Special Elections and Democratic Message

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Analysis by Reporting San Diego

June 21, 2017 (San Diego) John Ossoff lost the special election in Georgia 6. So what does that have to do with San Diego? It is relevant insofar as the national party is concerned, and CA-49, that be Darell Issa’s district. This is a district that is at risk, and Democrats think they can pick up.

The reality is Democrats could flip that district. It has become purple, in some precincts, towards blue. So it is a pickable district. However, that will not happen under the message the national Democrats are trying to run on. Donald Trump sucks is not a policy statement.

Ossoff got closer than he should have, given the nature of the district. Moreover, he might have been the right kind of candidate for that district. This is the other trick, progressives will not do well in every district, just like neoliberal and centrists will not do well in every district. This is where Howard Dean’s fifty state strategy comes in. It did help Democrats win back the House in 2006. It was abandoned soon after, and Democrats resist trying again to be competitive in every district, and at all levels of government.

However, what happened last night means many base Democrats are still not getting it. They still blame everybody but themselves. Why is it that blue collar workers, who voted for Barack Obama twice, turned to Donald Trump? There are many reasons. I will just give one. One of the things that then candidate Obama offered in 2007-8 was to help organized Labor get something they need to survive. This is card check. This is a little legal device that is used by Canadian unions, for example, that allows Union organizers to get a vote to form a Union with complete secrecy. This helps them grow a union and protect workers from management. While legally management cannot retaliate against workers in an organizing drive, we know it happens. This is not a piece of legislation that any major American corporation wants. Though it helps explain why Canadian unions are thriving while ours are not.

Once Obama became president that promise was not kept. There was not even an attempt to do so. Rank and file labor knows this. The other betrayal, all the free trade agreements that weakened American industry and had factories moved to cheaper markets. Rank and file labor might not be sophisticated enough to understand that this was part of a neoliberal goal to discipline labor and benefits industry, but they know their jobs left. They also know that their own leadership did not fight hard enough for them. So we have seen some interesting fights within organized labor.

This is one reason Democrats keep losing. They made those promises, and not just to labor. Minority communities have similar issues. While older voters may still show up at the polls reliably and vote for Democrats, their children are not going to do so that reliably. Why? Some of the promises of the war on poverty, for example, were better schools in minority areas and to desegregate American cities. However, we live in a period when not only that has been revised, and some cities, like Chicago, New York, and San Diego, are as segregated, or more segregated than they have ever been. The schools in the south of the 8 in San Diego or South Chicago are not to par with the suburban schools. Never mind these schools are in the same school district. Many of these school boards and city councils are in Democratic hands. Why would the young vote for people they feel betrayed them?

Younger community leaders are not willing to tell their friends and community to give Democrats a chance anymore. It is not like they will vote for Republicans. However, many of these voters will sit elections out. We are starting to see that message on the ground in my city.

The Role of Leadership

After the drubbing in November of 2016 you would think a party that has lost House and Senate seats by the score, and more importantly, state houses would give their current leadership the boot. They did not. They reelected Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic Leader and Chuck Schumer as Senate Minority Leader. This is part of the problem.

Republicans may have terrible ideas, from a democratic point of view. I mean Ayn Rand, and Objectivism are terrible governing philosophies, but Speaker of the House Paul Ryan represents a working class Wisconsin district, which is where his party has become stronger. Democrats had a chance to put in charge a younger member of the House, Tim Ryan from Ohio. This betrayed a division not just ideologically, but also of age.

Tim Ryan would have taken the party in a different direction. He lives in the rust belt and has won in the kind of districts Democrats don’t have a prayer of winning right now. However, coastal party elites are still resistant to passing the baton to younger Democrats, with different ideas. They do not want to give up on neoliberalism, even though this is at the heart of the issues they are having in electoral politics.

Both Pelosi and Schumer represent districts that are very similar to Georgia 6. Ergo, Ossoff losing the race is not just because this is Georgia. The three districts are high income and very well educated. The first five wealthiest, best-educated districts are on the coasts and are blue. The sixth is Georgia 6, and Ossoff did well in the suburban parts of the districts, incidentally. Where he lost the election was in the more rural areas of the district, In this sense, there is a similarity to CA-49. The strength for Issa is in the rural areas of the district. Whoever runs in that district needs to crack that nut, how do you impress on those rural voters that Issa is not in their best interest? Or rather, first you need to find out why rural voters keep voting for Republicans? It is partly cultural.

Suburban, well educated, higher income voters are not the voter’s Democrats are having an issue reaching. They can message to Marin County very well thank you very much. They have a problem with the message to rural voters and working class voters. They have a problem speaking the language of income inequality and living wages, which matters in urban cores. Why? Part of it is that the current leadership does not represent these people in their districts. They can speak it, but they don’t mean it. People know this and cynically have realized that they will speak to their needs only during election season.

A Wave in 2018?

Any midterm election should go against the incumbent in the White House. So by this logic, Democrats should pick up some seats. However, if all the message the Democrats bring to the table is Trump sucks, they will not pick as many as they should. Democrats need to quit blaming voters for losing elections. They need to quit blaming gerrymandering, which incidentally they will do if they control a state house (there are a few exceptions where by law that power has been taken away from Legislatures, California for example). They also need to stop blaming the hacking of the vote. Yes, it happens. Both parties are not precisely clean in how they run elections. But all these are excuses.

They also need to stop believing that the young will vote automatically for Democrats, or for that matter minorities or immigrants. They need to earn those votes. Democrats also need to stop insulting the voters that do not vote for Democrats, and some will never vote for a Democrat. In any society, some people will stick to their party no matter what.

Democrats need to do the hard work of figuring why many Americans do not trust Democrats. They need to get out there and figure out what matters to voters, and this is district by district. This hard work means talking to voters, town halls, doing the grunt work. They also need to stop catering to the same group that Republicans cater to, and that is the top 20 percent of the income level.

Part of this is money and the donor class, and elections that have become so expensive none will be able to run without a dose of donor money. Of course, donors want a return on investment. But part of it is ideological. Democrats believe in their hearts that this country is a meritocracy and they have to serve those who have benefited and taken advantage of the good schools and good careers. They despise the blue-collar workers and rural populations that they blame for voting against their own interests. Never mind those who did take advantage of such in the 1960s did so when schools were nearly free, or affordable. In other words, when policies put in place by their parents allowed them to get that education and those good careers.

They need, in short, to stop serving only the Davos class as a party and jettison the neoliberal ideology they adopted over the course of the 1980s, starting with the New Orleans Declaration of 1980. This came after the loss of Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. Democrats have been making the same mistakes over the course of 40 years, and even when they had the White House after 2008, and large majorities in the House and Senate, they did not follow through with most of the promises made to voting blocks of the coalition that put them in power, so that coalition is slowly falling off. In some cases, see labor, it was a dramatic fall off.

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