In recent interview on MSNBC, Ralph Nader challenged the Democrats:
“Democratic Party: …(L)ook in the mirror, and ask yourself why you cannot landslide the worst, the most ignorant, the most corporate indentured, the cruelest Republican Party in history.”
I’ve had my issues with Ralph Nader since his 2000 campaign. But really, the question he asks is a good one. It is a question essential for us to address successfully, lest we Democrats make strategic errors that –once again — needlessly hand power to that terrible, destructive Republican Party that Nader has so scathingly characterized.
Political Wisdom or Shirking the Battle?
As Democrats have been discussing how the party’s candidates should campaign in 2018, the prevailing school of thought seems to be: Campaign on progressive issues, don’t make the campaign about fighting Trump or the Republicans.
It is said that, “We’ve got to be for something, not just against.”
A case might be made in support of that issues-based approach —although it is not clear why one must choose between being “for” and being “against.” One can readily conceive of a strategy that attacks Trump and the Republicans on their transgressions against constructive policies and progressive (as well as basic) American values.
After all, the reason for our being against Trump and his Republican enablers is because we are for the values and policies they are assaulting.
So the unnecessary drawing of that dichotomy calls attention to the “don’t make the campaign about Trump” part of this apparent Democratic consensus. It arouses my suspicions because we’ve seen this movie before and it does not end well—for Democrats, or for America.
Here’s the pattern I fear we Democrats may be about to recapitulate:
the Democrats decide to ignore the central political reality of the times, and then they get skunked in the election.
The Central Political Reality of Our Times The central political reality in America, for many years now, has been the hijacking of the Republican Party by a destructive force that has been inflicting great damage upon the nation.
Under W, it wrecked everything (the economy and the financial system, the international order, the American military, not to mention the rule of law). W left the nation in shambles.
Under Obama, that same Republican Party did everything it could to prevent anything good from being accomplished. They chose across-the-board obstructionism as a strategy for discrediting the president from the other party, and thus regaining power for itself.
Putting Party over nation has been the Republicans’ immoral modus operandi for a generation.
And now the force that’s taken over the Republican Party has gone still deeper into darkness and destruction, putting into the Oval Office a man — Donald Trump — who in any other era would have been unthinkable as President of the United States.
Daily we watch President Donald Trump careen across our political landscape like a wrecking ball, assaulting the foundations of American democracy. Daily, on the news, we see how Trump tramples on norms, rules, ideals, and values central to America.
- the rule of law,
- freedom of the press,
- rational and informed deliberations,
- the advancement in the world of American ideals,
- our long-time alignment with free societies more readily than with tyrannies.
Trump has single-handedly completely ended – at least for now – world respect for American leadership.
He shows contempt for the Constitution, enriches himself off the presidency, and quite likely – in gaining the presidency — had dealings with a hostile power (Russia) of a kind that should be unthinkable for any American patriot.
And the Republicans have willingly made themselves into his accomplices.
(Nader’s description of this historically terrible Republican Party is no exaggeration.)
It is this – the crisis around the Trump presidency, compounded by his Republican enablers and abettors in Congress – that is the central political reality of this moment. It is this – perhaps the greatest threat to the survival of American democracy since the Civil War — that is the clear focus of national attention right now.
And it is this crisis that many Democrats say we should soft-pedal in the coming election campaign, speaking to the people instead about the “issues.”
But – in terms of public attention and emotion — aren’t the progressive “issues” necessarily subordinate at this moment to this blatant and urgent national crisis? And, in any event, isn’t it quite clear that nothing can be accomplished on these issues until the immediate problem – that America has placed power in destructive hands — is successfully addressed?
How impactful can any campaign be that pretends that the major crisis that visibly holds the nation in its grip doesn’t exist?
Repeating the Mistake of 2014?
Actually, the Democrats have tried that very approach before—to some extent in 2010, and to a greater extent in 2014.
Back in 2014, the American people were frustrated – deservedly so – by the failure of the political system to deliver accomplishments in service to the people and the nation. And the reason for this political failure was simple, and clear as could be: the Republicans had made the indefensible decision to obstruct everything they could, as no party in opposition had ever done in American history.
Showing an unprecedented willingness to injure the nation to advance their own power, the Republicans showed what should have been a disqualifying indifference to the well-being of the American people and disrespect for the people’s choice of a person to play the constitutionally central leadership role of President.
This unprecedented Republican conduct, and how it revealed that they cared only about their own power, was the central political reality of that moment. It was the explanation of the crippling gridlock, the lack of progress, that was frustrating the American people.
But as clear as that reality was, a great many of the American people didn’t understand that the failure of their government to serve them was the deliberate choice of one Party, made to discredit the other and gain power for themselves.
In that ignorance, people could often be heard talking about how “Washington” was dysfunctional, how “the Congress” was failing them, how “our politics” was broken. As if the problem was symmetrical between the parties.
The campaign of 2014 provided the Democrats an opportunity to show the American people that they were the only major political party in America that was working to make a better America, while the other party was betraying the nation.
(Theoretically, the media might have educated the people about this. But in such matters, the media customarily await having political actors making a big issue so that it becomes safe for them to cover it.)
But the Democrats did not make that central political reality – Republican obstructionism — the main issue of the campaign, as it should have been. Indeed, they didn’t make it much of an issue at all.
Instead of showing the people the core political battle of that election year, the Democratic campaign chose to focus on “issues.”
The Democrats at the time thought they were playing it safe. Going after the Republicans in such a confrontational way seemed dangerous.
How did that work out?
For the Democrats, playing it “safe” turned out to be a path toward electoral disaster. Just as Ralph Nader says, far from “landsliding” the worst Republican Party in history, the cautious Democratic strategy of 2014 handed the GOP a huge electoral triumph
Left undisturbed by the Democrats to believe a false “both sides do it” narrative, many Americans voted for a Party that was (and remains) their enemy. Far from being punished for their disgraceful betrayal of American political norms, the nation, and its people, the Republicans found themselves rewarded.
The Democratic strategy of avoiding the fight strengthened the Republicans for their scorched earth approach to American political norms, enabling them soon thereafter to steal the Supreme Court and get away with that as well.
Not just the Democratic Party, but America itself has suffered greatly from that 2014 election. Nothing good came of a Democratic campaign that chose not to confront the reality that the Republicans were waging a take-no-prisoners political war.
That destructive force on the right – whose instrument the Republican Party of our times has unambiguously become — has been waging war upon us and all that we hold sacred for years.
The failure in 2014 to stand and fight that war with equal intensity did no one but the Republicans any good.
Still Unprepared for the War That’s Been Thrust Upon Us?
Are the Democrats – apparently so leery of confrontation with a Republican Party that is not just their opponent, but an unprecedented threat to American democracy – going to make that same mistake again?
Are the Democrats – even now, when the Republican Party has become the Party of Trump, the wolf without the sheep’s clothing – still unprepared to talk powerfully to the American people about what’s really at stake in this electoral battle between our two major parties?
Does this (apparently widespread) “don’t campaign against Trump and the Republicans” idea signify that Liberal America still lacks what it takes to fight the war that’s been thrust upon us?
(Coming Soon: “What Campaigning Against Trump and the Republicans Will Require.”)