The following (note: bolding added by me for emphasis) is cross posted from the Facebook feed of Jesse Lee, who has worked at the DCCC, DNC and the Obama White House. I agree with the vast majority of it.
This is asking for trouble, I’m sure, but may as well do a brain dump on the election.
The biggest thing: I have to say I’m kind of confused by the anger in the fight around “the direction of the Democratic Party,” as if there’s some vast chasm.
Does anybody violently disagree with the Democratic platform that Bernie and Hillary’s folks put together this year? I haven’t really met almost any Democrats who do, in either direction. It seemed pretty damn progressive to me, and showed enormous progressive movement since 2008 on economics and everything else. Obama has moved quite a bit since then (and in turn helped move the country IMO), and the platform was generally a couple clicks further along than him. Expanding Social Security. Debt free college (and community college, and trade school). Universal pre-K, which I think is a profoundly important and largely underrated policy on the left. Criminal justice reform and rolling back the war on drugs. Massive investments in jobs financed by closing tax loopholes for the rich. These are huge policies aimed straight at the working/ middle class, be they white, black, Latino, or Asian-American. There’s even movement towards anti-trust policies. If trade is your biggest concern, the TPP is dead and the party is going to be pretty unified against trade deals for a long time. I couldn’t even tell you who runs Third Way now or if they still exist for sure.
Even if you think there’s really important stuff that’s not in there, you can’t look at the 2008 platform and the 2016 platform and not see that moving the party is eminently possible. And of course Party Platforms aren’t some ironclad thing, but like I say I think in this case it really did largely reflect a Democratic Party consensus.
As for the finger-pointing:
A) Blame Hillary??? Should Hillary have spent more time focusing on these economic themes? Sure. Though she was not as quiet as it seemed, it just didn’t get covered because it didn’t fit into either of the two dominant, almost exclusionary campaign narratives: 1) Trump’s racism / populism and 2) Hillary’s emails. Go back and look at what she did coming out of the Convention, which was straight economic vision and populist condemnation of Trump. Don’t remember it? That’s because it didn’t get covered. And by the way — the fact that she did spend significant time condemning his racism and misogyny was not some frivolous gimmick, it was really really important and that should be even more clear now. And wait, before we move on, stop here: it was *really important*.
Was she inherently an imperfect messenger on middle class economics? Sure, she’s by her own admission not a natural politician, and she had a real problem connecting with people on a mass scale; not all of her husband’s policies were shining examples of progressivism (some were from a different time, some were just bad); and she got paid an absurd amount of money for a few years for speeches. OTOH she has also spent almost her entire life in public service, and has endured more shit in the pursuit of helping working families than any of us, for all her flaws.
During the campaign, she was portrayed as the female Richard Nixon because she used the wrong email address. Whatever gripes one might have with her, that was fucking bullshit. And as far as I’m concerned, it borders on fact that she would have won the election had the last 12 days not gone that way. A lot of voters were convinced she was female Richard Nixon after *two years* of incessant coverage, and if you’re a voter on the fence, a choice between Trump and Richard Nixon is not actually so easy; if you’re a standard Dem voter, you lose some juice to turn out for Richard Nixon; if you’re a standard GOP voter then you just can’t get wait to get up in the morning to vote against your ultimate boogeyman Female Democratic Richard Nixon Hillary Clinton. If a candidate can win a presidential election when the campaign ends with a 12-day telethon about him/her being Richard Nixon, well that’s a damn impressive feat.
But pointing that out doesn’t mean that Democrats don’t need to go hard looking for new policies to help the middle class and reduce the power of massive corporations, or to communicate better on an authentic level, or to get on the ground better. Do all these things better *always*. Both are true! Pointing out that there was sexism in the campaign, or rather that this campaign was not the one miraculous exception to sexism in the history of America, does not mean the Democratic Party shouldn’t work to be better. Pointing out that Russia waged an all-but-overt war on her, for that matter, or that Republicans systematically and successfully suppressed minority voters to near-decisive extents in key states, does not mean the Dems should go kick their feet up. But those things are all true and to ignore them would be simply bizarre.
