Monday, June 12, 2017

Democratic Divisions

Two articles in the Times this week about divisions between progressives bent on driving the Democratic party and the country to the left and party officials who want to win elections.

First, a Frank Bruni piece on New York's 19th Congressional District, which covers the Hudson Valley between the NYC suburbs and Albany. Democratic insiders think they could have won this district in 2016 if primary voters had not gone for a progressive outsider, Manhattan transplant Zephyr Teachout. Those primary voters didn't care that Teachout had no real roots in the district and no knowledge of local issues, just that she was the most passionately progressive candidate. But general elections voters did care, and she lost badly in this swing district. The same party insiders tell Bruni that the district should be winnable in the 2018 midterms, so long as primary voters don't go for another left-wing outsider.

The second piece has a nationwide perspective and draws a contrast between Bernie Sanders and John Ossoff, the Democrat running in the special election in the Atlanta suburbs. Ossoff has decided that to win in Georgia he has to come across as a moderate, and he has mostly stayed away from Sanders-style rhetoric and refrained from attacking the president by name.

It's the old story of two-party politics in America: the energy and passion are on the left and the right, but elections are won in the center. In the long run this is true even in single-party states, as the situation in Kansas reminds us: true-believing conservatives have been outvoted and outmaneuvered by centrists, leading to a dramatic reversal of the governor's signature tax cuts.

The real political masters – FDR, Reagan – sense how far the electorate will let them go and stay within those limits. Right now Democrats are divided precisely about the assessment of the national mood. Many on the left follow Bernie Sanders in believing that Hillary lost because she was not progressive enough, and that to win Democrats need candidates fully committed to national health care and higher taxes on the rich. Others, like Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, say things like
We are going to lose every possible winnable seat, in a year where there are many winnable seats, if we come across as inflexible left-wingers. I respect Bernie — I just don’t think we can become the party of Bernie.
A lot will depend on who is right.


Unknown said...

Platforms can be important for mobilizing the base, but to win, Democrats need to find candidates that voters can identify with. I was struck in Bruni's piece that both losing Dem candidates he cited seemed like poster children for the hypermeritocratic, globalized ruling class. They could afford to buy second homes (in one case costing $2 million) so they could run in the district, but locals couldn't identify with them. Democrats need to find more candidates with a genuine common touch.

G. Verloren said...

I'm watching France with a lot of interest for pretty much exactly this reason. Macron's centrist approach, if successful there, might just be worth emulating in the US.

The Democrats simply have too much baggage weighing them down. Put together a new centrist party that operates on both sides of the aisle and makes real compromises that accomodate both a liberal desire for progress and a conservative desire for prudence, and put someone sane and sensible on the ticket, and you'd get my vote.

If the Democrats want to rebuild faith, they need to really distance themselves from Bernie and put someone genuinely worthwhile up for election, ideally someone Obama-grade or better. They could maybe squeek by with Joe Biden, but what they really need is a damn good candidate to run on a solid, reliable (if uninspiring) platform of slightly left-of-center policies, with an emphasis on measured reform.

pootrsox said...

My friends who used to be Republicans would not, for the most part, vote for a Bernie-style candidate, even though they voted for Obama twice and for Clinton this time around.

A party cannot win on the True Believers alone... even if they can do a mind-numb on the not-really-savvy-who-believe-Fox-et-al. But a party can *lose* because of True Believers who think anything other than absolute purity must be punished with a vote for a totally inept 3rd party candidate.

I would happily support a truly centrist candidate who did not want to decimate health care supports, Social Security, equal rights -- but not *special* rights, and Constitutional guarantees. I don't care what the party label is; I care about what the candidate stands for.

Locally (VA has elections this year and the primary is 6/13) I am voting for a Dem who opposes fracking coming to the Northern Neck area but also has an understanding of the entire 99th Delegate district and has done his homework on the issues we face as a poverty-bound rural area and how a Delegate can affect them. He attended "how to run and win" workshops to prepare. I am not voting for his primary opponent, a woman of excellent spirit and passionate about human rights, taking care of those who cannot care for themselves, etc etc etc-- and only decided to run because she was energized by the Women's March in January. She doesn't know much about any of the district except her own little piece of it. She also has not prepared in any way to take on the well-established Republican incumbent.

I'm also voting for Northam over Perriello for two reasons: Northam has a good track record *and* he's far more electable in November than Perriello. I do *not* want Gillespie (or heaven forfend one of the other two Republican candidates!) as governor.