From the New York Times
I have been thinking a lot about what the Democratic Party and the Progressives should do next. I include both groups and everyone else on the left because I think we need all hands on deck and because every time I mention the Democratic Party someone schools me on how corrupt and depraved the party is these days with just as many ties to Wall Street and billionaires as are found on the Right. In spite of all the lectures it will entail I will, henceforth, talk about all of us on the left as the Democratic Party for the sake of brevity. Of course if we can’t really agree that the Party is even a viable and inspirational force these day then perhaps that shows us where we need to begin.
How do we make the Democratic Party a party that people can respect and feel proud to belong to, contribute to, and vote for in elections? Are the days of poverty programs over and should humanitarian benefits that provide for citizens when they are old, or sick, or unemployed become a thing of the past? Perhaps without a robust industrial sector we are not an affluent enough nation to set aside dollars for people who are less fortunate than us? Perhaps we do not pay enough taxes these days to be able to afford programs where our government redistributes our tax dollars back to us in the form of retirement benefits or health care or payments if we become disabled or unemployed.
Programs for People
It has been explained to us that it is actually today’s young workers who pay the benefits of today’s seniors, just as our benefits paid for our parents. If there are fewer jobs and the jobs young people have pay less than people made in the past then is there still enough to go around? Perhaps Social Security could be redesigned rather than privatized as the Republicans would like. Health care is not paid for in quite the same way, but we have our government deduct extra tax dollars from our pay checks while we are working to pay for most of our health care when we no longer work. Once again costs are apparently exceeding our contributions. These are programs that people like and that offer real benefits to the tax payers/citizens in our republic/democracy. As a Democrat I have always been proud that we support these kinds of benefits for we the people.
And there are many other platforms and policies that Democrats back which still seem important in order to set a society apart as one that is highly developed, educated, and enlightened. These are the kinds of things that prove a government is absolutely a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Take away all of our social programs and what is left for our government to do – wage war and support business. Our government would then become a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy. We are almost there now.
The Party of the Workers
The fact that Americans no longer go off, almost without exception, to work in factories has been a game changer for the Democratic Party. We used to be the party of the working man/woman. Unions and the Democrats were close allies against bosses and wealthy business owners. If workers joined the Democrats their numbers and solidarity gave them clout against the wealthy owner classes. When Republicans tried to take away all government regulation on business and commerce, we the people could dial them back a bit and stave off the worst abuses of unfettered capitalism.
Dems Have Lost Their Worker Mojo
Times have changed in more ways than just where Americans go to work these days. The Democrats have lost their mojo. Workers have had to practically go begging for jobs, and although we have the current push to buck up salaries through passing minimum wage levels that at least cover the bare essentials required by working families to maintain their homes, afford transportation, and eat and buy clothing, it does not feel the same as when the people joined unions and negotiated fairly splendid wages.
The Republicans make a big stink about how the government is getting too big and it is not the business of government to determine the minimum wage for the whole nation, given the differing conditions across the states. But with few factory jobs and with many states passing “right to work” laws which eat away at the power of unions to negotiate for their members, the government is the only entity workers can fall back on right now to make sure employers provide a decent wage that meets our current standards of living. Employers have been hit hard by recession and changing markets in America also. They have been known to pay more attention to their bottom line than the needs of their workers. Better to generate plenty of profit and then worry about your employees. Pay yourself first can be carried to extremes without some protections.
Given that the workers no longer require a dedicated party to support labor. Given that there is no longer a matrix of unions for workers to use as a vehicle for negotiating with both employers and government. (Unions still exist but as sort of obsolete institutions, much like medieval guilds, comforting but basically nonfunctional, although public service sector workers still have functioning unions.) Given that retail, which has shown the most growth in offering employment, has never been unionized. Given all of these changes it is no wonder the Democrats have lost their footing and are not quite sure how to redefine themselves.
Identity politics is a newly coined type of politics, meaning politics that backs minority groups within our culture that are vocal and that often find themselves up against the reactionary stances of the right in America. Democrats have become the party that backs minorities and defends civil rights of all kinds (even for people who live in America but did not arrive through the proper channels). The left strives for equal opportunity and tolerance of diversity, goals which many feel are exclusionary.
White people are already feeling the pinch of so many minorities groups which clamor for attention (taking attention away from the white folks who, many feel, are the rightful owners of America because the original settlers of America were overwhelmingly white.) Race superiority enters through this door, although some simply never pictured any America other than a white America, and for the latter this becomes a matter of possession as opposed to superiority. People want white tax dollars to go for the needs of white people and not any deadbeat white people either. However, many Americans think that their tax dollars are going to people who just don’t want to work, or people who refuse to work for one reason or another. Lots of commenters are saying that the Democrats need to stop using arguments from “identity politics” to sway minority voters to vote left because then we lose those white worker votes that used to make the Democrats so strong. They argue that we need to fight for things that would improve the lives of all Americans and no longer differentiate between groups of Americans.
