results Do Not Mean.” Here is a preview:

 

  1. That Bernie Sanders should be considered the favorite (he is still very much the underdog)
  2. That Hillary Clinton is in trouble (she’s not)
  3. That Donald Trump is done (as long as he wins the NH Primary, he is still very much in the race because of near-universal name recognition)
  4. That the establishment of both parties, and therefore the Washington D.C. to Wall Street nexus is in trouble (they’re not, it’s not)