Saturday, November 19, 2016

Coming to Grips with the Democrats' Defeat

I’m actually scared because the Republicans won this election.  But at least I can take some solace in the fact that the Democrats lost.

Lately, I’ve been realizing that I’m a man without a party.  Oh, I vote Democrat.  But I don’t have any more passion for voting Democrat than, say, the Democrats have for implementing progressive tax reform.   (Did you notice that when they had the White House, the House of Representatives, and 60 Senators, they still didn’t bother to tackle that issue with any fervor?)

From where I’m sitting, none of the parties that fielded a Presidential candidate excites enthusiasm.   The Republicans are climate-change ignoring, fundamental-rights denying, economic trickle downers who, when last in power, opened up Pandora’s Box in the Middle East.  The Libertarians are Let-Em-Eat-Cakers who are happy to use the benefits of Government like everyone else but unwilling to show any gratitude for what they take.  The Greens are opposed to Zionism and accordingly I won’t even think about supporting them; long live the Jewish State!  And the Democrats?  My party?   The party I used to associate with activism, public service, and caring about the working class?   From what I can tell, they’re now controlled by a bunch of rich folks who’ve figured out how to cash in on their past government service but still sound as sanctimonious and self-righteous as if they were toiling in the projects.

My mom and dad worked every day of my childhood for their GS-whatever salary.  They were progressive economists who cared deeply about economic equity.  He worked for the Labor Department.  She worked for a variety of federal agencies.  They have nothing whatsoever in common with the current faces of the Democratic Party, except for a few outliers, most notably Bernie Sanders, who many of my Democratic friends have often reminded me “isn’t a real Democrat anyway.”

If you want to know who the real Democrats are, just look at their standard bearers.  Hillary – the self-proclaimed “Progressive” – claimed nearly one million dollars for three speeches that she delivered to public universities.  She “earned” more money in those three speeches than my parents would have made in several years doing the nation’s business.  The University of Missouri-Kansas City refused to pay Hillary the $275K that she was asking for a single speech, so instead they paid daughter Chelsea $65,000.  To be precise, this 33-year-old woman, who was not an entrepreneur, a possessor of a graduate degree, an Olympian, or even a Kardashian, seized $65,000 of public funds to speak for ten minutes, participate in a twenty-minute Q&A session, and take thirty minutes to pose for photographs.   (If you’re incredulous about these facts – and I can hardly blame you -- go to:  Precisely how is Chelsea, who like her mother purports to be an advocate for the needy, demonstrating a willingness to make personal sacrifices?

This figured to be a so-called “change” election, my friends.  A large majority of Americans have been telling pollsters that the nation was on the wrong track.   The Democrats were ripe for the plucking.  Fortunately for their chances, however, the Republicans nominated a political novice with a propensity for saying things that shock the conscience.  He had us all convinced that the election was in the bag for the Democrats.   But, like usual, the Democrats didn’t play to win – they simply played not to lose.   They never bothered to announce an exciting initiative that would cause working-class and middle-class Americans to affirmatively want to elect them.  As is their wont, they campaigned under the slogan, “The Republicans Are Evil and Scary and We are Not.”  

“Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid” is not a motto that brings too many people to the ballot boxes.    As a result, two out of three Governors next year will be Republicans.  And in 2019, after a disproportionate number of Democratic Senators are up for re-election, we could easily have 55 or more Republican Senators.  At some point, the Democrats are going to have to make a case for themselves – other than that they are really shrewd at negotiating high speaking fees from public universities.

You would think that the Democrats would take a bit of time after last week’s debacle to reflect on what went wrong with their party.  But self-reflection is painful, and besides, we have a great crutch available to help us deny that we even lost the election.  All hail the popular vote!  To quote a column in this past Monday’s Washington Post written by Democratic columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. (now that the print media has given up any pretense of objectivity, we should probably identify columnists by their Party affiliation), “Let’s be clear: The United States of America is not Donald Trump’s country. When all the returns are in, Hillary Clinton will emerge with a popular vote lead of some 1.5 million to 2 million votes....  To point out Clinton’s popular-vote advantage is not a form of liberal denial.  It’s a way of beginning to build a barricade against right-wing triumphalism – and of reminding immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, and yes, our daughters that most Americans stood with them on Election Day.”  

