Election 2014: Lessons for progressives

It was my hope, a week after the election, that I would hear and read meaningful analyses on the cause, consequences and long-term outlook for Democrats after their losses this midterm election. Very little of what I read this week was “filling,” until I came across William Greider’s  “How the Democratic Party Lost Its Soul” in The Nation. Greider concludes:

The tattered authenticity of the party matters more now because both the country and the world face dangers and disorders that demand a fundamental reordering of the global economic system. This requires bold action, at a time when neither party is confronting the threatening situation. The Republicans are a wholly owned subsidiary of the business-finance machine; the Democrats are rented.

What we need is a rump formation of dissenters who will break free of the Democratic Party’s confines and set a new agenda that will build the good society rather than feed bloated wealth, disloyal corporations and absurd foreign wars. This is the politics the country needs: purposeful insurrection inside and outside party bounds, and a willingness to disrupt the regular order. And we need it now, to inject reality into the postelection spin war within the party. On one side, the right-wingers will blame the loss on Obama’s unpopularity, claiming his economic policy is too liberal; progressives must counter that the Democrats lost because they had no economic message aside from Obama’s replay of tired Wall Street bromides that misfired so spectacularly.

This is the fight that really matters, and it was coming no matter how bad the Democratic losses were. If the Wall Street/Walmart wing of the party wins—if Hillary Clinton is the nominee in 2016—any hope that Democrats will embrace the imperative for fundamental change will be lost. Dems will become the party of the past, defending wrong ideas that failed and losing more elections.

Click here to read Greider’s full op-ed.


Indeed, this is in line with my thinking for quite some time now. In my blog posts over the past week, I outlined what I thought were the appropriate actions for the Democratic leadership to take.

Traditionally, whenever there are losses, the leadership resigns. Then, it is either elected anew or new leaders are chosen. This time around, however, there have been indications, especially over the past two days that, while Dem party leaders seem to understand why they lost, they are not prepared to make necessary corrections. North Country Public Radio has a good piece on this, as if one should even be needed:

When Legislative Leaders Fail In Other Countries, They Lose Their Jobs

Last week, you may have heard, the Democrats took a historic drubbing in the midterm elections for Congress. They lost their majority in the Senate and saw their numbers in the House fall to their lowest point in nearly seven decades.

Yet they could hardly wait to get back to Washington and reelect the party’s leaders in both chambers — unopposed.

The 2014 election may have been mainly a referendum on the president, but two other names were mentioned almost as often in Republican ads: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Republican candidates everywhere ran against those two leaders more than they ran against their actual opponents.

Yet Reid already has been swept back into his party’s top spot, and Pelosi will follow next week — and in neither case was there so much as a struggle.

Click here for the entire NCPR article .


Inviting Elizabeth Warren to some newly created figurehead position is a symbolic gesture that, quite frankly, Warren should have seen right through and refused. Whether she accepted it out of some belief that it was a genuine offer or, that, somehow, she will be able to effect change, it is disappointing to see just how quickly she took the bait without thinking a few moves ahead. I see the new leadership (non) position as a trap; a way to neutralize a possible Warren candidacy in 2016 by boxing her in, and something that some will use at the inevitable juncture when Warren steps back, to say “hey, we tried to include her but she didn’t work out.” Barely 12 hours after the Senate announcement, there was already a lot of chatter from named and unnamed sources wondering aloud what exactly it is Warren is supposed to do in her new post:

Senate Democrats Have No Idea Why Elizabeth Warren Got A New Leadership Role

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) got a promotion on Thursday. She now has a seat at the Senate Democratic leadership table and, in a role created just for her, she will serve as a policy adviser and voice for progressives.

Her colleagues have no idea why this is happening.

“A liaison to liberals? I’ve never heard of such a thing,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), throwing his hands in the air. “I asked her about it and she said she was some kind of adviser. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what that all means.”

“I didn’t even know this was happening. I never knew it,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “I mean, they can pick whoever they want to.”

Asked if he thought it was to help position Warren for a potential 2016 presidential run, Manchin said, “I really couldn’t speak to that.”

 Click here to read the full article on HuffPo


Then, and this is the most worrisome turn of events, I’ve also repeatedly pointed out that, as much as leaders stressed the importance of the black vote in Election 2014, black voters were not only taken for granted, they were dissed more than any other group in the Democratic base. They were dissed from the very start, when it came to improving the lot of the unemployed. Black unemployment has been higher than any other group since the start of the Great Recession. When voting rights came into focus, whether due to states passing voter suppression laws or the Supreme Court giving the VRA a haircut, when it came to taking a firm stand, there was some talk, mostly from the Congressional Black Caucus, but not a whole lot from the leadership. No one made that a campaign issue, for example. Blacks were left to their own devices when it came to showing any kind of solidarity with African American protesters in Missouri. There were no pictures of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid or any of the party’s prominent whites marching in Ferguson. They could have, but they didn’t. They didn’t, just like they didn’t proudly list Obamacare as an achievement or welcome the President at campaign functions over the summer. Had public pressure been placed on Jay Nixon by Reid and Pelosi, along with some of the Democratic governors, for example, would Nixon have behaved better? But no, civil unrest erupted and nary a white Democrat from the DNC, DCCC or DGA was to be found on the scene, showing any solidarity. Fast forward to the week after the election and we now, we hear this from members of the Black Caucus:

 

African-American lawmakers are concerned that the Democrats’ tradition of selecting the most senior member to run for party leadership spots is breaking down.

