Withhold Money to Move the Democratic Party’s Needle, Writer Urges
Want a Democratic Party that will embrace progressivism to defend the vulnerable against a Trump administration? Then “stop donating to it” until it changes, writes Lawrence Hess at The Nation.
After contributing to the party for years, Hess and his wife have pledged not to donate “to any of the Democratic Party’s four campaign committees or any allied independent expenditure committees unless and until the party makes meaningful and substantial progressive changes regarding personnel, targeted voters, and agenda.”
“One of the problems with the Democratic Party,” he explains, “is that it does not even have a meaningful agenda”:
If you Google “Democratic Party agenda,” some of the top responses are a 2007 speech by former Member of Congress Charles Rangel and the 2016 party platform, which is over 50 pages long. In an effort to be all things to all voters, the party has long been purposely vague and verbose about agenda, another cause of the debacle. …
Both the Democratic Party and the progressive movement would benefit from a vision and an agenda that are concise and in plain language. If properly written and promoted, such a document would allow voters of all stripes to recognize, understand, and characterize the Democratic agenda in their own words. … that vision and agenda should be mostly about economics and jobs. For instance, one of the most important points would be dignity at work, including reforms regarding organizing, wages, earned leave, and fair scheduling.
For a long time, I have believed in being explicit about vision and agenda. When I proposed these ideas to candidate Barack Obama in 2007, he quickly replied, “That would just give the Republicans targets to shoot at.” I disagreed then, and I disagree now. Let them shoot, so long as those shots are verbal and not something more menacing.
Who among us can say in a few sentences what the Democratic Party stands for? We can fix that.
The party’s “pragmatists” will disagree. Both former Sen. Joseph Lieberman and the newly re-elected leader of Democrats in the House, Nancy Pelosi, recently rejected the idea that Democrats should respond to their loss of the White House and Senate in November by becoming more progressive.
“I think there will be a real attempt by the left-left of the Democratic Party to take over the party, and I don’t think that’s the way to go to make it an effective party,” Lieberman said in a radio interview Sunday. “It’s certainly not the party that I got drawn to … it’s not the party that I worked so hard for when Bill Clinton was president and it’s not going to be a winning party.”
Pelosi spoke as if a periodic exchange of power between Republicans and Democrats is part of the immutable nature of American politics, and that Democrats have nothing to account for.
“I don’t think people want a new direction,” she told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Our values unify us and our values are about supporting America’s working families.”
“Let me just put that in perspective. … When President Clinton was elected, Republicans came in big in the next election. When President Bush was president, we came in big in the subsequent election. When President Obama became president, the Republicans came in big in the next election.”
The 13 million Americans who voted for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, as well as many Americans who voted Republican in the election, disagree. So do Clinton-era labor secretary Robert Reich; Keith Ellison, leading candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee; and Thomas Frank, who chronicled the Democrats’ decades-long abandonment of the working class in his book, “Listen, Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?”
At The Guardian in late November, Frank wrote that in this election “pragmatists,” including Lieberman and Pelosi, “delivered Democrats to the worst situation they’ve been in for many decades.” By letting the centrists call the shots—those who “betrayed the Democratic party’s Liberal base” by “deregulating banks, securing free trade deals, signing off on Wall Street bailouts and the Iraq war”—Democrats “gave up what they stood for piece by piece and what they have to show for it now is nothing.”
So will they revise their ways and make themselves more appealing to working voters? Frank writes:
… [T]he media and political establishments, I suspect, will have none of it. They may hate Donald Trump, but they hate economic populism much more. If history is a guide, they will embrace any sophistry to ensure that the Democrats do not take the steps required to broaden their appeal to working-class voters. They will remind everyone that Clinton didn’t really lose. Alternately, they will blame Sanders for her loss. They will decide that working-class people cannot be reasoned with and so it is pointless to try. They will declare – are already declaring – that any Democratic effort to win over working-class voters is a capitulation to racism. Better to lose future elections than to compete for the votes of those who spurned their beloved Clinton.
I suspect this will happen because this has been happening for decades; because Democrats always find a reason to put off doing what they need to do to win back the white working class. The example that springs immediately to mind is the election of 2004, when the Bush-Rove team used a variety of ingenious culture-war offensives to beat a different centrist Democrat. For several months after that debacle, Democrats contorted themselves in self-examination. They wondered about what had happened with the white working class, how they had managed to lose so many of those voters, and so on. It was especially memorable for me because my book about blue-collar conservatism in Kansas was often part of the conversation.
But before very long, the self-examination ceased. Democrats were reassured by their friends in political science that they really had no problem with the working class and that they needn’t be concerned. With a few statistical sleights of hand and enormous heaps of professional contempt for the laity, academics helped to shut down that debate.
And here we are again. Today Democrats are wondering what went wrong, but before too many fundraising dinners have been digested they will have concluded they don’t need to worry, that demographics will bail them out sooner or later, and that the right and noble course of action is to proceed as before.
This will happen because what leading liberals cannot understand – what they are psychologically blocked from understanding – is that the problem isn’t really the white working class. The problem is them.
Read Frank’s full remarks here.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly
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