Our system of politics has been breaking for some time. I’ve made numerous public comments on various aspects of our degrading democracy over the last few years. What I’ve only recently begun to articulate, however, is that the problems we’ve all been focused on in connection to events pertaining to the right, also exist on the left, perhaps to a lesser extent. The rot on the left is my focus here.
This post isn’t about what’s happened to the GOP over the last six years. As far as I’m concerned, they’re a total loss by now. The real question for me is whether the Democratic Party has reached the point of no return as well, when it comes to progressives’ ability to claim a representative share in the leadership of the party.
Whatever one thinks of democratic politics these days, clearly, the neoliberal wing of the party is the dominant one, in very stark contrast to consistently and increasingly progressive polling of the party’s base over just the last two years.
Survey after survey, poll after poll since 2012, have shown that Democratic voters are leaning increasingly leftward. Yet, congressional Democrats have increasingly compromised on or proposed new legislation that takes it away from the wishes and stances of its base. Lately, this estrangement by party leaders has been to the personal detriment of millions of voters who are still stranded in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Of note is the fact that the leadership has effectively ceased to actively decry the effects Republican tactics have had on our country, either through obstruction or attempts at forcing through legislation. The deafening silence since the passage of the Ryan-Murray budget right before Congress went on winter break in December 2013, has not been forgotten. Neither has Congress’ very lax legislation schedule in the intervening months. There has been a dearth of Democratic initiatives to get any of the most painful budget cuts back on the discussion table.
Those voters who’ve been disenfranchised – those who’ve been suffering the harshest effects of the Great Recession, forced austerity since 2010, and voter suppression are the very minority voters Democrats took for granted would show up at the polls. One wonders why, in 2014, as Democrats aggressively courted black voters, our president kept at arm’s length?
The pitfalls that apply to the right, when it comes to its treatment of minorities, also applies to the left. The lessons the GOP didn’t apply from the 2012 post-mortem it commissioned apply equally to Democrats. Tacitly sanctioning dog-whistle politics by certain Southern Democrats was unconscionable and did not go unnoticed. This is true in Missouri where there are severe problems*, as well as it is true in Kentucky or Georgia. The party should make special efforts to repair the damage.
Why did various up and coming candidates feel free to refuse to answer questions they’d answered on prior occasions about voting for President Obama? Why did they distance themselves from policies the party as a whole pushed through and still supports? Why did prominent Democrats who served under President Obama not only pivot away from the administration, but feel free to criticize policies they had a hand in, even before the midterm election was over? Why have certain Democrats, when asked whether race has been a factor in the treatment of our president, vigorously denied it?
If all of the things I list above weren’t already bad enough, there is the way the Election 2014 campaign was managed. The only way to characterize its most prominent component -social media and email – is through the adjective “shameful.” What were party leaders thinking when they approved the daily dispatch of hundreds of desperate emails, often immediately after a donation was made, hammering voters from January through voting day? On average, I would awake to discover between 150-200 new emails and receive about as many throughout any given day. Unsubscribing did nothing to stem the flow. And the tone employed? Some of the subject lines in those emails were right out of a debt collector’s handbook.
Where was the substance? Where were the issues laid out? Goals defined? Acknowledgement of the pain many voters are still suffering?
Where was any kind of strategy to push Republicans back on any number of issues? Where were top Democrats hiding throughout most of Campaign 2014? What stages were they on, pointing the finger at Republicans for all of the awful things they’ve said, done, tried to do, and for preventing the nation from conducting its business?
Why did Democrats run from their own ACA? After all, the healthcare reform that President Obama first put on the table was the public option, but congressional Democrats choose to go with private insurance? Why? If that wasn’t bad enough, where have the Democrats been on jobs? By jobs, I am referring to some stimulative economic policy that gets us out of the Walmart economy and back to a semblance of what he had before outsourcing our economy became the new frenzy? After all, isn’t outsourcing how Mitt Romney, the man who could have become our president, made his fortune at Bain Capital?
Here are some more hard questions:
- What have Democrats done to revive efforts to pass an infrastructure bill?
- What are they proposing to end secular stagnation and its cycle of long-term unemployment and underemployment?
- Where have they been on gun control?
- Where have they been on judicial appointments? (There is now a petition urging Leader Reid to fastrack appointments before turning over the Senate to Mitch McConnell)
- Money in politics?
- Voting rights?
- Shoring up the right to organize?
- Women’s issues?
- Student debt?
- True education reform that isn’t the dismantling of public education?
- The surveillance state?
- Militarization of police forces?
- Police brutality nationwide, and the explosion in the number of shootings of civilians?
- Poverty and hunger?
- Resuming unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed and underemployed?
- Putting an end to the constant foreign wars?
Where have Democrats been on any of the myriad social and economic issues that have gone by the wayside since 2010? Where is the singular focus and attention on particular issues by groups of senior leaders? Where has Nancy Pelosi been during all of 2014? When is the last time we’ve seen or heard from her on any issue? When is the last time she was seen with our president? The same questions apply to her counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid.
Then, there is the issue of Citizens United. Democrats cried rivers, via email, that they are being outraised by Republicans. Well, duh! Between being outraised, outspent, having millions of voters disenfranchised again (we’d already seen a preview of this in 2012), would it not have made more sense to have an all-out effort to energize the base and get voters to engage? Getting full participation at the polls would have at least mitigated the effect of the flood of SuperPAC cash everywhere. Did the polls not indicate throughout 2013 that voter disengagement was becoming a problem? Was anyone paying attention?
