Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Hey Dems, The Pity Party Ends Now

My dentist has this plaque on his wall that reads, "Ignore Your Teeth And They'll Go Away." It's funny, but true. As a salesman, I've often employed that very simple logic to my own profession. I know very well, as every salesperson knows, that if I'm not calling my customers, my competition is.

Politics isn't all that dissimilar. If you aren't staying in touch with your voters your opponent is. Of all the mistakes Hillary Clinton made during her run for the White House, none proved more costly than her decision not to actively campaign in Wisconsin and Michigan, and to all but ignore western Pennsylvania and concentrate more on Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.

The Trump campaign saw an opening and pounced. It filled the void that Clinton created through her indifference and it paid off in droves on election day. They not only took both Wisconsin and Michigan, but Pennsylvania, as well. Clinton's focus on Philly, as it turns out, didn't save her. The words on my dentist's plaque should serve as a warning to Democrats everywhere. There's no such thing as a gimmie vote. You have to earn it.

It's been eight days since the election and there's been a lot of soul searching within the Democratic Party, along with a lot of finger pointing. The Clinton campaign lashed out at James Comey for meddling in the election. His October surprise, they maintain, was the turning point in the race that allowed Trump to win. The supporters of Bernie Sanders launched a serenade of "We told you so" chants at Clinton supporters. Bernie would've beaten Trump, they insisted. Progressive Democrats are ripping the party for its close ties to Wall Street and ignoring the pain and suffering of millions of working-class people.

There is truth in each of these claims. We'll never know how the election would've turned out had James Comey decided not to involve himself in it. There is also a case to be made that Bernie Sanders might've beaten Trump; though to be fair, it's also entirely possible Trump would've still won. And the Democratic Party's decline among working-class people can be traced back decades. It finally reached a crescendo November 8.

But that is all water over the dam now. Spilt milk can never be put back in the glass. What's done is done. Finger pointing isn't going to change the results, nor is stealing the election from the rightful winner - as some are suggesting - going to fix the fundamental problems that the party has with working-class people. President Obama said it best: "You're allowed to mope for a week and a half. Maybe two if you really need it. But after that, we've got to brush ourselves off and get back to work. We need to come together and focus on a way ahead."

I would echo every word, except the week and a half part. A week is plenty of time. Losing sucks, especially to someone like Trump. But the pity party has to stop now, not next week or the week after. In nine weeks da Fuhrer will take the oath of office. Hell, he's already chosen his own Goebbels as Minister of Propaganda. It's time for Democrats to stop whining and to start mapping out a strategy to take back what they so willfully ceded.

So, if I may be so bold, I've laid out some steps that I think Democrats must put into place in order to ensure they don't have a repeat of 2016.

Step one: Reach out into all communities, not just ones of color, and find out what makes them tick. While it's wonderful being the party of inclusion, that inclusion should not come at the expense of excluding an important voting bloc. White working-class people fled the Democratic Party in droves this election. It's one of the reasons Trump took Ohio and Michigan.

While Clinton took the lion's share of the inner-city vote, her percentage of the vote dropped considerably the farther she got from those cities. Philadelphia was a case in point. In the city itself, she beat Obama's 2012 vote percentage but got creamed in the exoburbs, just 30 miles away from Center City. It was that way everywhere on the electoral map. Clinton met expectations in communities of color, but severely underperformed in the whiter neighborhoods. This suggests that  she didn't do enough to woo those voters.

It was Bill Clinton who urged the campaign to pay more attention to these voters, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The next Democratic nominee cannot repeat that mistake. If the party wants to be known as the big-tent party, it needs to prove it. Ironically, Democrats have the same problem as Republicans, only in reverse.

Step Two: Craft a message that resonates with a broad spectrum of voters. Over the last several elections, Democrats have become known as the party of minorities. They have become the champions for disenfranchised voters like African Americans, Hispanics, gays and women. This has swelled their ranks but at the expense of the white vote. And while the party has come a long way from the days when segregationists in the South made up a significant percentage of it, it has had the unintended consequence of boxing it in to such an extent that many whites who would otherwise be sympathetic to its causes feel excluded.