It’s nice to be a Democrat, isn’t it?  You can love yourself and your fellow travelers, glibly smear your political opponents as rank bigots, and still with a clear conscience negotiate a $65,000 fee for your daughter to give a ten-minute speech.  Even in defeat, you can still be a winner!    

Personally, I strongly oppose the Electoral College.  I come from what Howard Dean once called the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.”  I don’t like to see some citizens holding more power than others simply because of what state they live in.  I also hate the fact that half of the country goes to the ballot box every presidential election knowing in their hearts that their votes don’t mean a damned thing because their state is either cardinal red or navy blue.  I can live with the inequalities inherent in the idea that even the relatively unpopulated states have two Senators, but I hate having to bring those inequalities to presidential politics as well.  

So yes, Democrats, try all you want to get rid of the Electoral College. I'm with you there.  But let us not demean ourselves by suggesting that Trump didn’t really and clearly win this election.  The election was all about who could get to 270 Electoral votes – and it appears that he surpassed 300.  Gore v. Bush was one thing, because it was hardly clear who really won Florida.  But to suggest that this election wasn’t really won by Trump due to the popular vote is like whining about losing a baseball game simply because your team got more baserunners than the other team did.  You don’t play baseball to get baserunners; you play baseball to score runs.  And these candidates didn’t campaign to win the popular votes; they campaigned to run the most powerful government in the world by getting to 270.   Dionne understands that; he just can't bring himself to confront the limitations of his party head on; like most liberal columnists, he has to make every column an attack on those evil Republicans. 

Also, what is especially ironic about all this “popular vote” whining is that some of the same Democrats who now are indignant about the Electoral College are the ones that gave us Superdelegates.  Throughout the primaries, the Clinton News Network (and, if memory serves, MSNBC as well) would include the Superdelegates in their overall delegate tallies, which made it seem like Hillary had a huge lead over Bernie even though the fact is that the vote was relatively close.  Personally, I think that Hillary would have beaten Bernie fair and square because she really did have an African-American firewall in the South.  But the powers-that-be in the party weren’t going to take the chance of a fair and square nomination.  As has now been abundantly chronicled, the party elites wanted to make sure that their candidate (and not Bernie) would win, break that glass ceiling, and ensure that their party would be as nonthreatening as ever in the fall elections.   In this context -- i.e., a change election -- nonthreatening means gutless, feckless and ultimately, pointless.

And that brings me to the final irony I’d like to point out.

Truth be told, as obnoxious as the Democrats can be in playing identity politics, they are correct that this is a country with continuing racism and sexism problems.  Those problems aren't, as many Republicans would like to argue, things of the past.  They are actually quite profound.  And that's why it is so curious that neither the Democrats nor the Clintons were ever willing to take seriously the ramifications of these problems.  Whichever party wants to get a woman or non-white elected President had better take seriously the need to overcome the effects of bigotry.   Stated simply, women and minorities who hope to win the world’s most important election had better epitomize integrity, relate well to the residents of small towns, affluent suburbs, and inner cities, and above all else, bring a message of change.

Shaking down the state of Missouri for $275K – or $65 K for your daughter – is not a message of change. And if it’s a message of progressivism, my parents clearly didn’t teach me the proper meaning of that word.  (Obviously, Hillary's problems didn't start and end with the speaking fees, but I trust that you appreciate that these examples are emblematic of a greater array of issues, some of which I'm not comfortable addressing in this blog.)

The tragic truth is that Hillary Clinton as a candidate was always fools’ gold.   She herself acknowledged that, unlike her husband, she is not a natural politician.  And indeed, she faced a substantial amount of sexism that is difficult to overestimate because so much of it is subtle.   The only reason she came close to breaking that glass ceiling was because she ran against the perfect foil – and yet, despite all of the President-Elect's shortcomings, she still lost.  If that's not a warning sign, what is?

The Democratic Party needs to come to grips with the fact that it is time to move on from the Baby Boom generation and from fat-and-happy politicians and find some leaders who are young and hungry.  But first, those Generation Xers need to figure out what it is they are hungry for.  For many, the answer will be personal status, extravagant “cribs,” lots of expensive vacations, and opportunities to send their kids into tony private schools.   Those are not the ones I’m looking for.  I’m looking for someone my parents could have related to.  They grew up poor, you see.  Apparently, they were no more "real Democrats” than Bernie Sanders.

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