Democrats began losing some of their base as it became clear that moneyed interests were getting Democrats’ attention, and not the general electorate. This became more obvious when entire constituencies were abandoned as the unemployed were in December, and the poor in November. Democrats will continue to lose the confidence of the public if it continues to back candidates whose alignment with Wall Street and big business is well-established. Too much has happened over these last six years for the party to continue these alliances as it has up until now, while expecting voter engagement.
Two days after huge losses in Election 2014, the DCCC emailed its base for input on a new “End Citizens United” sticker it wants to send out for free. While it is great that they’re turning the party’s focus to money in politics, such an effort while conducting business as usual will appear cynical. This emerging focus on money in politics should have taken place immediately after the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Citizens United. It didn’t. While SCOTUS’ subsequent major decision on the topic was rendered in McCutcheon v. FEC, neither the DCCC nor the DNC saw fit to campaign on it. With a shrinking middle class and inequality in far more advanced stages now, the party is going to have to decide whose allegiance it wants more: Wall Street or Main Street’s.
Steve Israel and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz represent the failure of the party over the last four years. They need to resign their positions in the DCCC and DNC, respectively. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid failed the party, at least, over the last two years. They, too, need to step down from their positions and allow progressives to lead the charge from here on out.
Other noteworthy Democrats who’ve strayed far from the core stances of the party are Dianne Feinstein for her policy positions on the police state and gun control, Patty Murray for her part in deciding to end unemployment benefits, and a slew of others for all kinds of policies that are not favored by Democratic voters.
While I don’t favor term limits, I am at the point where I just might change my position if these leaders don’t step down on their own. My reasoning for not being in favor of limits is that the learning curve to be a productive member of either house of Congress is a steep one and the same advantage in having a hierarchy managing a private institution applies to a public one.
Progressives need to be ambitiously aggressive about claiming their share of power in a way that is commensurate with the people’s voice. People like Keith Ellison, Elijah Cummings, Raul Grijalva and many others in the progressive caucus should be leading the party. Former Governor Howard Dean should be asked to resume as head the party’s Governors’ Association as a part of an effort at realigning the party’s philosophy and focus with the its voters’ and regaining lost trust.
It is going to take the resolve, self-discipline, long-term focus of the electorate and the Democratic party to work together to reestablish our nation’s democracy, possibly over decades. We need a party that is organized around the commitment to see to it that this goal is accomplished, no matter how long it takes.
Currently, the Democratic party is a party with no rudder or soul. It needs both to move forward to victory.
* Questions have been floating about with respect to the role played by certain Democrats in Ferguson, Missouri.
From a Root.com article by Lauren Victoria Burke on Oct. 31, 2014:
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.
And now multiple sources tell The Root that a small coterie of elected officials—mostly white Democrats—in Greater St. Louis have been working behind the scenes to bring the controversy surrounding Brown’s killing by Wilson to a quiet end.
According to sources, the effort escalated during the past week after a series of one-sided leaks, favorable to Wilson’s version of events on Aug. 9, appeared in the press.
This week, sources said that McCaskill’s office pushed the Department of Justice to end its investigation after the grand jury’s decision, which, they said, could be announced as early as next week. Ultimately, the DOJ investigation could determine whether or not Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights.
“There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Senator McCaskill’s office has pushed the Department of Justice to declare an end to the DOJ investigation if a decision of no-indictment is issued by the grand jury,” a high-ranking government official told The Root. [ … ]
Read the rest of this article at TheRoot.com
This is very curious behavior for any Democrat to engage in, in this day and age, but here we are…
A friend points me to some interesting research on Senators’ positions:
However, there is one clear way to see a state’s political attitudes: their senators. Senators are voted for directly in statewide fall elections. They cast votes on any Congressional bills. They also have six-year terms, and have a strong statistical trend of incumbents being re-elected, which makes them less susceptible to small shifts in the electorate and more representative of a state’s long-term views. Also, since each state gets two, a state with relatively equal Republican and Democratic blocs will tend to have a senator from each party, while states with a clear preference for a party tend to have two senators from that party.
Plotting all fifty states on-screen would be a visual mess. However, using the controls below, you can pick any combination of states to display on the chart.
Curated from Political Compass
We can glean, from Nancy Pelosi’s email (below) to voters on November 6, that at least some Democrats knew all along what issues were of import. One only wonders why no one stepped in, mid-campaign, to end the foolishness. It might have saved the election…
from: Nancy Pelosi <firstname.lastname@example.org> reply-to: email@example.com
to: Rima Regas <XXX@XXX.com>
date: Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 12:33 PM subject: ✎ note to President Obama — sign please Rima mailed-by: XXXXXXXX signed-by: dccc.org
Rima — I want to thank you. For everything.
Though Tuesday night was a difficult election, we had Democrats win hard-fought campaigns because you stood with them every step of the way. And I want you to know how much I appreciate your support.
But we don’t have time to dwell on Tuesday’s results. Speaker Boehner and soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just laid out their Republican agenda in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. And it’s exactly what we feared:
Repealing the Affordable Care Act
Repealing rules that rein in corporate polluters and Wall Street excess
Rewriting the tax code to give more tax breaks to billionaires
I want you to know that I will not stop fighting for the millions of Americans who are receiving affordable, quality health care — some for the first times in their lives. And I want you to know that I will never stop fighting to put the interests of middle-class families before the corporate special interests.
In other words, I’m not going anywhere. But I can’t do it alone. I need you standing with me and the President.
As striking as what the Republicans included in their agenda is what they left out.
No mention of equal pay for women
No mention of raising the minimum wage
No mention of voting rights
It’s more important than ever that we speak boldly and clearly for the progressive values we share. Only by changing our political environment and broadening the universe of the electorate can we build a strong sense of community and an economy that works for everyone.
If you’re standing with us, I hope you’ll take the time to sign our note today:
Thanks again for all you do.