Twelve Painful Truths Democrats Must Accept to Rebuild the Party

By | February 9, 2017

I don’t want to sugarcoat it: the Democratic Party is in trouble. It is at its lowest level since the late 1920’s and possibly even worse than that when you consider Hawaii (one of only three states including Rhode Island and Delaware where Democrats control the state legislature trifecta and all congressional representation) wasn’t yet a state at that time. The time for denial—“we’re doing fine, Hillary won the popular vote!”–must end and the time for an honest appraisal needs to begin. Yes, Trump is the least popular President in generations, but many liberals thought it was inconceivable George W. Bush would be re-elected and 2004 wound up being the only time in my lifetime that Republicans have won the popular vote for President.

We need to change. We must change. Here are ten ways to start…

1. Barack Obama is a person, not a political party. For eight years, the “Obama coalition” cared about whether Barack Obama was President and…turns out, not much else. They showed up to vote in 2008 and 2012 but not so much in mid-terms, off-year elections, or even 2016. While Obama retained The White House, Democrats were taking a beating: 1,030 lost their jobs, flipping both houses of congress and the Governor’s mansions of once-liberal bastions like Massachuttes, Maryland, Illinois, and Vermont. Even a “red state” like Alabama had a Democratic state legislature in 2008, but that was wiped out in the 2010 blood bath and in 2016 the Kentucky state senate (the lone Democratic hold-out in the South) fell to the Republicans.

Repeat after me: “Barack Obama was a great President for America, and a lousy one for Democrats.” I know this will begin the “woulda shoulda coulda” and “but America was racist!” and “voter suppression!” and we’ll get to all those further down, but let’s be totally honest: Barack Obama became the Democratic Party for 8 years, and it seemed to exist to serve him rather than the other way around. When he took over the party in 2008, Howard Dean–who had engineered a successful flipping of congress and majority of state legislatures by focusing on a state party level–was ousted as DNC head in favor of Tim Kaine, who largely did nothing to help state Democratic parties. [Some of Obama’s advisers like Rahm Emanuel wanted it this way.] Obama wasn’t really a political party guy–you can see this in the way he refused to pardon Don Siegelman when any other Democrat on Earth surely would have–and anyone who knew him would say “party building” wasn’t his strong suit or even something he was interested in. Most of the Obama coalition voters did not necessarily associate Obama’s wins with the Democratic Party, and did not necessarily feel the need to solidly vote Democratic.

2. Barack Obama won’t save you. At the risk of sounding repetitive, this one is important because for 8 years liberals essentially fell asleep–comfortable in the knowledge that Obama would save them from the Republican’s dastardly schemes–while Republicans went about…well, dastardly scheming and quietly accumulating a ton of power at the state level. Their gains there seem nearly insurmountable unless Trump does something so unpopular he tarnishes the entire Republican brand. But the point is that it never should’ve gotten that bad, and it likely wouldn’t have if Obama’s comforting, soothing voice, and picture-frame-ready family weren’t there telling you “everything will be okay.” Well, now that Trump’s top adviser/henchman Steven Bannon has openly advocated for war against China while Obama kite-surfs with Richard Branson, it may now be time to finally realize things are not okay. Replacing Obama with Trump is the single best wake-up call I think of for apathetic liberals and Americans in general. The DNC’s mid-term ads should just run the tagline “Are you paying attention now?”

3. The DNC head should have no baggage. This seems extraordinarily obvious, but it apparently isn’t. Keith Ellison should not even be considered for the DNC Chairman position. Let’s be honest and say that the idea of having the sole Muslim in congress as the face of the Democratic Party fighting Trump’s Muslim ban is something that really only makes people already voting Democratic salivate. Let’s be even more honest and say that Ellison is needlessly divisive, has made a ton of stupid statements, is notoriously lazy, and really only wants this job to advance his own name. [And this is before the Minneapolis sex scandals have become public, although they inevitably will.] Right now, the DNC head has to be somebody quiet, boring, workmanlike, somebody who can step in front of a camera, but is really more interested in the behind-the-scenes party building that, you know, the DNC head is supposed to do. The DNC election is February 23rd to the 26th, and I would back Tom Perez as the most likely non-Ellison candidate.

4. Nothing is more important than voting. Democrats have seemingly tried everything to turn the country blue–protests, rallies, sit-ins, stand-ins, endless social media memes, retweeting Elizabeth Warren–and nothing appears to be making a dent. And that’s because there is no other way to win a race than voting. Too much of the Democrats strategy appears to be hoping Republicans get so tired of blowback that they quit, and too little of it seems to be getting in a car, driving to a polling place, and casting a ballot. And that brings me to…

5. Get the Goddamn Voter ID or Shut Up. Yes, it is patently unfair that red and purple states have passed Voter ID laws. Yes, it is clearly a way to disenfranchise minorities and young people from voting. Yes, it is clearly partisan and a de facto “poll tax” on Democrats. And also: just get the fucking ID. Yes, I have seen the John Oliver episode where a certain Circuit Clerk made it very hard to get a Voter ID (the court house was only open for it one Wednesday out of the month), but liberals have talked about this for six years. Why can’t anyone drive little old black ladies to the Goddamn Court House to buy a Voter ID? Does it require a NASA engineer to drive to a black church or community center, put up a sheet asking who would like to go get a Voter ID, and then take them there? This is the exact kind of thing the DNC and state parties should have been doing for years rather than going on MSNBC to complain about the Voter ID laws.