The Congressional Black Caucus hosted a dinner in the Capitol late Wednesday featuring two of the group’s founding members: Reps. Louis Stokes and Bill Clay Sr. Two sources familiar with the members-only event said Stokes and Clay focused the talk on seniority ahead of the party’s committee elections next week that are pitting a number of senior members against relatively newer lawmakers for ranking panel spots.

Click here to read the full Politico article.


Is this any kind of sensible way for the Democratic party to retain the trust and allegiance of its core constituencies? I know Hispanics are watching from the wings in anticipation of the fight for immigration. Are party leaders that sure they’ve got their electorate in their pocket that they can afford to just leave them twisting in the wind? In the case of Ferguson, lives have been lost and more are at stake! What we saw this summer was no less frightening or serious than the civil unrest in Alabama in 1961. Fast forward a few decades, what have we learned? Not much, it seems! Democrats spent the better part of Election 2012 talking down Republicans with their race-bating strategies. For a moment there, they were right! We also spent a good amount of time talking about the browning of America and how Republicans were throwing away the minority vote the Democrats’ way. So, what are Democrats doing now? Throwing minorities back into the arms of the GOP? How utterly insane is that?

 At a time when civil unrest has reached a crisis point and Democrats are a part of the problem, how wise is it for the DNC not to publicly and vociferously intervene? Mediate? Cast away leaders who don’t represent the Democratic ethic? The Root.com, among other media outlets, reports:

Are Missouri Dems Pushing the DOJ to End Michael Brown Investigation?

Questions have been raised in Ferguson, Mo., about the role of that state’s senior U.S. senator: Did either Sen. Claire McCaskill or her staff communicate to the Department of Justice that it should end its Ferguson investigation after the local grand jury ends its own?

It’s been widely speculated that the St. Louis County grand jury—empaneled by police-connected St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch—will not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in connection with the Aug. 9 shooting death of a black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown. [ … ]

Click here to read the full article on TheRoot.com


I only mention immigration now, but it too has reached a boiling point.

Is turning a blind eye to all these burning issues wise? Ethical? Ferguson hasn’t left the news since the summer. It isn’t leaving the news any time soon. Ferguson isn’t the only possible hot spot. How smart is it for Democrats to abide by tactics of yore in a post-civil rights era?


In my post, entitled Postmortem is the new rehab, I wrote:

” I hope the Democrats learn from the RNC’s blunders with their post-mortem. Doing a post-mortem and then not applying its recommendations, or worse, getting one that says what you wish it’d say, is exactly the trap Democrats need not fall into.”

and

“One can only assume that the DNC and DCCC leadership also plans on staying put.

It’s a pity and a bad sign for what’s to come. The leadership should have resigned first, then allowed their successors to manage doing a post-mortem and implementing it. Anything else will seem as ridiculously disingenuous as the RNC’s did. For now, the Democrats’ mascot looks like a donkey in the headlights while it is pitch-dark… Wake up, and perk up!”

Nothing that took place this week changed my mind. If anything, it has reinforced my position. From the looks of it, it seems as if there won’t be a postmortem; only a bit of trompe-l’œil to throw the masses off the scent. The only trouble, this time, is that they weren’t fooled.

I haven’t noticed, this week, any rapprochement between congressional Democrats and their president. In fact, Senate Democrats have fast-tracked a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline and the White House has announced it would veto it, should it pass.

Four years ago, I wondered out loud, in some of my New York Times comments whether progressives wouldn’t be better off cutting their losses and leaving the party. At the time, one could still reasonably argue that the losses resulting from such a departure just weren’t warranted and that working within the party was was a sounder approach. This reasoning remained somewhat true in 2012. It wasn’t last week and I have serious doubt that it will be the case in 2016, based on current party dynamics. Election 2014 losses, in large part, stemmed from the gross under-representation of progressives in the party leadership and the steadfast refusal of neoliberal party leaders to share power with those who represent the prevailing view in the electorate. They weren’t willing to bend to the will of their constituents before the election and they aren’t now. Elevating Senator Warren isn’t a concession to progressives. It is obvious subterfuge.

The Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, and Progressive Caucuses need to come to some hard decisions very soon. The Democratic base is with them. The party leadership isn’t. It’s time to make a clean break.

I stand by every word I’ve written and I will continue to point out that the king has no clothes. William Greider is right. Barring a complete about-face, “Dems will become the party of the past, defending wrong ideas that failed and losing more elections.” Progressives should take no part in that.

Change is inevitable and its time is just about due. It will happen whether or not the Democratic party is ready.


Related reading:

Restoring our Democracy: http://www.rimaregas.com/2014/11/restoring-our-democracy-what-itll-take/

Dem politics: Postmortem is the new rehab

Dem Politics: Post-mortem is the new rehab

Beyond salvation? Democratic party politics

Beyond salvation? Democratic party politics on Blog#42

Manchin: “I won’t put up with bulls**t if Dems try to obstruct the GOP:”