Democrats, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
I offered my suggestions in my last article and I asked people to offer their ideas. I got no substantive answers. To repeat my suggestions: use the Democrat organizations that already exist and hold conventions, forums, convocations which make use of speakers but also provide opportunities for attendees to interact. Encourage people who are not already party leaders to speak and get used to speaking in front of groups; train them to develop interviewing skills so they are not shy about talking to the media; get them to sit down and share their viewpoints on important topics for American governance and society and to hash out differences and give the Democrats new ways to talk to Americans that are more progressive, practical, and also aspirational than what we have offered in the past. Spend some money on this. Pay the way for people who cannot afford to attend. Put together some scholarships to send promising people to study politics or law in college. Make an investment in messaging that will work in a post-industrial age and deepen the bench on the left.
Joy Reid’s Fifty State Strategy
This morning I read the article by Joy Reid (don’t you just love Joy Reid?) on The Daily Beast website and I found her ideas offered a solution to that huge amount of red we saw on the election maps in 2016. I remember noticing in 2010 or 2011 that Republicans were making a push to control state governments and that they had succeeded in 23 states. By 2012 the number of red states was 30. And as we know, by 2016, it was higher than that. It was the Koch brothers’ strategy to spend lots of money on local and state elections and even to use ALEC to send prewritten laws to legislatures which were often passed without revision.
I knew that the Republicans were pushing small government and state’s rights and I was not feeling it. I felt it would create a United States that looked more like Europe than America with each state passing its own laws and no uniformity on things like educational standards and job requirements and job safety rules and environmental laws. I also did not like to see wealthy corporate Conservatives playing power games that leapfrogged democratic practices. With Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United allowing rich donors to spend as many dollars as they wished to influence politics things were looking pretty grim in terms of stopping the momentum of these powerful guys, even if some of the little people saw what they were up to.
Joy Reid suggests that rather than fight these guys we should follow their lead and get right down into the grassroots of politics in each of the fifty states and spend our money to find and elect promising left leaning local people. She feels that state’s right is an area where we might compromise, offering more autonomy to the individual states.
“But there’s something else Democrats ought to be focused on as they prepare for the long, dark years ahead. It involves trading in a bit of the beloved Hamilton for a dash more of the less morally appealing Thomas Jefferson and embracing what the Yale scholar Heather Gerken has called “progressive federalism.”
“For decades, conservatives have argued against the heavy hand of Washington on the states; embracing the idea of each state as a kind of mini-country, only loosely overseen by the federal government. Liberals have argued the opposite—that without a strong central governing hand, the states would devolve into a disaggregated mess where Americans’ rights, opportunities and even their health and life expectancy vary wildly from New York to Mississippi, with the results heavily freighted by race.”
“Take Obamacare: loathed by Red America even when their families use it. Just the concept of a federal mandate rankles their spirits so thoroughly they’d risk losing their insurance, their health and even Medicare and Medicaid just to be rid of it. The mythical idea of “selling insurance across state lines” is a nonsensical answer to the lack of healthcare, as is the exhortation for people to simply rely on the emergency room. But for nearly half the country, those indignities are preferable to submitting to federal authority of any kind.”
“Democrats need to make that case, forcefully, to voters in their states. They need to recruit strong candidates who can advocate for strong state and local governments that will defend working men and women of every racial, ethnic and religious group—their healthcare, their civil rights, their right to vote, their air, water and land—from the gang of billionaires about to take over Washington.
Focusing on the states would also finally force the Democratic Party to put real resources and muscle into statewide and midterm elections, massive voter registration, and defense against disenfranchisement and voter ID. By the 2020 Census, they may finally regain enough power to draw the federal districts that determine congressional outcomes.
A federalist approach—balancing defense of beloved New Deal and Great Society programs with a sharp focus on the states—would at long last allow Democrats to build a bench of qualified and tested candidates—including those drawn from the strongest and most loyal voter base of the party: people of color, and specifically women of color. By the time 2020 rolls around, many of these political leaders will have shown that they can deliver real results for people in their states. That’s a much more organic way of choosing a presidential nominee than throwing names of sitting senators at The Washington Post and seeing if they stick.”
There is more detail in this article which is well worth reading.
I see no reason why these two plans offered by two Democrats, albeit one quite a bit more influential than the other, would not work well in tandem. No reason these two ideas couldn’t both inform the strategy on the left as we prepare for the next election, a midterm election. We could make a lot of progress in two years, but we must be organized, work together, and begin soon.