6. Voter ID isn’t really why Democrats don’t routinely vote. We don’t vote because we don’t want to. Hell, sometimes don’t want to and I live a half a mile from a polling place. I literally walked to vote the last time I did. Yes, you can find countless stories of long lines at voting places in minority districts of red states. But are those long lines really there during a run-off race for School Board in an off-year election? No. Democrats are losing state elections because they don’t care about them. Some of that is the fault of a party that has been too focused on federal power to properly back state and local candidates. But a lot of it is the typical Democratic voter who does not actually know who their state representative is, and you can forget about judge, school board, and sheriff races. I’ve literally seen people marching to replace a racist sheriff or district attorney in a majority-black area that do not know they vote for sheriff or district attorney. As Tom Perez noted, a concerted effort was put forth to vote out racist sheriff Joe Arpaio rather than just denounce him in the media, and it worked! He’s gone thanks to the miracle of voting!

7. The American Voter is different than the average American with a different set of priorities. Along these same lines, it’s important to note that the people who vote in America are no longer an accurate representation of the people who live in America. When Democrats consult polls saying “90% of Americans support…” gun control or abortion or a minimum wage increase or climate crisis or whatever it is, it’s important to note that the people being polled may not reflect the people actually voting. You can point me to demographic charts showing “the changing face of America” and the rise of Latinos and how Asians went from 1.8% to 2.5% or whatever, but none of that matters when the typical American voter is white, old, and right-leaning. They do not necessarily care about “the Hi-Tech Economy” or a minimum wage increase since they haven’t been in the workforce in years. They don’t have the same set of priorities as an environmentally conscious young person (they won’t be around to see global warming really wreck their lives) or a Social Justice Warrior (immigrants are scary! don’t you know that?) or Bernie Sanders-style socialist (get a job!…even though they haven’t worked in years). They don’t agree with Democrats on most things, but they do like social security and medicare, especially in off-year elections it would benefit Dems to more directly play up economic programs for the elderly over social justice for…say, anyone who’s not elderly. Also not a bad idea to play up economic protectionism like The Consumer Protection Bureau stopping companies from taking advantage or over-charging the elderly, which Trump now wants to get away with.

8. Gun control is not consistent with the rest of the Democratic Party platform. What is the one thing red and purple state Democrats get asked most about? “Why do you want to take my guns away?” And what is the one thing in the Democratic Party platform that’s inconsistent with anything else? Gun control. Why do I say that? Because Democrats are firmly in the legalization camp for just about everything else in the culture wars: marijuana, gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, abortions, path to citizenship, online poker, euthanasia, stem cell research, and even some (like me) are for legalizing prostitution. Democrats understand that you can’t legislate something on the supply side, only the demand side, and that our prisons are overcrowded. How does gun control fit into that equation? The infamous 1994 Crime Bill started out with good intentions–getting crack out of inner-cities it was destroying–but wound up putting people in jail. How would a crackdown on guns and gun sellers be any different? The devil is in the details, and that means “enforcement” in this case. In all likelihood, gun control would put a new generation of minorities in prison at a time when penalities are finally easing for drugs. Gun control is only in the Democratic platform because a majority of Democrats are uncomfortable living in a country where people can own assault rifles. There’s nothing else about it consistent with liberal values. Abandon this issue and you have a better than fighting chance of winning over rural voters.

9. Beyonce is not important. This may seem out of place on this list, but I can’t get on social media without everything getting sucked into the culture wars from The Super Bowl to the new Star Wars movie to Broadway musicals to a fucking Cheerios commercial. Some of these things matter–liberals pushed back against racists who didn’t want an interracial family in a Cheerios ad, as they should’ve–but most of them don’t. The ultimate example of this? Making Beyonce “political.” Yes, “Lemonade” was by far her most political album but Beyonce is not important to politics. People like Guiliani and Mike Huckabee like to rev-up the Faux News outrage over something she does, but in general Beyonce is a talented self-promoter whose only real concern is Beyonce. The fact that she seems to have transcended into near-Gandhi status with liberals is a huge part of the problem. As is…

10. There is a liberal version of trickle down economics and it’s called “Star Fucker Culture.” Any sane person hates Reaganomics (or “trickle down”) and recognizes it for it is: a way for rich people to trick poor people into giving them tax cuts in hopes that wealth will magically “trickle down” like fairy dust to create jobs. It has been tried and tried and tried and never worked, because jobs are only created through demand or need and not because some rich person has a surplus of cash lying around from a tax cut. In fact, Trickle Down usually kills more jobs than it creates since you have to lay off government workers–teachers, cops, firefighters, post office, librarians, etc.–to pay for that tax cut, and the more wealth and power the rich accumulate the more likely they are to squash competition rather than “empower small businesses” or some shit.

