The Democrats’ divide

Many Democrats insist they mustn’t be namby-pamby, but instead run as full-throated unapologetic “progressives” — as tax-the-rich class and social justice warriors, for medicare-for-all, free college, and $15 minimum wage. The Full Bernie.

I have argued instead that Democrats should seize the center ground vacated by Republicans — where elections will be won, since the ideological voters on both left and right cancel each other out.

The July 14 Economist has a good in-depth examination of where the Democratic party stands.*

Start with the fact that Democrats have actually been getting more votes than Republicans in most elections, including for Congress and the presidency. But that hasn’t given them power because Democrats suffer a structural disadvantage. The electoral college was set up intentionally to give smaller states extra clout. Piling up even bigger margins in states like California and New York won’t help Democrats in 2020 if they can’t do better in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Furthermore, within states, Democrats tend to bunch up in cities while Republicans are more advantageously spread among rural districts, giving them more seats. Which they’ve leveraged further by gerrymandering. Hence in 2018, Democrats will actually need about 54% of the national congressional vote to gain a House majority.

A further factor is that showing up to vote increases with income, and the poorest voters tend to be Democrats. This too Republicans have cynically exacerbated with voter suppression measures targeting the poor and minorities.

Republicans are also more united than ever, with 85-90% support for Trump despite his vileness. This reflects the deep tribalism of today’s American politics. Democrats are tribalistic too, though not as psychotically; and anyhow their tribe is no larger. Which again means they must win swing voters in the middle.

Those voters are not ideological; indeed, that’s why they’re up for grabs. They tend to be the least informed, least engaged, who vote by their gut, for the candidate they feel more in tune with. (A big reason why Hillary lost.)

The Economist quotes historian Mark Lilla that “Republicans have successfully persuaded much of the public that they are the party of Joe sixpack and Democrats are the party of Jessica yogamat.” There’s also their talking in terms of group interests (LGBT, ethnic minorities, labor, etc.) “rather than a universal sense of the public good.” Their 2016 platform mentioned LGBT rights 20 times but immigration reform almost never.

The diversity within the Democratic party is actually a problem for it. A big part of its base comprises the mentioned kinds of interest groups, including the poorest and most disadvantaged Americans, while another consists of upper class chablis-drinking liberals. That diversity is laudable, The Economist says, but makes it hard to define what the party truly stands for.

Theoretically, if they could really yoke together those yuppie Bernie-lovers with all the LGBT, black, Hispanic, and poor and working class voters, etc., they could win. But the trouble is that all these disparate groups don’t actually see a shared identity. Blacks don’t come out for Hispanics, nor vice versa; there isn’t brown-skinned solidarity. Let alone solidarity with white yuppies. And it’s a mistake to assume being a minority goes hand-in-hand with a leftist political outlook. The Economist says, “to suggest that people’s views are a product of their skin colour, gender or sexuality is bad enough. As a principle for uniting a party as diverse as the Democratic Party, it is a disaster.”

A recent David Brooks column similarly describes two contending “narratives” dividing Democrats. One is the Sanders/socialist story of class conflict and battling against economic power. The other is the story of oppressed minorities fighting for their place in the sun. Brooks sees congressional primary winner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as blending the two; he calls it “racial justice socialism.” (I’d say “ethno-socialism.”) But, says, Brooks, Democrats have never really been able to consummate this marriage, and moreover those Democrats who’ve actually won national elections — Bill Clinton, Obama — did so by reassuring voters they do not embrace such radicalism.

A lot of Democrats, in their zeal for ideological purity, are oblivious to how they sound to Middle America. Most Americans do now accept gay marriage — but feel, like, “enough already.” They also accept abortion rights — up to a point — but don’t get why Democrats talk as though abortions are wonderful. Nor why they seem to want to give out unearned handouts right and left. And no matter how much lipstick they put on that pig, I don’t think Americans will elect someone wearing the word “socialist.” (Though admittedly I didn’t think they’d elect a pussygrabber.)

This Democratic tone-deafness is exemplified by some advocating “sanctuary cities” and now even abolishing ICE. How stupid. I hate as much as anyone how ICE is operating. It needs a thorough overhaul. But Democrats’ abolition talk plays into the hands of Trump accusing them of being for “open borders” and criminality.

I look to Democrats to literally save the country in 2020, by putting their pet ideological fetishes to the side and nominating an electable candidate. That trumps everything.¬†Hopefully by 2020 most of those swing voters will be tired of Trumpian lies and chaos so they’re receptive to an alternative. Democrats have to make themselves palatable, as people like them, as sensible, responsible, good down-to-earth people, who respect facts and truth. Not ones obsessed with weird extreme positions.

Empty talk about “uniting the country” has become as common as it is dishonest. Even Trump does it. Strange how such words are often accompanied by palpably divisive ones. Yet uniting the country — getting us somehow past this insane degree of partisan tribalism — is more desperately important than ever (well, since 1860).

And there are, in fact, principles and values that still should unite us. I say “should” rather than “do” because sadly too few of us still remember them. That makes emphasizing them now all the more needful. Call it “back to basics.”

The Economist’s piece ends by putting words to them. Democrats should “relearn the language of American civil religion: self-evident truths; a shining city upon a hill; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And above all, e pluribus unum: out of many, one.”

These words still have power. They do for me. I got tingles writing them.

There’s the Democratic platform for 2018 and 2020.

*By John Prideaux. He’d previously written an editorial on the disgraceful state of the Republican party. When I sent a letter-to-the-editor saying the party is irredeemable and Republicans should leave it (as I did), Prideaux replied gratefully, calling my letter a welcome relief from the many by irate Republicans saying “Cancel my subscription!”

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One Response to “The Democrats’ divide”

  1. Lee Says:

    I think that Truman was right in saying essentially that voters prefer a candidate who says what they believe rather than what they think will get the most votes. I believe that that is the source of popularity for Trump, Sanders, and newer faces such as Ocasio-Cortez. So, sure, if a centrist candidate wants to take the stands you advocate then good, but trying to get the progressive candidates to move to center sounds like a recipe for four more years of Trump.

    Whether centrist, progressive, or repulsive, my advice for electoral success is to say what you mean and to do what you say.

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