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.

Local Man Who Pulled Out Has No Intention of Accepting the Consequences

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Local Man (shown above) pulled out earlier today, and has no intention of giving the consequences of his actions a second thought going forward.

Washington, D.C. — Earlier today a Local Man took absolutely zero precautions, nor will take any responsibility for the resulting developments after “pulling out.” Instead he refocused attention later on by commenting on the substantial growth that will occur by pulling out.

“Tremendous, tremendous progress, we’re growing so hard, and we’re going to grow even harder after pulling out”, said the Man in characteristic bluster.

Continuing, he added that he will “begin negotiations to re-enter”, although several nearby seemed skeptical that this was in good faith. According to several sources, there is little interest on either side.

“I promised I would pull out months ago, and I have fulfilled that promise.” 

Despite following through on earlier promises, studies show that pulling out and praying is the least successful method of avoiding disastrous or unintended consequences, both because science exists, and it is quite clear in the Old Testament and theological scholarship that God intended people to be stewards over creation, and co-creators if possible, especially in the areas of the new, living, and thriving, rather than the dead and buried.

When Local Man was asked whether he would offer support just in case predictable consequences did arise, the man responded: “Covfefe! I’ll be dead so the answer is no and it won’t matter.”

This journalist can be reached for comment at {redacted} or {redacted}. 

Conversations with the Ghost of America’s Future Past

America's Future Past
Carson and Troy bring you a dispatch from the future, discussing what happened to produce the inverse of a complete GOP majority.

The Scene and Setting: cultural treasure (in progressive-populist circles) Carson Starkey gets off-stage after introducing Bruce Springsteen to a crowd in San Francisco. The Bay Area is one of the thriving cultural centers of the People’s Republic of California, the first modern-day state to secede from the United States of America just after Trump’s re-election in 2020. He joins Troy Olson, on assignment from his home in Harlem to build diplomatic ties to the land with the 4th largest GDP in the world.

The Democrats have recently won complete control of all levels of government after the 2028 Presidential, Congressional, and State Elections. Carson and Troy reminisce on how it all happened.

**********

Troy

So what just happened there? What’s your take Professor Starkey?

(note: Carson recently took a job at a Twin Cities area university, his favorite course is an elective on “American History as Told By the Music of Bruce Springsteen”)

Carson

Well, Hillary took a teaching job at Columbia, and avoided public endorsements, which allowed Seth Moulton to become governor of Massachusetts. Keith Ellison became Minnesota’s first black senator after Al Franken retired to become senior producer at Saturday Night Live. Tulsi Gabbard took legislating seriously, stopped surfing, and co-authored Medicaid-for-all w/ Kirsten Gillibrand.

Troy

You’re maybe giving too much credit to the winning team here. I attribute these historic wins for the Democrats to GOP incompetence. Who knew their policies would be widely disliked and disastrous for the country? Well… you knew.

Carson

That’s true. Life got hard for a lot of cable news viewers when they lost SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and minimum wage laws.

Troy

It also helped that rural monopolies by cable companies pushed prices to over $100 per month when they could have just had Netflix for $9 per month. Did these companies really think that no millennials would tell their parents to downsize in this area?

Carson

Right. Disastrous policies forced some hard choices on boomer parents. Some folks lost their Fox News fix.

Troy

The two-front war in Syria and Iran certainly didn’t help in the ’22 midterms (historical note: the first decent cycle per expectations in a decade for the Democratic Party). They should have pursued a draft but of course that would have led to even worse results at the ballot box.

Carson

The National Guard wasn’t ready. Also Republicans shouldn’t have run Dakota Meyer for President in 2024. His limited policy knowledge was surpassed only by Bristol Palin’s ugly bigotry.

