The current political conventional wisdom says that the Democratic party is facing a choice about its future direction—a choice between wild-eyed leftists and pragmatic, victory-driven centrists of the Democratic establishment. Bullshit. There is no choice at all.
Let me first point out that the pragmatic establishment centrists just lost to Donald Trump. Okay.
This is a classic case of a real life situation with one obvious answer that is being forced into a two-way battle in order to create a dramatic narrative that need not exist at all. The question that we are really discussing is: “How can Democrats get the pissed-off, disillusioned people who hate both political parties to vote for them?” They’re already doing just fine in California and Vermont and among minorities and in most of our nation’s major cities, where liberals cluster. Considering how far to the right the modern version of the Republican Party is, there is little chance of people who actually hold left wing values defecting to them. This Battle For The Future of the Democratic Party, then, is really a battle over how to lure in people who are utterly disgusted with the fact that both major political parties have, for several decades, allowed our nation to become more unequal and less fair and failed to give average working people much of a raise at all even as the very rich got very richer.
Rational people, in other words.
Of course people are pissed. Anyone paying attention to what our major political parties have produced over the past 35 years would be pissed. Average people without great educations may not know economic statistics or demographic statistics or the finer points of campaign finance law or the intricacies of various government regulations but they do know at least one thing very well: They know the condition of their own lives. And they know the conditions in their own communities. If they are unable to find a job that earns them a decent living and they are unable to find affordable housing and they are unable to find decent health care, they will not be happy. Imagine that! So, if you are a political party who wishes to demonstrate to a large group of rationally pissed-off people that they should throw their support behind you, the legitimate way to do it is to fix their problems. The cynical, evil way to do it is to try to figure out how to trick them into believing that you will fix their problems without actually fixing their problems. The Democratic Party is currently facing a very hard dilemma over which of these approaches to adopt.
What do all of these citizens that the Democrats are so eager to attract to their party need? They need health care that is accessible and affordable. They need housing that is accessible and affordable. They need jobs that pay a living wage. They need to be able to pay their bills and have reasonable hope that they can make progress in life. Is the Republican Party offering them these things? No. It is a factual, not a partisan, statement to say that the Republicans are offering these people significantly worse health care and an economic future in which the rich get richer and social mobility becomes more difficult. That is a fact. You would think, therefore, that the Democrats would be excited to grab this obvious opportunity to take the other side of the equation by offering to embrace to good public health care for everyone and a set of economic policies that would have the effect of pushing wealth down the economic ladder, rather than consolidating it at the top. A set of policies, in other words, to improve the lives of the greatest number of people to the greatest possible degree.
You would think. This chance to be the party that actually does what is necessary to change the things that have gotten people so pissed off in the first place now sits before the Democrats like a delicious pie. Next to it sits a shit sandwich. This shit sandwich represents the belief that the party’s loss in 2016 was the result of a public embrace of “conservatism” and that therefore the best thing for Democrats to do is to pretend to be more “conservative,” which in practice means to cut taxes and send more money to the rich and weaken the social safety net and exacerbate the problems that got us here.
Fix the problems. Or pander to people’s basest instincts and lie about your intentions to fix the problems while not actually fixing the problems. That is the choice that the Democratic party faces now. Help people, or lie to people?
It’s a toughie!