The Debate For DNC Chair

Analysis by Reporting San Diego

Feb 13, 2016 (San Diego) the election has now been over for almost three months. The Democrats were shellacked at the polls, and are now in search of a new Chair. Frankly, most of the time these party elections are inside baseball. However, this year it is not such a time. CSPAN aired the debate on Saturday and these are some observations.

First off, most of the people on the stage are not known outside core Democratic Party politics. Some are not known outside their states. But there were a few things that immediately stood out. This was a two-hour debate, with ten people on the stage. Over the course of two hours, there was precious little policy discussed. It is critical that the next Chair also deals with why Democrats have been rejected.

It was partly a post-mortem of what went wrong in the election. Candidates admit that their party ran on the incredible horrible candidate the republicans fielded.  There was very little talk of what Democrats believe in. Or for that matter how to communicate this. One of the people in the dais mentioned in passing, that Democrats talk in platitudes. Platitudes do not win elections and can alienate the voter.

What ails democrats?

This question has been asked a few times. Why is the party of the people unable to work for the people? Or rather, why are the people rejecting them? This discussion on the dais was a perfect example. They were still engaged in some blaming of everybody else or looking for surface reasons for their historic loss.

However, the discussion revealed at least two major factions. One even willing to start blaming the Hillary Clinton organization for mistreating the DNC. The other, not so much.

This is not just a split between two major factions, but a few other smaller factions. It is as if we are looking inside the very broken house of mirrors where issues are not coming into focus. Aspirational politics are not part of what they do. Nor is telling the potential voter why to vote for Democrats, jus why not to vote for Republicans.

The Split

The is a clear split within the Democratic Party. It has been obvious for some years now, but it exploded in 2016. This split is the status quo within the party, which is not willing to have any discussion outside of Trump and how evil Republicans are  Then there are the Progressives who are still left looking in. This is the surface level. The divisions are beyond this. The fractures are incredibly dangerous.

First, we need to define the term progressive. Why? Because the term is as fungible as depending who uses it. They are supposed, in modern parlance, to be the left of the party, But as the original meaning, progressives are in many cases middle-class and upper-class white people, trying to reproduce their values across society.  Some of the modern day progressives used to call themselves liberals. They are still, in many cases, for policies first adopted during the New Deal. Rarely the memories of the New Deal and the Great Depression are personal. These people reluctantly have adopted the moniker of progressive, due to the demonization of the word liberal over the last quarter of a century. They remain, however, committed to the mid-century vision of the Democratic Party. Senator Bernie Sanders epitomizes that concept at present. Why he resonated with this group.

The second wave is much younger. They are the 20 and 30 somethings that expect to have the worst future than their parents. The statistics support that view. They are not capitalists in some cases. In many cases, they know they want to change, but have little idea how to weaponize a new ideology, which is not new, just not clear. What they want is a social democracy that would give them the kind of advantages their peers have in European countries.

The Status Quo Faction

The second major group seeks to maintain the status quo. Never mind the party has lost election after election, from city level, all the way to Congress. This does not matter. To the status quo group, the party ideology is not the problem or the fact that the party has turned away from the people. They have forgotten the lesson from Harry Truman. The people will vote for the real Republican when faced with a Republican light.

The only problem they see is that they talked too much about Trump. That was part of it. The reality is that the party has been running campaigns centered on how evil Republicans are, not whatDemocrats will do for some time now. Part of the problem is that a\the most ]basic of levels they agree with Republicans. Whether this is entitlement reform (Social Security and Medicare) or weakening labor laws.

They know they cannot say it, so they blame this on the other party. Who are these people?

In many cases they are members of a meritocracy that rose from the New Deal, They are the children of the New Deal, that has attended the same schools and know each other. They are coastal elites. They tend to be part of the 10 percent that has done very well over the last 30 years. They do not accept the new deal, even if they embrace FDR. 

Regional Divisions

The party is not just divided by ideology, but also regions. It is not just a rural-urban split. But also between the coastal regions and the interior of the country. Then there are the old geographical wounds of the old dominion, versus the north. The west, and the rest of the country. It is also a fight about who leads to the future. The Clinton machine, which several speakers agreed did not treat the Party well, is a southern machine. This is the region of the country where democrats saw a collapse starting with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. None dares speak this, though. So we are left with platitudes.

