Democrats are hanging their heads after this past week’s midterm elections, and they should. There shouldn’t have been any reason for the Democratic Party to lose ground in this election, but they did. In some races, they were defeated by candidates who make Forrest Gump look like a Rhodes Scholar. The Democratic Party was defeated by anti-science, anti-LGBT, anti-women, anti-minority, and anti-government candidates in races all over the country.
The next two years are looking pretty bleak at this point.
Or are they? Would things be any different if the Democrats had won a majority in both Houses of Congress? Honestly, I don’t think so.
There’s no denying that the Republicans have made obstructionism their brand during the Obama years. They have blocked judicial appointments, cabinet appointments, infrastructure bills, jobs bills, and everything else that this country desperately needs. They even shut down the federal government a year ago because they didn’t get their way. These are the people that the Democratic Party lost to in the midterms. That’s pretty sad.
But again, I don’t think it matters which party controls what. Let me take you back to the years 2009 and 2010. During those two years, Democrats controlled the White House, The Senate, and The House of Representatives. And what do we have to show for those two years of control? A watered-down healthcare bill that, when you drill down to it, is basically a giveaway to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. We didn’t get universal healthcare – like we needed. We didn’t get Wall Street accountability – like we needed. We didn’t get the much needed minimum wage increase, infrastructure bills, or really anything for the party to be proud of. So, I ask again – does it really matter which party controls the House and Senate? I don’t think so.
Of course, you could argue that Republican obstruction prevented those much-needed measures, and you’d be correct. BUT, and this is the most important thing to remember here, the Democrats never fought back. They never got angry. They didn’t take to the airwaves to make sure that every single American voter understood that the Democrats were trying to give the public what they desperately need, but the Republicans were blocking reform measures. They didn’t do any of that. So in spite of the obstruction, these failures are the fault of the Democratic Party.
This year’s electoral failures are also the Democrats’ fault.
A great example of a Democratic failure is the prevalence of new, restrictive voting laws. Since the 2008 election of President Obama, 22 states have enacted new voting laws that make it more difficult for minorities to vote. This isn’t a coincidence. These new laws were a direct result of Obama’s election. Old, decrepit white guys were appalled that the nation elected an African American president, and minority voters, in the eyes of those aging, racist folks, were to blame. So they hopped on board with the GOP’s efforts to cut down on the rights of the American people.
The Republicans managed to play on the fears of a generation that looks back and remembers fondly the days of segregation. These people were born into a racist society, brought up believing that it was ok, and some of them never grew out of that mindset. Those are the people that the Republicans recruited to sell their voting restrictions, and it worked.
And where was the Democratic backlash? The public was angry, a few choice politicians were angry, and Progressive organizations were angry. But the public’s anger and activism did not inspire Washington leadership. And that’s why thousands of eligible voters were turned away from the polls in this year’s election. The policies were Republican, but the failure to do anything about it, once again, hangs around the necks of the Democrats.
The Democratic Party HAS to be willing to accept blame here. If they don’t accept blame, then they don’t learn anything – they don’t change, they don’t work to get better. Instead, they blame Republicans, blame low voter turnout, or whatever, and then they do the same things, make the same mistakes, in the next elections. Accepting part of the blame is part of the growing process. Look at what you did wrong and get better. That’s a natural part of life – it’s a natural part of the learning process, and this is a teachable moment for Democrats.
The lion’s share of the blame goes to the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party – the Hillary Clinton wing. They believe that they can talk like populists on the campaign trail, and act like Republicans once they get elected. That has never been a winning strategy, and it will NEVER be a winning strategy. If you talk about wages, and jobs, and the environment during a stump speech, we expect you to deliver when we put you in office.
Do you know why populists are gravitating towards people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders? Because they don’t talk in typical, politician fashion. They don’t skirt issues because they are afraid to take a stand for fear they’ll alienate a voter or two. They are honest, open, candid, and straightforward. They take on issues like Wall Street crimes or living wages, not because it’ll garner them a few more votes, but because they legitimately believe in those things. The Democratic Party could learn something from those two.
But instead, we’re still stuck in this Clinton-era time warp. Do you realize that the 2016 election could likely be Clinton vs Bush – just like in 1992. We need to abandon political nepotism. We have to move on from the failed ideas of the past, and embrace candidates who represent new generations of Americans – generations that are coming of age with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt; generations that are facing a job market that won’t let them in; generations that are begging the old guard to protect our environment so that we have a habitable planet 20 years from now.
It is time to say goodbye to the Clinton wing of the Democratic party, which also happens to be the corporate wing of the Party. American democracy was not built to serve special interests – it was built to give formerly-repressed people a say in how their country is run, and that is something that I think we’ve all forgotten about.
Like I said, this is a teachable moment for both the Democratic Party, AND American voters. The decision on whether or not to take that lesson and apply it now rests with all of us. I, for one, will not waste this opportunity, and I hope you don’t either.
These next two years will be tough, but we know where we can improve. We have to improve the base. We have to unite the different movements within the progressive community. Unions have to stand up for environmentalists, and the pro-choice movement needs to speak out on behalf of voting rights groups. No single issue is bigger than all of the issues, and without unity among these groups, there will never be victory.
From defeat comes knowledge – and while the next few years will be rough, if we take the lessons we’ve learned from this year’s elections, we can move forward as a unified movement that knows how to win, and that will deliver what they promise.