B) Blame Bernie??? Well that seems dumb. Did his attacks leave a mark? Sure, but the guy’s entitled to run a primary campaign, and it doesn’t have to be warm and fuzzy. I think his eventual endorsement came off more begrudged than he even realized, but primaries aren’t actually supposed to be a lovefest — Trump’s wasn’t!
C) Blame Trump??? Maybe he was actually just a magnificently cunning candidate who made a profound connection with working class real Americans that us elites can never understand. Anecdotes abound! Chris Matthews says so! OK, except he was a profoundly loathed candidate, would have lost the election 12 days earlier (perhaps even bigly!), and a full 2/3 of his voters said they were primarily voting *against* Hillary, not *for* him. 2/3! That leaves a grand total of 1/6 of American voters, and a much smaller fraction of all Americans, who were enthusiastically pro-Trump. George W. Bush had higher support in the 5th year of the Iraq War while the economy was collapsing and his entire party was begging him to just shut up and stay out of sight.
D) Blame Obama??? There are legitimate criticisms of him to be had along populist economic lines that I even agree with, particularly in the first term (although the realities of the politics are often ignored). But he passed the Recovery Act which was bigger than the New Deal in terms of stimulus, he passed Elizabeth Warren’s signature career achievement and chose her to set it up, he reduced the uninsured rates amongst the working class of all races by about half, and he restored proper overtime pay, just to name a few. He fought for much much more and was blocked by Republicans in Congress. Also: his approval rating today is 57%, literally a progressive Reagan by that standard. Also: he won the entire rust belt and the hardest hit foreclosure states when he ran for reelection in 2012. This is not the story of a man consumed by anti-working class elitism, overseeing a Great Decay. And unlike the previous three persons, I can speak from experience: this is a guy who spends all day every day doing what he thinks is right for working people. That is why he wanted the job and still loves it. You can disagree with his judgment sometimes, but I have literally 0.00% doubt on his motivation, and his White House is packed with people who work themselves into profound burnout for the exact same motivation. It has been largely scandal-free and I know very few who have left to get rich in the influence industrial complex.
So in summary: when a team plays a whole season, and then misses the playoffs by one game at the end, it’s perfectly expected that there will be a lot of attention about that last game they lost. Especially if they lost it because a ref went berzerk and ejected half the team on a whim. That doesn’t mean you don’t take a step back and figure out what to do so that next season you’re not on the bubble. It also doesn’t mean you dismantle the entire team and sell it to Las Vegas.
I’m not one to demand unity for unity’s sake. Now’s as good a time to have it out. But for all the sound and fury, I’m having a hard time seeing a great divide on how we move forward. And what divide I do see seems very conquerable by progressives continuing to do what they do and push — and hold people accountable.
Now sooner or later, we will need some (but not total) unity. Because despite general agreement on strong progressive policy, it will not be the cakewalk a lot of people seem to think. The most common mistake in politics is believing “if we just pushed the policies I like, we’d win every election forever.” But the strain of resistance that Trump tapped into, and the strain that cost us the 2010 landslide, was fundamentally this: “you’re taking my money, my government, maybe even my job, and giving a break to other people that don’t deserve it.” It’s tied up in racism in a lot of ways, but seeing other white people benefit also doesn’t blunt it, and it’s not limited to racists or even to the working class.
Obamacare was a boon to working class whites. But people who didn’t get coverage from it saw other people getting stuff they “didn’t deserve.” Hell, even people who *got coverage* and thought *they* deserved it could still resent that one lazy guy they know who got covered. Likewise, free college would be a boon for run down areas of the white working class, just like it would be a boon for run down areas of the black working class. But what do you think the white working class guy who doesn’t go to college, or already went to college, or can’t put food on the table and go to college at the same time will think? You guessed it. His stuff going to people who “don’t deserve it.”
This will be a big bad fuckin battle of ideas. And no, not every election will be won, I promise. (Bernie backers who are certain he would have steamrolled Trump should also recognize he and his agenda were never tested on this buzzsaw, btw. OTOH, you moved the party to a much more progressive place, take pride in your win!). It will be a long hard slog upstream through the most vile, overflowing river of shit in memory, but we’re all now in it together with the luxury and privilege of fighting the new abominable empire on behalf of people who will bear the biggest brunt. Let’s make sure to take them down as quickly and forcefully as possible, and that when we do, the country knows what we came to do.