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With 3 Months To Go, Pundits and Democrats Still Clueless

In an era of minority parties, primary victories don’t become election victories

Even when they win by default because the Republican’s overreach has become so obvious or so destructive that the people boot them out, Democrats go into office without a real mandate, and therefore cannot deliver what the voters want – policies which put the people first. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Even when they win by default because the Republican’s overreach has become so obvious or so destructive that the people boot them out, Democrats go into office without a real mandate, and therefore cannot deliver what the voters want – policies which put the people first. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democrats will win the House in 3 months, and they have an outside shot at the Senate.  But it’s not because they’ve figured out how to win elections, it’s because Republicans have – once again -- handed it to them.

That’s the only way Democrats win these days.  Obama’s victory was a direct result of the disastrous Bush Cheney years. When their tax cuts for the rich, Wall Street-big bank coddling, neocon perpetual war machine dragged the economy into the mother of all recessions, and his clown version of the presidency finally woke up enough fear and loathing that people got up off their chairs and voted them out, Democrats captured the House, the Senate and the Presidency.

The only way they lose is when their policies are so overtly pro-oligarchy, or so explicitly damaging to the country – as with Bush’s recession and his Iraq folly – that they arouse a sufficient degree of fear and loathing among the rest of the cynically disaffected that they show up and vote.

But there’s a world of difference between winning because people are fed up with the other guys, and winning because they’ve embraced your values.  Obama’s “hope and change” campaign was designed to appeal to people who were fed up with the status quo, but something that vague could never deliver a mandate.  What was conveniently left out of the campaign was hope for what and change to what.

Similarly, Hillary’s painfully scripted campaign, in which she claimed to be a centrist, a progressive and then a centrist again in the space of nine months; in which she backed fossil fuel interests while claiming to take climate change seriously; in which she talked tough about Wall Street in public and talked kindly to them in private – was doomed to lose at a time when people were angry at the status quo politicians.  They still are.

And now we have the DNC flip-flopping on the Party’s commitment not to accept campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests, announced on Friday afternoon – the favorite time for political hypocrisy to ooze out of the Washington establishment.

Which brings us to the pundits.  Last week they were almost universally reporting the death of what they’ve come to call the Bernie-Ocasio-Cortez progressives after Tuesday’s primaries.  Even the Huffpost had stories about how centrist Democrats are winning most primaries. The mainstream media was positively gloating about it, with one commenter at CBS likening Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the Democrat's Sarah Palin.

What neoliberal Democrats and the MSM haven’t figured out, is that with less than 29 percent of the people identifying as members of the Democratic Party, primary victories don’t necessarily translate into election victories.  In fact, candidates who can win in the establishment’s primaries, all too often are destined to do poorly in the general election.

Here’s why.

The animating emotions in the electorate these days is either an inchoate rage, or a justifiably cynical rejection of politics as usual – and often a mixture of the two. This is confirmed in poll after poll.  The Smith Project , for example, revealed that the chasm between voters is not so much about parties, as it is about haves and have nots; about elites and the uber-wealthy and the rest of us; about corporate interests vs the peoples’ interests.

Republicans have both exploited and fed this inchoate rage since Reagan, and ridden it to victory.  Trump, the Tea-Party, and the rest of the anti-enlightenment, jingoistic, racist characters that dominate the Party are merely the more explicit versions of what had been an implicit strategy designed to distract and deceive people from seeing that the Party represented the interests of the Oligarchy at the expense of the people.

This anger and rage means that the Republican minority is inflamed and passionate.  They show up, they vote, and they win.  The only way they lose is when their policies are so overtly pro-oligarchy, or so explicitly damaging to the country – as with Bush’s recession and his Iraq folly – that they arouse a sufficient degree of fear and loathing among the rest of the cynically disaffected that they show up and vote.

In a test which pits the passionately ignorant rightwing voter against the passively motivated or unmotivated progressive, Democrats lose as they have been for decades.

Here’s the deal. Primaries are often closed to Independents (there are 14 states with closed primaries and several more have restrictions limiting crossover voting), but even when they’re open, they mostly attract the party faithful, leaving the majority on the sidelines.

For Democrats, this means that all too often, they end up with candidates who reflect the Party’s neoliberal – and Oligarch-friendly – political positions, which in turn, means the legitimately cynical will stay home. In a test which pits the passionately ignorant rightwing voter against the passively motivated or unmotivated progressive, Democrats lose as they have been for decades.

With much of the MSM declaring the progressive majority defeated, it’s pretty easy for the Party to continue to stumble into minority status. But even when they win by default because the Republican’s overreach has become so obvious or so destructive that the people boot them out, Democrats go into office without a real mandate, and therefore cannot deliver what the voters want – policies which put the people first.  Things like single payer medical care, an end to campaigns dominated by money, a decent minimum wage, more equitable tax policies, greater regulation of Wall Street and big banks, environmental and climate policies that protect people and the planet, and defense budgets that are designed to provide national security, not corporate wealth.

Candidates who actively support those kinds of policies would win general elections, by giving the cynical some hope, and even addressing the inchoate rage that has captured a significant portion of our electorate.  As even Trump's pollster said, Sanders would have beaten Trump. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are the kind of candidates that could win general elections and give the Democrats a mandate for change.

But it’s difficult for this kind of candidate to emerge from the neoliberal establishment that now controls the Democratic Party, as Perez made obvious with his Friday night betrayal of progressives.cleardot.gif

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John Atcheson

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections titled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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