Democrats Need a Strategy and a Viable Candidate, Not More Excuses

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Democrats Need a Strategy and a Viable Candidate, Not More Excuses

As a recent poll revealed, most voters don’t believe the party stands for anything, other than being against Trump.

"Maybe don't criticize the people for liking Bernie Sanders," argues Atcheson, "but instead try adopting the popular policies he championed and running candidates who embrace them." (Photo: @BernieSandersCT)

Here we go again. Leaked excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming book calls Sanders’ ideas unrealistic and blames him for her loss to Trump.

It probably didn’t help that a recent Newsweek article entitled “Bernie Sanders Voters Helped Trump Win and Here’s the Proof” revealed that enough Sanders voters switched to Trump after the primaries in three key states to give Trump the electoral votes needed for victory.

Hillary and the mainstream Democrats who supported her have been desperate to blame someone—anyone but themselves—for her defeat since November. Their excuses alternated from Comey to Russian email hacks to Sander’s voters, and, with the the release of her book, look for the centrists to go after the“misguided” Sanders voters again.

But this is a classic “dog-ate-my-homework” excuse for a much larger failing on the part of the Democrats. Basically, the people rejected the entire party, not just Hillary, as they’ve been doing so in increasing numbers for decades—and with good reason. As a recent poll revealed, most voters don’t believe the party stands for anything, other than being against Trump.

With the 2018 election already stacked against them, Democrats need more than excuses.

Here’s the reality.  Gerrymandering rigs the system for Republicans in the House, and Democrats must defend 25 of their 48 Senate seats while Republicans will have only 8 of their 52-seat Senate majority up for reelection.  Going against this tide with the same centrist strategy that has caused them to lose for decades, now, would be a disaster.

So let’s take a closer look at these excuses, not in order to re-litigate the primaries, but because there is a war on for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party and the neoliberal centrists are using these excuses to prevent progressives from taking over the party, and that all but guarantees Republicans will continue to win.

Let’s start with the hacked Russian emails. While we should never countenance interference from a foreign influence in our elections, it is important to remember, it was the content of those emails that sunk her.  They reinforced a reality, they didn’t fabricate one.  Clinton, like the majority of Democrats, represented the interests of Wall Street and the elites, even as she tried to compete with Sanders as a progressive.

The voters rejected this cynical approach to politics.  Some voted third party, some stayed home and some decided to throw a Molotov cocktail into the whole process by voting for Trump, who, for all his craziness, was running a populist campaign aimed at the growing number of disaffected American voters.

How about Comey’s on-again, off-again investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email run through an insecure server in the basement of her home while Secretary of State?  Well, his handling of it, was—at best—clumsy.  But here again, if it hadn’t been for Ms. Clinton’s Nixonian love of secrecy, there would have been no there. And by claiming that Powell had done the same thing—which was not true—they compounded the whole problem.  Yes, Powell had his own email address, but he didn’t use a relatively easily hacked router in his basement. Again, this fed a narrative that led to her defeat—that of a cynical, calculating candidate, willing to say anything and do anything to get elected.

How about the notion that so-called “Bernie bros” sabotaged Clinton’s chances?

The problem with this “blame the voters” narrative is that it ignores the real reason Clinton and the Democrats lost in 2016, and why they’ve been losing for decades. And this matters because they will continue to lose until they abandon the “centrist” strategy that has allowed Republicans to win, even as Republican candidates drift towards the complete and literal insanity of Trump and the far right.

Blaming the voter for not supporting you when you’ve failed to run a candidate who will actually represent them is like blaming the steer for an overcooked steak. If you want to win elections, nominate a candidate who can win... don’t get pissed off at the voters because you backed a candidate who can’t.  Particularly if you’ve essentially rigged the system with closed primaries, DNC chicanery, and superdelegates who toe the party line while dismissing the people's doubts and concerns. After three decades of running corporatized neoliberals and losing ground, you shouldn’t be shocked when the people finally abandon you.

And abandon Democrats they have.  Back when Kennedy was President and the party backed New Deal values, some 50% of folks called themselves Democrats, and only about a quarter self-identified as Republicans. Today, less than 30% identify as Democrats and about 26% identify as Republicans.

That drop has translated to an enormous shift in power at all levels of government. For example, Republicans control both legislative bodies in thirty-two states, while Democrats do so in just thirteen. And the more Democrats embrace neoliberalism, the more they lose. In 1978, Democrats controlled both legislative branches in thirty-one states, while Republicans had majorities in only eleven. Currently thirty-four states have a Republican governor, while only fifteen are headed by a Democrat, and one—Alaska—is headed by an independent.

Since 1980, the nation has had three conservative Republican presidents and one middle-of-the road Democrat, and one who was conservative in deed, if not in language.  Let’s face it, as Thomas Frank pointed out, Bill Clinton was essentially a neoliberal whose major accomplishments were all part of the conservative’s regressive agenda. For example, he backed and passed NAFTA, the Crime Bill of 1994, welfare reform, the deregulation of banks and telecoms, and he actually balanced the budget. All of them were longstanding Republican objectives.

And thanks to the blame-the-voter-school of politics, the country is now being run by Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is in the hands of extreme right-wing corporatists and ideologues.

Meanwhile, Sanders continues to register as the most popular politician in America. But hey, maybe don't criticize the people for liking him, but instead try adopting popular policies he championed and running candidates who embrace them.

The answer, of course, is about money and power. The folks who are in control of the Democratic Party right now have mastered the old pay-to-play politics and they believe its their ticket to staying in office.

Unfortunately, that screws the rest of us as wealth and income rocket up to the top 1%, Wall Street, corporations, and the uber rich continue to control government, and two existential threats—climate change and nuclear war—are growing each day.

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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