It was a tough election for Democrats. Welcome to a roughly biennial tradition of recapping where my party is falling down – and what we need to do to pick up the pieces.
This is clearly a work of opinion, but it will be as informed as possible. Naturally, you may disagree and have your own additions. Please, by all means, this has to be a conversation about the future – of our party and our nation.
Before we start the Democratic tradition of beating ourselves up over our losses, we have to note that this wasn’t that bad. Everyone knew long ago that the electoral map for the Senate was a bad one, given that the class of 2008 was up for re-election. In addition, it’s traditional for a second-term President to suffer big losses in their midterm. Historically speaking, this was pretty average.
That’s not to forgive the Democrats for the rather shameful performance. As many writers have noted, the Republicans didn’t win this one as much as the Democrats lost it. Turnout was pitifully low, hitting a record last set in 1942 at around 37% – versus 57% in 2008. When our people don’t show up at the polls, we lose. It’s as simple as that.
Why didn’t people show up? The short answer is that we gave them nothing to show up for. Think about what issues are important for you as a Democrat for a moment. You might feel strongly about protecting rights for women or protecting the environment. Perhaps preserving civil and voting rights comes to mind as well.
These are all very conservative positions, with a small “c”, in that they are about preserving the status quo more than moving ahead. A Progressive party ultimately has to stand for progress, for moving ahead, if it is going to excite voters and win.
Perhaps you’re also concerned about rising inequality in our society and our economic system. Who talked about that this election cycle? The Democrats were the conservative party in many important ways, and that’s not going to turn our people out.
Contrast that with the Republicans, who also didn’t offer any solid plans for change. But they did talk about issues such as jobs and poverty in ways that only Democrats used to. Some of what they used as talking points were simply wrong, such as the constant assertion that part-time jobs comprise the majority of jobs created. But they are talking about the future of American Labor in a way that Democrats are afraid to.
This is pathetic, given the terrible disadvantages faced by our workers today. We are not able to compete internationally, and not because our wages are too high – because there is too much overhead and we still have a strong Dollar compared with the rest of the developed world. This is the root cause of income inequality, and no one is willing to talk about it.
Democrats win when they are clear friends of Labor. That isn’t the case now.
In addition to obvious barriers to workers, there is a need for tremendous reform at the national level in many places. We tax labor where we shouldn’t. We regulate markets in old fashioned and horribly inefficient ways. Corporations actually have incentives to move jobs and money overseas and very few incentives to re-invest in themselves.
Neither party was willing to talk about the great winds of change that are blowing over all the developed world, largely because no one has any solutions as to how we can grab the trends that are occurring and use them to our advantage. Voters know that something has to happen, even if they’re not sure what. Washington is only a hindrance to progress, something Progressives – really advocates for progress – have to take note of.
Absent any solid program or even discussion of the important issues, voters stayed home. Why not?
How will Democrats turn it around in 2016? The short answer is that a new generation of leadership has to rise up and replace the tired, old establishment that has made us into a conservative party by nature. We have to confront the future and command it.
There are many reasons to believe this will be our year, especially since the Tea Party wave of 2010 is up for re-election in the Senate. Control of much of government will lay bare the internal divisions in the Republican Party over the next two years. But that is not enough.
We, the Democratic Party, have to stand for genuine progress and a new generation of leadership, born in change and tempered by the hardship that we are about to experience. There will be quite a lot of hardship, and we need to make it our own.
By standing up for the American worker, tackling inequality, and having a solid platform for reform that embraces the new world that we live in we can win in 2016. But it will take a lot more than we showed in 2014 to get voters to show up for us.