Yet as dumb as “Trickle Down Economics” is there’s also a nasty, creeping strain of “Star Fucker Culture” taking over the Democratic Party’s once-populist economics like kudzu. “Star Fucker Culture” says that Democrats are largely silent on economic issues–that they own–and barely talk about economic progress even when they should. [Most of Obama’s biggest programs like “Cash for Clunkers,” the auto bailout, the stimulus, and student loan relief actually benefitted the white working class more than minority voters, but was this ever mentioned?] “Star Fucker Culture” says that it’s important that Will Smith–the most financially successful black actor of all time–should be nominated for an Oscar, and you should protest if he’s not. “Star Fucker Culture” says that celebrities should tweet endlessly about the plight of Blackfish and stay completely fucking silent on a majority of Americans falling behind economically. “Star Fucker Culture” says that it’s more important to defend Colin Kaepernick’s protest, Viola Davis’s hair, or–yes–all things Beyonce than it is to talk about student loan relief, disappearing pensions, the horror of the “gig economy,” and how millennials are the first American generation ever to make less money than their parents. When the culture of “Celebrity” now commands more attention than the Democrat’s economic populism, it’s a recipe for the alienation many rural Americans feel from the party that actually does represent their interests…[even if that’s apparently become a secret.]

[Update: The fact that people are honestly upset Beyonce–the wealthiest pop star on Earth married to the wealthiest rapper on Earth–didn’t win a specific Grammy category shows how desperately numbers 10 and 9 are needed.]

11. Economic liberalism is popular. STOP ignoring that. I have resisted Bernie Sanders for most of the last year. I was (and still am) a huge Hillary Clinton fan, I think Bernie indirectly did cause her to lose the election, and I’m worried that Bernie’s puppet Keith Ellison will take over the DNC. But then I was recently told by an airline that not only was my check-in bag going to cost money (where it was free only a few years ago), but now my carry-on bag was going to cost money too, and the bags of peanuts that used to be free would also cost money if I wanted one. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back: I’M AS MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GONNA TAKE THIS ANYMORE! BERNIE SANDERS 2020 GODDAMNIT!

Now will I really support a man in his late-70’s in 2020? Probably not, but it was a cathartic moment to realize that the American worker is being screwed by the gig economy, the cost of everything has gone up while wages have stayed the same, and people should be tired of it. I’m not saying I didn’t already know all that but there’s a reason Bernie was popular, Occupy Wall Street existed, and even two Republicans voted against uber-rich Betsy DeVos turning the Department of Education into a slush fund for charter schools: economic liberalism is popular. People like social security, medicare, the G.I. Bill, the promise of a green economy, progressive tax brackets, pell grants, and pensions. The Democrats actually are the party of the fabled, supposedly-down-and-out “White Working Class” and always have been. They never stopped fighting for them, it’s just that they forget to talk about it.

12. Elizabeth Warren is not the next Hillary. Corey Booker is not the next Obama. And Kamala Harris is not ready yet. This may be the most controversial one yet, but the Democrats seem to be ignoring something fundamental about their 2020 Presidential candidates: this is a party that many white males don’t see themselves in, and it may not be the best idea to run a Presidential primary with Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, and Kamala Harris. I’m not saying they have to choose a white male, and the best candidate out there may very well wind up being Harris or Tammy Duckworth (I personally think a Harris/Franken ticket or a Steve Bullock/Duckworth ticket would win), but I know that liberals (including myself) thought Hillary couldn’t lose against a raging sexist like Trump…and she wound up losing white women. That’s right, Hillary would’ve won the Presidency if white women–the group she would supposedly dominate–had stayed at home.

“But Elizabeth Warren isn’t Hillary Clinton!” you may scream, and that’s right: she’s less well-known, well-funded, and will actually be older than Hillary is now during the 2020 race. To a lot of your “low information voters” just barely paying attention to politics, it’ll seem like Hillary’s clone is running in her place. People may vehemently disagree with me, but I’ve watched Warren closely and–in my honest opinion–she doesn’t have “it.” And certainly not enough of “it” for the national stage, not to mention MA politicians are on a bi-partisan losing streak for President like John Kerry, Dukakis, Mitt Romney, etc. With Booker and Warren, it feels like our party is still locked into the Obama/Clinton mold for which candidates seem presidential despite the fact that lightning rarely strikes twice.

I don’t know who will lead the future of the Democratic Party, but it wouldn’t totally surprise me if it was someone just barely on our radar as of right now. Either way, follow these 12 steps, and you’re at least on the road to recovery and the path to rebuilding our party’s ranks…

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