On Pierce and Primaries
This past weekend, Esquire writer Charles P. Pierce, wrote a piece entitled The Democrats’ Unity Commission Isn’t Doing Much Unifying in response to the third meeting of the Democratic Unity Reform Commission. This is a response not only to Pierce and the points he makes, but to those who agree with him.
Point the First: Pierce first argues, “Who cares in 2017? The house is burning down and you’re vetting the firemen.”
1. Who cares in 2017? A lot of people. There are many systemic problems with the current state of the presidential primary process, and people on both the Clinton and Sanders sides would like to do their best to fix them. Any changes to the primaries will take time to implement and 2020 is coming fast. The first primaries and caucuses are only two and a half years away, and candidates are less than two years away from declaring their runs for the presidency.
2. What Pierce also fails to mention is that this Commission was set up last year during the Democratic National Convention. After division and controversy pervaded the 2016 Democratic Primary, a Unity Reform Commission was created in order to create a better primary system for future presidential elections. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and DNC Chairman Tom Perez, all appointed members to the Commission, which held their third of four meetings this past weekend in Chicago. The dates for the Commission meetings were set up months ago and with little research, Pierce could have known this. The members of the Commission didn’t wake up on Friday and decide, “Hmm. Amidst all that is happening in the world, let’s all fly to Chicago and debate open and closed Primaries this weekend.”
Point the Second: Pierce then argues for closed primaries, “Don’t do this. A political party that conducts open primaries is a political party just begging to be hijacked by the loudest voice in the room and/or ratfcked by any half-witted operative on the other side.” Many people share Pierce’s concern that opening a primary will allow Republican voters to vote in a Democratic Primary and choose a candidate that is unelectable.
1. This doesn’t happen. Where there are open primaries, Republicans aren’t flooding Democratic primaries and choosing a candidate they deem unelectable. Open primaries have been around for a long time and there has never been a widespread case of Republican voters deciding the outcome of a Democratic primary. To any extent that a Republican votes for a Democratic candidate, that could be good. If a Democratic candidate is espousing progressive and Democratic ideals, wouldn’t it be good that a Republican voter is inspired enough by that message to vote for a Democrat?
2. Since 2008, only Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders have won open presidential primaries. So when Pierce says, “A political party that conducts open primaries is a political party just begging to be hijacked by the loudest voice in the room…” who is he talking about? In Pierce’s mind the “loudest voice” is bad, so were Obama and Clinton bad for winning all the open primaries in 2008, or did the “loudest voice” not win a primary, therefore proving Pierce’s point wrong. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won more open primaries than did Bernie Sanders. Was Clinton being the “loudest voice?” Maybe Bernie was the “loudest voice” because he dared to win some open primaries. In that case, Democrats may have fared better if the “loudest voice” won the Primary given the historical unfavorable rating of the winning primary candidate. In 2004, John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark, and Howard Dean all won presidential primaries. Did they hijack the Democratic Party by being the loudest voice in the room?
3. Advocating for closed primaries could be fatal for the Democratic Party. More and more people are registering as Independents, which means more and more of the electorate will be barred from voting in the Democratic primary. Young people in particular are overwhelmingly progressive, overwhelmingly dislike the Republican Party, and are increasingly registering as Independents. The Democratic Party needs young voters. Who cares if they are registered Independents!? Allowing them to vote in your primary gives them a voice in your party. If you continue to quell their voices they will continue to ignore your party, which as proven by the results in 2014 and 2016, will be disastrous. We can even look to 2008. In 2008, Al Franken won his Senate race by 300 votes. If Barack Obama didn’t inspire as many young people to come out and vote, Franken would have lost his race, and if Franken loses, there is no Affordable Care Act. The Democratic Party needs to accept that they need young voters and they need to earn their trust. Many actions must be taken, but arguing that many of them shouldn’t get to vote in a Democratic primary is not a good start.
Point the Third: Pierce is worried that, “To go to open primaries and caucuses will work in many states to dilute the influence of minority voters, which is the true Democratic base and has been for several cycles now.” During one of the meetings of the Unity Commission, David Huynh, a committee member from Louisiana, shared Pierce’s concerns. He shared that in a closed Louisiana Primary, around 55 percent of the eligible vote would be those of African Americans and in an open or semi-open primary, that vote would go down to the low forties.
1. When worried about the minority vote in a primary, why is the first thought to argue for closed primaries rather than to invest and engage more with minority communities? If the Democratic Party really wanted minorities to be represented, and really wanted their share of the vote to be higher, then they should organize and spend more money within these communities. No one would argue that the Democratic Party should reject registration from white people who want to join the party, even though this would dilute the minority vote. So Independents diluting the vote = bad, but new white Democrats diluting the vote = not bad? The answer is not to shut people out, it’s to build people up. The more you care for and improve people’s lives, the more they will reward you with their vote. Arguing for closed primaries doesn’t show that you care. Open the primaries and more people will be engaged with your party. Invest in people’s lives and more people will be engaged with your party. Do both.
2. There is widespread consensus that the Democratic Party has failed to deliver for minority communities. Whether people are progressive or moderate, most agree that the Democratic Party hasn’t lived up to its promises to those who give the highest percentage of their vote to the Party. If this is the case, then no one can blame a minority voter for deciding to register as an Independent. Telling voters whom you agree you’ve failed, that they can’t vote in your primary, isn’t going to help the Democratic Party.
3. If someone is registered as an Independent, that doesn’t mean they do less to assist their community than someone registered as a Democrat. People in the Democratic Party seem so concerned with whether someone once checked a box that said Democrat or checked a box that said Independent. There are plenty of registered Democrats who don’t do anything or who in fact are bad, yet they are allowed to vote in a primary. “We don’t want Bad Republicans or Crazy Independents to vote in our primary.” What about bad and crazy Democrats? Do you really want their influence in the Party? Allowing Independents to vote is more important than worrying about crazy people from whatever political party.
Point the Fourth: Pierce share’s concerns of caucuses. I too have concerns about caucuses. I don’t believe someone should be forced to show up late at night in order to cast their vote. I don’t believe someone should have to publicly declare who they are supporting in front of other people. I don’t believe that someone should be able to win a caucus if more people show up for another candidate. Over the weekend I saw some tweets that may have clarified a few questions I have about caucuses. That doesn’t mean my concerns about caucuses are going away. It means I am going to watch the third installment of the Unity Reform Commission as I invite everyone else to do.
Point the Fifth: Independents are not the enemy of the Democratic Party. If they don’t have them, they lose and will continue to lose. Let them vote in your primary.