How Democrats Can Regain Our Political Power
There has been much discussion in the Democratic party of what happened during the 2016 general election and how we can prevent it from happening again. Much of what I have read and heard boils down to blaming the Russians, FBI Director James Comey, Donald Trump and the list goes on.
While there are certainly arguments to made, strong arguments, these are in most cases one-off issues that contributed to the democratic loss in 2016. The longer range, deeper issues within the party are much more complex and opaque. However, these issues and our ability to solve them, will determine if the Democrats can ever again be the party we want to be; inclusive, diverse, problem solvers, social justice architects and equally important, winners.
Like all evolutionary processes, it can be difficult to pinpoint one solid cause for a particular aberration. Like good science however, we need to stop trying to boil down our defeats and our failings to simple sound bites and party rhetoric that is easily digested and regurgitated by the base. The issues facing our party are far too complex, with far reaching consequences for such an approach to work.
Democrats, by our own design, are not a homogenous party. We are brown, black, white, Asian, immigrant, female, male, gay, straight, progressive, moderate, radical, conservative, incrementalistic, policy based, results based, and so much more. So, why do we attempt to apply a national platform that claims to serve all of these diversities?
Every year, we fail to deliver to a great many of the factions within our own party. This leads to voter apathy. “Yes, I’m a Democrat, but why vote, nothing will change for me” is the new party line. “We are so diverse that we cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, become all things to all Democrats across all states and regions.”
At least not on a National level.
Our party and its members get so focused on national elections, the stakes of which getting rhetorically more severe and social media only fans the flames of polarization and hysteria. With each passing election, we peddle the same ‘do or die’, ‘all or nothing’, ‘now’s the time’ message as if somehow if we don’t win the presidency, we will all cease to exist. We then also put forth presidential candidates who do reflect the entirety of our party’s base. We see candidates who are picked apart for not being “my” candidate. Look at the Sanders/Clinton mess for proof. Hillary wasn’t progressive enough, and when she shifted her positions, it was either too little too late, or seen as a dishonest attempt to garner support from Sanders voters. Sanders was accused of being “too socialist”, “too progressive”. Unlike Clinton, he did not shy away from his positions but doubled down on them, something that as a Clinton voter, I found admirable and appealing. Third party and/or “radical” candidates are not a new variable in U.S. politics. We know the effect of splitting the party too sharply during primaries and caucuses. However, short of over hauling our entire primary system, we need to find a solution right now.
The solution, is to stop pretending presidential candidates can appease all Democrats, or that they even can appease everyone. This Polly-Anna belief in “the one true Candidate” is a fallacy, and a fallacy that will cost us elections if we keep falling for it. There is no “Perfect” presidential candidate, and there never will be. Ever. It’s a mathematical, ideological and political impossibility. No ONE person can appease all of the party’s diverse base.
So, what’s the answer?
We are seeing the answer in part, in action this year all over the country, to a great extent because of the awfulness of the current president. However, as wonderful as it is to see so many women and people of color running and winning in traditionally GOP territory, this “Blue Wave” will dissipate with Democrat wins in November. THAT is the problem. This cyclical, reactive politics will not sustain the party into the 21st Century. We need an answer, so that we can win consistently.
Democrats need to stop attempting to craft complex national platforms for the entire country and party. Presidential candidates need to run their campaigns the way that they will serve once the campaigns are over. That is to say, stop promising change that cannot be delivered on a national level and start promising to support and hold up local and state democrats who CAN deliver local change for their constituents.
Presidential candidates must, in essence, abdicate the national stage to local and state candidates during general elections and stick to strictly broad Executive rhetoric and policy and stay out of politics that must be accomplished locally by the states. This means less talk and rhetoric about how they will help all Americans and more action getting local and state democrats in the public eye, in the territories they serve. The key will be to turn EVERY general election into a run up to the midterms. That means these presidential campaigns must get on board with congressional and state Democrats in a very visible way.
Disenfranchised people don’t vote. Presidential candidates cannot bring local change, President Obama hammered that message home to us in both of his elections and yet we didn’t see Democrats working for local change, until Trump won. Then, somehow once Obama was gone, we reverted back to this general election hysterical fantasy again, looking for the next Obama, the next “perfect” candidate, which completely eclipses the midterm elections. Joe Biden said it best when he kept redirecting an interviewer from 2020 predictions to 2018 midterms.
Going further into the problem, presidential candidates simply must do a better job bringing young people AND older white voters back into the party. Older white people, those over 45, vote in far greater numbers than their younger counterparts of color. However, they vote for vastly different reasons. Presidential candidates must appeal to state and congressional candidates who know the concerns and issues facing these diverse voters and put these voters concerns center stage, in the context of their LOCAL representation, instead of promising change that a presidential candidate simply cannot deliver.
For their part, younger voters need to educate themselves and recognize that presidential candidates, for all intents and purposes, are ceremonial, they are heads of state meant to direct and administrate policy that is already in place, not change the country in a day. Younger voters must look for and support local candidates, congressional candidates and turnout to support presidential candidates that most support those local Democrats that are going to actually make the change young voters want to see. This shift in focus from presidential candidates every four years, to state and local candidates every two years and more frequently, will achieve a rebalancing of priorities and policy back to local and state candidates and issues which is where the actual work gets done. This approach, will also shift focus away from the Executive branch which has been quickly gaining power and influence far beyond what was intended for the last 50 years, with dangerous consequences.
In order to be the party that best represents a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, we need to return power and focus back to candidates that directly represent and are accountable to the people. As we have seen since January 2017, the president is not accountable to the people. No president is really, that is an age-old fantasy that both parties have spun and voters have fallen for.
It’s time to put away old ways of doing things and find bold new ways to realistically represent our diverse party. If we don’t, our country will continue its frightening decline into plutocracy and oligarchy. Nationalizing midterms has historically been bad political strategy. However, look at how Trump is rallying every day since before his election and you will see that he is using the strategy described above, and using it well.