After the stunning defeat the Democratic Party experienced in the 2014 election, I have been thinking a lot about what needs to happen to get our country back on the right track. Here are seven mistakes I think we should avoid.
1. We should not mistake Congress and the media for the voice of the People.
Believe it or not, there is a progressive majority in America. We are not a center-right country. Public opinion polls reveal that truth, even though our gerrymandered politicians and corporate-owned media don’t want us to see it.
For example, according to some polls recently conducted by Pew, 60% of the public believes that the US economy unfairly advantages the wealthy. 82% think that government should do a lot or some to reduce poverty. 69% think that government should do a lot or some to reduce the gap between rich and poor. 73% favor raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and 54% favor taxing the wealthy and corporations to expand aid to the poor.
When it comes to foreign policy, 62% favor good diplomacy over military strength as the best way to ensure peace. 57% think too much force creates hatred and more terrorism. 74% do not think we should have to give up privacy for safety, and 54% disapprove of the government’s collection of phone and internet data.
Even on social issues, 54% believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 54% favor same-sex marriage.
The Democratic Party needs to be the Party of the 99% once again — the Party of the Main Street not Wall Street.
2. We should not confuse political parties with ball teams.
A lot of people seem to embrace a “ball-team mentality” when it comes to political parties. Such people believe that the most important thing is to elect Democrats, defined as people who have a D by their names, as if that is an end in itself. It is not.
We need to focus on moving a progressive agenda forward, not scoring partisan points. The point of electing Democrats, in my view, is so they can fight for working and middle class people (the 99%) and move us towards a more caring society, in which everyone has access to adequate food, housing, medical care, and a reliable safety net, as well as a high quality education, a good job, and a secure retirement. We must act to protect humans, animals, and the environment from greedy predators who will do anything to make a profit, work to end to the New Jim Crow, and make sure our government serves the common good and is accountable to the people — among other things.
According to the Washington Post,
Some of the most influential senators in the new Congress are … a pack of Democrats from mostly smaller, rural states who are inclined to work with Republicans on legislation President Obama doesn’t support. They may even be willing to help the GOP override his vetoes. Some of them support building the Keystone XL oil pipeline and are expected to be active as the Senate begins to debate the issue this week. Others want Congress to pass tougher sanctions against Iran, and all are open to making changes to Obama’s health-care law.
Democrats who support the Keystone Pipeline, agree to roll back the financial regulation of Wall Street, and want to make it harder for people to get healthcare are politically worthless. In fact, they may be worse than worthless because it’s arguably better to have a Republican in office than a bad Democrat because the Party often puts pressure on people to support all Democratic incumbents, when what we should be doing is primarying our bad apples.
3. We should not view “Republican Light” as the answer to Republican dominance.
It would be a positive thing for the Democratic Party to reconnect with progressive values. It is unfortunate that President Clinton and others have worked to move the Democratic Party to the right, but it would be a big mistake to continue down that path. Voters with progressive values do not want the Party to be Republican Light. If that is the only option, they will exercise the option of not voting — which is their right — as evidenced by the 2014 debacle.
Elizabeth Warren is the emerging leader of the Left in this country, along with Bernie Sanders, and she has broad appeal. We need her to run for President in 2016. Although I empathize with Hillary and can imagine how much she must feel that it is her turn, and although she is without a doubt extremely well-qualified to serve as President, and in some ways might have done better than President Obama has, I would like to see Warren get the nomination. She is articulating the correct positions on the key issues we face in a way that really resonates with people. That is where the energy is. We cannot wait.
4. We should not malign activism.
Some people think activism is a dirty word, like it somehow delegitimizes a person’s perspective, when in fact activists are simply active citizens who care deeply about the issues. Shouldn’t we all be activists?
Social movements, mobilized by activists, play an important role in politics, often pushing issues or perspectives that are being ignored by political elites. Many party types criticize social movements for being too radical, not having an electoral strategy, or being divisive. Certainly, they can be inconvenient. However, as illustrated by the movie “Selma,” social movements can have a huge impact on politics and society. Or take the Occupy movement for example. Despite its lack of a simple agenda, it successfully changed the discourse in this country, giving us the terms “1% and 99%” and pushing economic inequality to the political forefront.
Even in their excesses, social movements can have a positive impact. While I do not condone violence, President Obama was historically incorrect when he said, in the wake of the Ferguson uprising, that “nothing of significance, nothing of benefit results from destructive acts. I’ve never seen a civil rights law or a health care bill or an immigration bill result because a car got burned. It happened because people vote. It happened because people mobilized.” While he probably had to say something like that, the statement ignores history. People with power do not give it up voluntarily, and it’s a historical fact that violence, while undesirable, can contribute to positive change.
The current national movement against police authoritarianism, which has rightly renounced violence, has popularized the term “the new Jim Crow” and highlighted the need for a number of systemic changes, including an end to “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” policies, an end to the militarization of police departments across the country, an end to the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, and an end to problematic approaches to training (as explained by former police officer and current law professor Seth Stroughton), among other things.
5. We should not pay into an “us vs. them” framing of the issues.
By focusing on systemic problems, rather than demonizing the police, most of whom are trying to do a good job, or searching for “bad apples,” as if they are the only problem, it is my hope that we can move away from an us vs. them mentality, which undermines the possibility of democratic society. In addition, because police departments are one of the few remaining sources of good blue collar jobs, and the Left stands for working people, as well as for racial equality and social justice, we should not paint police officers as the enemy. Of course, we must stand opposed to racism, arbitrary power, and authoritarianism, but don’t most officers oppose those things as well?
6. We should not confuse “finding common ground” with “meeting in the middle.”
If the Left is ever to rebuild support for a progressive agenda, we need to persuade more folks to support us, not alienate people.
However, it’s important to note that when I advocate finding common ground, I do not mean moving to the center or splitting the difference (e.g., “Let’s surge and then withdraw! Let’s offer a stimulus and then raise taxes!”). To the contrary, I mean we need to focus on progressive issues that have appeal across party lines. For example, we should be able to find common ground with people currently on the Right who support a populist economic agenda – and those who really should not, on the basis of economic self-interest, be voting Republican, the party of corporate oligarchy.
7. We should not let hyper-partisanship get in the way of working together on shared issues.
In addition, there appear to be a few issues emerging that might bring Left and Right together. For example, conservative libertarian Rand Paul has been outspoken against the militarization of police and the War on Drugs: “You want your police to be aggressive,” he said. “But if someone’s got some pot, you want to break down the door at two in the morning with masks and gas and concussion grenades?” Who in their right mind would favor that approach?
We can also find common ground in opposition to the surveillance state, war in the Middle East, and high stakes testing in our public schools — issues on which neither party currently has it right.