Politicians often run campaigns on the platform of “meeting in the middle,” offering to reach across the aisle to work with their counterparts from the other party. Bill Clinton did it;, George W. Bush did it; Barack Obama did it. Rarely does the promised cooperation actually take place. That may be more evident now than in any other time in history, given the current “do-nothing” congress, which is on pace to “pass historically fewer laws of substance,” according to The Hill.
In a piece on Salon, Paul Rosenberg discusses what effect the Democrats use of populist candidates can have on their success in closing this divide, especially in deeply-held red states.
Rosenberg begins by citing Ronald Brownstein’s piece in the National Journal that discusses political gridlock, saying the “persistent polarization” due to “structural forces” is creating “an environment in which presidents now find it almost impossible to sustain public or legislative support beyond their core coalition.”
He is quick to say, though, that Brownstein leaves out some key fundamental differences between the parties.
First, Rosenberg points out the Democratic coalition is larger than the Republican, as the latter has won “just one presidential election since 1988 with more than 50 percent,” and that their current stronghold in the House is “built upon pure gerrymandering.”
“Republicans can keep up only by keeping Democratic voters down,” says Rosenberg. “They cannot complete on a level field. Voter suppression, political intimidation, mud-slinging that turns people off to politics completely, these are Republican weapons of choice…”
The second difference is that Republicans are more extreme ideologically and rely on “long-range deep-pocket funding to shape the political landscape/battlefield,” Rosenberg says.
“The Democrats’ numerically dominant big-tent, loose coalition, on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand approach makes it child’s play for the Republicans to engage in tactical divide-and-conquer games, primarily because Democrats have taken their eyes off the ball, the underlying populist economic vision that appeals to virtually all elements in their coalition—and many Republicans as well.”
Rosenberg posits that the solution is for Democrats to put populist candidates, like Elizabeth Warren, on the ballot. These candidates will help them use the discussed differences to their advantage. He uses John Edwards, “the most populist candidate in the field” in 2008, as an example of how a populist candidate, even as the vice president instead presidential nominee, can give Democrats a boost.
When listed as the vice presidential candidate, Edwards gave Obama a “10 percent advantage over all McCain-headed tickets … he was polled against” in Iowa. In Ohio, Obama’s numbers went up by just under five percent; in Pennsylvania 5.5 percent; in Missouri, 4.5 percent; in New Mexico, Virginia, and New York, six percent.
While Rosenberg admits that “Edwards turned out to be a deeply flawed individual, much less a deeply flawed candidate,” his campaign theme of “Two Americas” greatly resonated throughout the country, even months before the Wall Street collapse.
He concludes by saying that there’s a strong possibility of Hillary Clinton being elected in 2016, and if she tries to “move to the center,” like her husband and President Obama, it will prove disastrous for the 2018 midterm elections and political gridlock will continue. Adding Warren to the ticket could help end the “almost 50 years dominated by divided government and return to a more traditional, more functional political pattern.”
“The raw numbers tell us this is the direction America wants to go in. Elizabeth Warren could be the key to getting us there. Otherwise, it’s endless deadlock, as far as the eye can see.”
Read the entire piece on Salon.