I'm not suggesting that Democrats cater to the kind of xenophobia and racism that fueled the Trump campaign, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that some whites, frustrated by a lack of respect and a sentiment that they were ignored by the Democratic Party, went over to the dark side. The Black Lives Matter movement is a prime example. There's no doubt that embracing the movement was the right thing to do, but in so doing, Democrats unwittingly allowed themselves to be branded as anti cop. The party should've done a far better job explaining that both sides had a legitimate point to make. One can be pro cop and still be appalled at the scores of blacks being shot and killed by police officers.

Step Three: It's time for a transfusion of new blood into the party. Face it, Barack Obama was something of an anomaly. He was fairly young and very popular with Millennials in a way Hillary Clinton could only dream of. But beyond him, the cupboard is bare. Bernie Sanders is in his 70s, and Elizabeth Warren is in her late 60s. The rest of the party leadership could double for a Geritol commercial. For the Democratic Party to reenergize itself, it is going to have to groom future stars who can lead it back to the promise land.

Julian Castro, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was on the short list to be Hillary Clinton's running mate. He is 42 and extremely popular among young people. Kamala Harris, the current Attorney General and soon to be junior senator of California, is a rising star in the Democratic Party. While Harris is 52, she's still considerably younger than most of the party's leadership. Tulsi Gabbard is a Congresswoman from Hawaii who won her seat in 2012 with 81 percent of the popular vote. Gabbard, you may recall, resigned as co-chair of the DNC and was critical of Debbie Wasserman Schultz's leadership. This has earned her high praise from many progressives in the party. She is only 35. And then there's Keith Ellison, a Congressman from Minnesota, who is also Muslim and is the current frontrunner to take over as DNC chair. He's 53 and, like Gabbard, very popular among the base.

I'm sure there are more rising stars out there, like Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand. The point is the Democratic Party needs to put them front and center for all the country to see. It was telling that the two best candidates the party could come up with as its nominee were both eligible for Medicare and Social Security. That is simply unacceptable and cannot be allowed to happen again.

Step Four: Acknowledge the role that social media and rallies play in politics. As shocking as it might seem, Donald Trump rewrote the rules for how to run a presidential campaign. He had no ground game to speak of and was outspent by Hillary Clinton 10 to 1 in advertising; yet, through social media and rallies, got more of his voters to the polls than she did. Even if you discount the huge advantage he received in free advertising from the media - by some accounts as much as a billion dollars worth - his accomplishment is nothing short of amazing.

If the Democratic Party intends to make a successful run at the White House in four years, it is going to have to adjust to this new paradigm. I'm not suggesting that the party should abandon its long-standing and, until this year, quite successful ground game, but, as the saying goes, when in Rome do as the Romans do.

Step Five: Get off the tit of Wall Street. Look, until Citizens United is overturned, big money is here to stay in politics, as are Super Pacs. But there's a difference between using big money and being owned by it. Hillary Clinton's coziness with Wall Street was a sore spot for her during her run against Bernie Sanders and, thanks to WikiLeaks, it became a thorn in her side during the general election. While I don't think it was a determining factor in her loss, it nevertheless left a bad taste in the mouths of many progressives who were still upset that Sanders didn't win the nomination. There's no way of knowing how many of them chose to stay home or vote for a third-party candidate. We do know that Jill Stein cost Clinton Michigan.

Going forward the party needs to do a better job at vetting its candidates so as to avoid a repeat of what we saw this year. Potential nominees should be encouraged to get the majority of their campaign contributions from smaller donors. The Sanders model should be the standard going forward.

This election will have profound consequences for millions of people. Medicare, healthcare, the environment, financial regulations, our prestige around the world, are all in jeopardy now that Trump is the president elect. While Hillary Clinton was certainly a flawed candidate, she was but a symptom of the disease that infected the Democratic Party decades ago. And that disease, more than anything else, was the principle reason for the ghastly outcome last week.

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