Black lives matter, a new civil rights movement, has not been fully co-opted by Democrats either. In fact, the issues of race are becoming deeper. This is partly due to Clintonism. Many younger Americans, especially those from communities of color, blame Bill Clinton for mass incarceration. None in the dais spoke of this. What was hinted, though, were the power plays within the party.

We will highlight a few of the candidates.


Pete Buttigieg the Young and Upcoming Consensus

‘We spent so much time talking about the politicians like that’s what really matters,” he said. “I was guilty of it. I had a button when we were campaigning for Hillary … that said ‘I’m with her.’ It was all about her. Then when we realized who the opponent was going to be, it was all about him.” this is a critical observation. While he runs to be a consensus candidate, he also had another observation. The Midwest is not that complicated. Yet, he never raised the issue: NAFTA and trade.

He is running to get the votes from both major factions. He is also in the Midwest, the states that turned red for the first time since Clinton he does have somewhat of a good grasp of what happened, but he is seen as a long shot. Why? He is the most openly critical of what happened. The last thing Democrats want is to have to listen to any insider criticism.


Keith Ellison…the Rebel Alliance.

He is the Sanders candidate. But in the debate, he was all but impressive. There was a lot of “I agree with the other speaker,” and Ellison did a lot of that. So the rebel alliance has been reduced to agreeing with the empire. If this is how the revolution will go, it already failed. Then again, this revolution seemed to rely on a person, and cults of personality rarely succeed long term.

On other occasions, he has brought up very valid critiques, but he was either unable or unwilling, to bring those up.


Tom Perez: The Triumph of the Status Quo

Former Secretary of Labor Perez is the man tasked with defending his old boss, former President Barack Obama, but also Clintonism, which both are a product off. He has embraced the old Howard Dean 50 party strategy. Yet, at no point, nobody asked him what went wrong policy wise. He will likely win in that the party will entrench old interests.

In effect, it will be external forces, such as the Indivisible movement, that will force change. There is fear among the party elite. We are seeing increasing attacks on this newborn as either the tea party of the left or the alt.left. Either way, they are being painted by the elites as extreme, and ignorant. To say that we are surprised would be a lie. Elites do not want, or like, a challenge.


Jaimie Harrison: An Old-New Argument

All we’ve focused on was the presidency and nothing else. We cannot leave any Democrat or Democratic Party behind,” he said. “I got into a Twitter fight yesterday. Somebody said, ‘Do you support [Joe] Manchin Democrats? I said I support anybody who is a Democrat! … I support anyone who will give the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi.”

This is the truth. For the last 12 years that is all that matters. Yet, this reveals the depth of the dysfunction. Pelosi is the heart of neoliberalism in the House. There seems to be no opening to either philosophical or ideological change. While Harrison has little chance, his fight on Facebook, went the usual way. The party is not willing to change even a little, and that is alienating many voters.

14 Million have already left

Mentioned in passing were the millions who have already left. (These millions also vote, and in many cases were reliable Democratic voters). There are no outreach plans. There is no thinking on how. A party actually works. This was more akin to the election of a school president than the chair of one of the two major political parties. The numbers voters who have left since the election is reportedly is as high as 14 million. This is higher than the population of Ohio. It betrays the deep divisions within the Party. It also betrays a few other things. Successful parties have a committed party cadre, of well educated, chiefly ideological partisans. The Republicans, for comparison, have that. Republican partisans know what their party stands for, and what it wants to achieve, Democrats are running against Republicans and Trump. But I have yet to hear what they are running for. What are their aspirations? They used to have those.

This is one reason the party is bleeding members.

The other is that what passes for an ideological cadre is committed to cleansing the party, never mind they need those voters to start winning again. Many of them continue to alienate former Democrats, or Democrats on the fence, in the name of political purity.

Democrats still do not understand why they lost the presidential election, or have lost so many other seats over the last 6 years. It is still about anybody and everybody. They have yet to deal with the ideological problems. The message is still muddled as well. The race for party chair is usually very much inside baseball. This year it matters. What it reveals is a party that is fractured. Whether it can heal itself or will remain fractured is still an open question.


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