If a psychologist were to analyze the Democratic Party, she may conclude that it suffers from self-defeating personality disorder. Whether it be trampling all over their own message, not having a concise message in the first place, or when they do not coming together to defend it to the death, Democrats are notorious for sinking their own ship. Take for example the 2016 election. Many in the party believed and rightly so that it was theirs to lose. With a fairly robust economy, plenty of money in the campaign coffers, and an opponent so outrageous that no sentient being would possibly cast a vote for him, they would simply ride the coattails of a popular president, Barak Obama, straight into the White House. Then things began to unravel. As the party schlogged through a contentious primary, enter the Republicans and Russian trolls and hackers who exploited the rift between the so-called Bernie wing and the more centrist Clinton faction, a rift which almost derailed the convention and continues in some circles to this day. I contend that the post-mortem jury is still out on 2016, (We don’t know the full scope of Russian interference.) but what lingers is a party which doesn’t quite yet know what it wants to be when it grows up. In other words, the Democrats on so many occasions are their own worst enemy.
In my nostalgia for simpler times, you remember those- back when America equaled good and Russia bad, when a president playing footsy with brutal dictators was an anathema, and the mere suggestion of holding the executive office for life would have been grounds for impeachment- I came across a column by the late Molly Ivins. With her biting wit and well-honed folksy Texas style, she lays out the reasons why she wouldn’t be supporting a Hillary Clinton run for president in 2008. Ivins argued that the party’s fear of supporting positions the majority of Americans favored would ultimately hurt them, and that Clinton would be the candidate of compromise that the Democrats couldn’t afford to promote. Down to the very issues, Ivins’ message sounds eerily familiar. For example:
What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake? The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority(66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.
Ivins wrote that in 2006, and between then and now something funny has happened with an affiliate of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) whose function is to elect democrats in the House. That something funny happened right here in Pennsylvania, but there are reports of similar occurrences elsewhere in the country. Just ask Mark Pinsley. Mark is a business owner and a progressive activist running for PA Senate in the Lehigh Valley’s 16th district. He’s also an active member of Indivisible Berks. In a March 4th article in the DailyKos, Mark writes:
On Friday, I was in Harrisburg preparing to submit my petitions to become the Democratic nominee for the Pennsylvania Senate’s 16th District. At the same time, news of an underhanded plot broke in the Washington Post about the DCCC’s attempt to push a fellow progressive into the primary race against me. They swooped into the area and tried to convince Greg Edwards, the most outspoken progressive, and only candidate of color, to drop out of the PA 7th Congressional race. In an attempt to induce him to meekly surrender to the establishment, they offered him support in the state senate race against me.
As I mentioned earlier, the DCCC’s odd behavior is not limited to Pennsylvania. In Texas in the Democratic primary for the 7th Congressional District, the DCCC launched what some are calling a “scorched earth” campaign against progressive candidate, Laura Moser. The DCCC went as far as publishing an opposition research memo against Moser on their website. In the Texas case, the DCCC’s meddling backfired and actually propelled Moser into a run-off with primary challenger, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. DNC Chairman Tom Perez reacted to the DCCC’s moves saying, “I wouldn’t have done it. We’re at our best as Democrats when we talk about the issues. … I don’t believe we should be anointing candidates. The people in Texas are the people who should be making the choices in Texas.”
Today Democratic primaries are being held in Illinois. In the state’s 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Dan Lipinski is running against first-time candidate Marie Newman. The race is tight. Lipinski’s father, William, held the seat before him, and combined the two have held the district for 35 years. Lipinski is an odd duck in the Democratic Party. He voted against the Affordable Care Act, the DREAM Act, and legislation prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. He opposes abortion and voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Lipinski told the New York Times, “The Democratic Party is endangering its future by moving too far to the left. This is part of the reason Donald Trump won. Democrats have chased people out of the party.” Newman’s campaign manager has said, “Lipinski is a Democrat in name only. “He likes to say he’s a centrist, he’s not. He is a Republican,” Newman herself said. “There is not a division in the Democratic Party — he just is a dinosaur.” But the DCCC and party elders like Nancy Pelosi have stepped in to back Lipinski, even though their chosen candidate seems out of touch with the views of voters in the district, 2/3rds of which identify as pro-choice.
None of this indicates that every nominee must toe the party line à la the Tea Party, or that far left candidates are right for every seat. Nor do I think that Democrats have the luxury at this point in time to subject each candidate to a purity test. Look what happened just last week in western PA. Conor Lamb, while rejecting Republican attacks on healthcare and excoriating them for their embrace of tax cuts for the wealthy, was not exactly displaying progressive bona fides on issues like guns and tariffs. Many will argue he caved to the old guard of the party, others will say he ran in a way that reflected the red-leaning district. But the most important lesson to be learned from the special election in PA 18 is that the winning candidate captured the attention of those he was running to represent and tapped in to the grassroots energy rather than tamping it down.
Which brings me back to Molly Ivins. Her article I referenced was specifically meant to send a message to the people running the Democratic Party and was really a call for leadership. She wrote:
The recent death of Gene McCarthy reminded me of a lesson I spent a long, long time unlearning, so now I have to re-learn it. It's about political courage and heroes, and when a country is desperate for leadership. There are times when regular politics will not do, and this is one of those times. There are times a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief.
Mark Pinsley couldn’t be more right when he says in his article, “This is the fight for the soul of our party and one we cannot afford to lose.” But will it be an ideological struggle or a battle between the establishment and the will of the people? As they say in Texas, " That's two different buckets of possums."
Click here to read Mark Pinsley's full article: The Frontline in the Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party
posted by Amy Levengood