If you’re a Democrat, there’s a good chance that you’ve cackled with glee over the turmoil in the Republican Party. Between the presidential campaign running so far off script that inside fave Bush is polling in fourth at 8% and the chaos in the House there’s a lot of schadenfreude to be had.
Then again, it also might be distracting us Democrats from our own problems which, while not as public and nasty, are still rather bad. There’s nothing wrong with the party that can’t be fixed in the next year but time is running a bit short. Those of us who care about the future of our party, our movement, have a responsibility to kill the party over Republican misfortune and start calling out our own shortcomings.
The problems in the Democratic party were laid out very well in this article in the reliably well written site vox.com. Writer Matt Yglesias points out at some length how dire the situation is in the statehouses, where Republicans control 60 of 99 state legislative bodies – and have full control, with the Governor, of 24 states to the Democrats’ six. The prospects for winning them back seem bleak to Yglesias given the current state of politics within the party:
… The party is marching steadily to the left on its issue positions — embracing same-sex marriage, rediscovering enthusiasm for gun control, rejecting the January 2013 income tax rate settlement as inadequate, raising its minimum wage aspirations to the $12-to-$15 range, abandoning the quest for a grand bargain on balancing the budget while proposing new entitlements for child care and parental leave — even though existing issue positions seem incompatible with a House majority or any meaningful degree of success in state politics.
He has a point. The party has to get real. But at the same time it also has to stand for something. What can be done?
First of all, Yglesias has a point – but it’s a limited one. The answer I think comes from the history of the Republican wave stretching back to 1994. That was the year that “Contract with America” was signed by 300 current and prospective Republican House members, led by Newt Gingrich. It listed the bills that they would pass in the first 100 days of their new Congress. That election turned the House Republican, a position they have held for 9 of the last 11 elections.
But how “conservative” was it?
By today’s standards, not much. There are some planks that stand out as being truly destructive, such as “A crime bill that funds police and prisons over social programs” – truly the genesis of today’s prison nation problem that nearly everyone agrees is crippling the nation. But other than that it was mostly centrist or center-clothed things like “Family tax cuts” and “A rise in the Social Security earnings limit to stop penalizing working seniors”.
It’s a far cry from today’s calls for radical tax cuts and deportation of all undocumented aliens.
I am going to argue here and now that Democrats face two challenges, one offered by Yglesias (among other centrists) and one offered by the Contract With America. The key is to find moderate policies with broad support, such as tax code reform, and to message the harder progressive stuff like a $15 minimum wage as “Support for the basic value that anyone who works 40 hours a week should have full access to the American Dream.”
That needs a little work, but you get my idea.
But much more is needed than this because it is very true that Democrats cannot leave control of state governments in the hands of Republicans. In the 2012 election Democrats had a 1.2% majority in overall balloting for the US House but a 201-234 (7.6%) disadvantage in seats. Part of that is due to very clever district boundaries, particularly in Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Control of the state houses by the next census, in 2020, is critical.
It’s especially important given the projected net shift in population from the reliably Democratic north to more fluid battleground states like Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. Those have to be won over.
How do we do that? It starts with a solid platform that everyone up and down the ballot can run with – especially in key states. The details are actually less important than having a solid plan, incidentally, as most voters are more interested in knowing that someone has a plan than the details of any actual plan. They crave leadership more than ideology, I firmly believe. That brings us to the second need.
The Democratic team has to continue to unify and stand together as it has been lately. The more we look like we are ready to lead the more likely we are to have a chance to actually do it.
The third piece is possibly already in place, if I can believe the rumors I hear. Every campaign for state house needs to be on a list for wealthy donors to use. Rather than get our patrons to write a big check to the central party they need to write checks to every key campaign until their hands cramp up, then rub in some Ben Gay and go at it again. Concentrating the money in a central location only bumps us up against limits in a big way. There are campaign contribution laws that vary from one state to the next, but we can make them well known and hit them up with a few hundred donors giving a total of millions a thousand at a time.
That money needs to go to build capacity, both infrastructure and skills, because this is the year to do it. 2016 is the building year, 2018 is the dry run and 2020 is the big show. This is point number four for how Democrats can become the majority party and really take control. It’s time to make a solid investment in the process of winning, especially in those states that we know are in flux.
This election is critical for many reasons, but there is one big one. Whoever is elected this time will be the leader when everything starts to change and the Managed Depression gives way to the next boomtime – or so I at least believe. We have until about 2020 to prove that we know what we are doing and take as much credit for the success as possible. The opportunity should be there.
Bad times do not last forever, especially if we get our act in gear and put in place the much needed reforms to take advantage of a new economy.
Can we really paint the map blue? Yes, there is still time to do it. If not completely in 2016 we certainly can by the time it counts most – 2020. That has to be our goal – and it’ one we won’t hit without unity. You say you want a revolution? Well, you know. There might be one in the works if we can just hold on a bit and work together.