Don’t Accept False Choices on The Path Forward
In the reflection of our loss, a debate has broken out within the Democratic Party about whether we focus on reconnecting with white working class voters or continue to appeal to diverse constituencies and millennials. This is a false choice — our party must be big enough to appeal to both.
I take the election results seriously. I’ve spent my career taking elections very seriously. We learned from the election that opposition to Donald Trump alone is not a sufficient organizing principle for our party — it’s got to be matched with a vision that is motivating for our supporters and inclusive enough for converts.
I have had the privilege of working for Sherrod Brown, on his first campaign for Senate, and Barack Obama, on both of his presidential campaigns. Senator Brown is known for his ability to reach so-called Reagan Democrats who had been thought to have left the party with appeals for an economy that supports the revival of middle class jobs in challenged communities. The Obama coalition will always be known as a group of constituencies as diverse as the country itself, propelled in part by younger voters. But the truth is, Senator Brown couldn’t have won without millennials and diverse constituencies, and President Obama couldn’t have won without working class voters looking for a fairer shake in the economy.
Feel good partisan boilerplate can get you through an election, but it’s not a vision for the future that will allow you to succeed over time. We should be the party willing to tell hard truths, not one that settles for the easy thing to say in the moment. Sealing our borders is not going to stop globalization, but it will impede our exports — one of the largest job creators during this administration. We have only begun to see the proliferation of technology. Our focus should be on making sure the benefits of globalization and technology are more widely shared across regions and throughout communities.
Instead of promising only to revive the old industries of the Rust Belt, we should promote opportunities that would transform the regional economy of the Midwest, supporting hubs for innovation, and refusing to settle for schools that aren’t preparing students for the jobs of the 21st century. Pittsburgh shows that you can transition from steel to the industries of the future. If we’re successful, the term Rust Belt should be retired.
At the same time, social issues should not be shunted to the side. Opportunity and inclusion go hand in hand. Embracing civil rights is our legacy and our duty, and arguments that we limit our appeal by embracing them are short sighted. Our embrace of same sex marriage was quickly followed by a rush in support in public opinion and acceptance by the court. Two thirds of younger Republicans are supportive of it. Those views represent the future we are heading towards, and we should never be the lagging indicator.
We shouldn’t accept the fact that half the country didn’t vote. We can’t be a party that takes a pass on midterms and state legislative races — particularly when our best chance to win back Congress will be in the redistricting process some states are already preparing for. Some millennials are civically engaged in other respects — involved with advocacy, philanthropy and start-ups that serve a social good. But they don’t always see the linkage to voting and government service, and that’s a connection we urgently need to make relevant. And we should not shy away from whatever it takes — including exercising our rights in court — to roll back laws that kept many eligible voters away from the polls.
While we gear up for the next electoral battles, we will be called on to take a stand in the policy and personnel battles immediately before us. We should not become the party that obstructs everything just for the sake of obstruction — that was a dangerous position that may have served short-term partisan principles but it undermined our system of governing. We should, however, know a line in the sand when we see it. We cannot allow the first African American President to be succeeded by an Attorney General that labeled the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American” and said they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” Climate denial isn’t a point of disagreement with a proposed EPA head — it’s a clear and present danger. The Senate, with a two-vote margin, should take its role of advice and consent seriously. And outside organizing and advocacy will play a critical role in shaping the outcome of these battles and those soon to come.
Some of my younger colleagues have not experienced electoral loss. They were lucky enough to work for a President that represented their ideals and that exceeded all of our decency. In considering the path forward, I’m comforted by where we came from. Having worked on the Dean campaign, I saw many motivated young people dedicate their energy and their lives to building a movement and a savvy organization that ultimately didn’t win on Election Day. But it road tested many of the tactics — and trained a lot of talent — that went on to build a better model to win four years later. Since Tuesday, I’ve heard nothing but resolve to recommit to this work from every former campaign hand I’ve connected with.
Let us learn from the past, but not be consumed by it. Our energy should be dedicated to building forward looking vision, with a growing and constantly innovating organization to make it a reality.