Troy

They definitely over-estimated how much Trump had prepared the country for ugly bigotry… at some point people were going to get sick of it. It did not help that golden boys J.D. Vance was unable to beat Sherrod Brown for the Senate, and Tim Tebow was still trying to play professional sports (as of this writing: Tebow is under contract with the Las Vegas Raiders and is likely to be cut this fall)…

Carson

Sherrod Brown…forgot about him after he retired from the Senate to be a Supreme Court Justice. But we finally prioritized the judiciary.

Troy

(Continuing)… Donald Trump Jr’s failed term as Governor of New York didn’t help. Who knew New York state could do so much worse than Andrew Cuomo?

Carson

Lessons learned I suppose.

Troy

Speaking of Cuomo, worst presidential campaign in modern history? 2020. Wow. 5th in the Iowa Caucus.

Carson

He wasted 30 million dollars on campaign ads touting his fleet of collector cars. The donors were furious. But Cuomo moved to Goldman Sachs and soldiered on.

Troy

That’s a write-off for them made easy after the Supreme Court extended the privileges and immunities clause to corporations in the early 2020’s.

**********

Carson

The DNC finally got out of the way of President Sanders, perhaps it was the overwhelming numbers and widespread misery.

Troy

I had my doubts if we were ever going to move on from a one party GOP state, especially after California became its own Republic. Which deep down had to burn many Texans because they didn’t get there first.

Carson

One of the few places capable of that course of action economically. Silicon Valley refused to relocate, it made sense. Regarding Texas, Governor Ted Cruz was unpersuasive.

Troy

Of course the downside to California leaving was that we were officially passed in GDP by China… but I imagine hysterical white people think it’s worth it. Demographic majorities for another decade or so.

Carson

That coal industry recovery never happened.

Troy

Didn’t need to. Trump correctly assumed that those voters would never vote for a Democrat anyway. The real question I have is–how long will these new majorities last and will they finally go after the needed big reforms?

Carson

Medicare-for-all would be a good escalation.

Troy

Let’s hope lessons have been learned. Now is the time. Although I have my doubts majority leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi will push hard enough for it.

Carson

Paired with universal basic income it may be hard. I suppose the revenue for those policies hinge on the corporate repatriation. Which Schumer and Durbin oppose with a bigger cut in the rates.

Troy

So admittedly, I was wrong about that “permanent” minority leader status. Apparently negative 30 favorability ratings nationally do not translate locally. Either way, it has been a lonely White House for President Sanders, not unlike Trump with the GOP.

Carson

The infrastructure is still not there, and he is not built for grandiose moments in the spotlight.

Troy

Fair point. The race is already on for who succeeds him. Do we swing back toward centrist-corporatist-neoliberals? A progressive heir? Does this growing Millennial Party that was willing to follow as long as Sanders got nominated but now is furious because they still have no place in electoral politics unless they run as Republicans bolt?

Carson

Larry David keeps making fun of Sanders, but it isn’t as funny as 2016.

Troy

Everyone looks old and tired. We’re bogged down in 4 fronts now (Afghanistan-Iraq-Syria-Iran), and despite the best efforts of the Sanders administration, we’ll soon enter our 29th straight year at war without a draft… it seems insane.

Carson

There’ll be some super attractive Iran War vet with a square jaw and two kids that runs against Tom Cotton. And progressives will soon be placated with Center for American Progress think tank jobs. The ebb and flow of the game I suppose…

Troy

So I guess we’ve answered the question. We’ll lose our majorities in the ’30 midterms, meaning we blow a redistricting year, and can look forward to President Tom Cotton. Or President Rubio because it’s now a tradition that we pick him to win. Like Chris Berman picking the 49ers vs. the Bills in the Super Bowl for 13 straight years.

Carson

It is fitting that his nickname is Boomer. BA in history from Brown in ’77, which of course leads to a major job in broadcasting for reasons. Meanwhile, no amount of doctoral degrees, community involvement, subsequent pounding of pavement was able to similarly convince the powers that be otherwise about the younger cohorts.

Troy

The game is the game.

Carson

Absolutely, the game is the game.

Troy

And it is a horrible, god-awful game.