The Question of Unity
A few weeks ago I sent this tweet asking the left to break down for me exactly what they want from Democrats and the Democratic party.
Many questioned my sincerity when I declined to engage with the responses, but my personal views are beside the point. I have no affiliation with the party, I’m just some girl. My question was hypothetical - what would it take to bring progressives into the fold? Delving into the responses it’s clear there’s no prevailing answer, but I have a much better understanding of why we can’t find common ground.
It goes without saying that the party needs young progressives. Of course they should be accommodated, but how exactly do we go about that? The two sides actually agree on more than most people probably realize. The problem is, we’re engaged in two fundamentally different debates.
Very few points of contention are about policy. In fact, let me stipulate to the big ticket items right away — Single payer, free college, minimum wage increase = Good. Climate change, fracking, war = Bad.
During the primary when I took those quizzes I always aligned 99% with Bernie and usually 93–94% with Hillary. But I supported Hillary because she had a plan for getting things done, and Bernie didn’t. It’s that simple.
My query elicited dozens of passionate, eloquent threads from progressives lobbying their preferred positions. But there’s no need to advocate on the merits of a progressive platform. We’re familiar with the issues. More than likely we aren’t objecting because we disagree with you, but with an eye towards the bigger picture. Any productive policy platform discussion must take into account the relative appeal to swing voters or feasibility in a GOP Congress.
Such pragmatism may frustrate the left, but their polls and foreign case studies have no bearing on the obstacles to implementation a progressive agenda would face. In turn we grow frustrated with their rationalizations. To ignore that there’s a procedure in place is magical thinking.
Talking past each other gets us nowhere. We can’t reach any conclusion if we aren’t having the same conversation. This parodox makes is hard to resolve the two biggest policy questions facing Democrats today: the role of money in politics, and whether white Trumcan be brought back to the party.
Regarding money in politics, again let me stipulate that our campaign finance laws are a mess, and we should be pursuing every avenue towards fixing them. But as it stands right now it takes a lot of money to put Democrats in office. Voluntarily limiting ourselves from pursuing every fundraising opportunity allowable by law would put us at a huge disadvantage to the Republicans. That’s out of the question.
The low-dollar model is unsustainable for supporting a full slate of Democratic candidates competing up and down the ballot, not to mention the advocacy it would require to move such massive social undertakings through Congress. There just aren’t enough low dollars to go around, and pretending otherwise is disingenuous. We aren’t bad people for wanting to maximize the current system. It isn’t a value judgment, it’s reality. Remaining competitive is critical if we ever hope to improve things from within.
The debate over Rust Belt Trump voters is paramount. If you follow me, you know I feel strongly that we shouldn’t turn our back on the Obama coalition in order to pursue Trump voters who left the party. But it isn’t about me, so let’s break the debate down objectively.
Again, this is not a value judgment. Of course the needs of all citizens must be respected. We’re not debating whether RBTV are worthy of consideration, we’re weighing whether the concessions we’d have to make to win them back would be worth it in an electoral sense.
Hillary won among Rust Belt voters who list the economy as their chief motivator, but that’s just a fraction compared to those influenced by immigration and “crime.” Racial animus aside (covered here), the question is, what does a persuadable Rust Belt Trump voter look like? Will a socialist economic message really entice them back to the Democratic party? Or are we contemplating a platform that includes free college and single payer, not to woo WWC but rather to appease the sensibilities of young progressives?
(I made the argument here that it’s not always about the issues sallyal.ink/RightTakeaway2016)
The crux of the divide is more about feelings than facts. We’re hopelessly mired in an endless loop of intractability, exasperation, and outrage. Young voters say they want to be heard, but a conversation has to go both ways. When we listen and attempt to respond in kind, we’re met with indignation, as if they expect us to immediately roll over in deference to their renowned “enthusiasm.”
Unilateral concession would only reinforce the wrong message. In the legitimate policy arena you don’t win by bullying or blackmail. Winning is about negotiating the best outcome for your side, not about maintaining ideological purity at the expense of the greater good.
The left is fixated on winning the moral high ground. The question is, can we get them to focus on winning elections?
Next, Part Two: These Walls Between Us