The Reunification of the Democratic Party - By Greer Clem
I have to start by giving credit where credit is due: the inspiration for this Op-Ed came from the latest brilliant episode of the Podcast, "Pod Save America," led by former Obama administration staff Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer, and Tommy Vietor. While talking about approval ratings in Trump's first 100 days, a Washington Post poll was brought up that said that two thirds of Americans think that the Democratic party is out of touch with what the country wants. I imagine like most of my fellow liberals, I was mildly insulted to hear this statistic. I am not naive; I know that Trump's campaign succeeded in convincing enough people that he was for the every man. But, I truly still believe that the Democratic party better understands the needs of the American people. So why are we being perceived, even within our own party, as being out of touch?
After this statistic was brought up on the podcast, Jon Lovett quickly agreed that Democrats are absolutely more out of touch with the American public than Republicans. He argued that this is evident purely through the fact that Democrats keep losing. We don't have the House, we don't have the Senate, and we don't have the Presidency. It's not that republicans are offering better solutions or even any solutions, but rather that they've figured out a way to talk to people that makes them seem more connected.
Part of the problem, as Jon Lovett pointed out, comes down to "identity politics." Essentially, we were more focused (and still are) on the personalities of political candidates and less on the issues. Lovett said, "We don't know how to talk to Trump voters, Hillary and Bernie supporters weren't talking to each other; we're doing too much identity politics and it's alienating people." And he's absolutely right. The example used to illustrate this change was the Iraq war. Back when Obama and Hillary were facing off in the Democratic primary, the Iraq war was a divisive issue among the Democratic party. But it was just that: an issue, not an identity. You could be either for or against it. In 2016, who you supported was reflective of you as a person and had much more to do with personalities than with actual issues.
This, in part, is what also contributes to our inability to talk to Trump voters. Realistically, the Trump administration only has a year and a half to actually pass legislation and get things done. If the first 100 days have been an indicator, Trump is going to stay domestic and try to work on tax breaks, repealing Obamacare, and convincing people the wall/border security are still priorities. In a year and a half, there will undoubtedly be people who voted for him who are unconvinced he has been successful, regardless of what he gets done. It's our job to continually remind the public that he is ineffective and a liar, but that we are listening to what they want and what they hoped to get out of him. If we don't do this and don't move past the identity-voter complex, we're only going to make 2020 that much harder on ourselves.
Jon Favreau rightly argued that we now have to decide what we believe and what our message will be to unify the democratic party. Part of this will be addressing the Bernie-Hillary split and what that means. I want to highlight that this is an issue we need to address, not re-hash. It is a waste of energy to sit and argue that one was better than the other. Instead, we need to figure out what a unifying message can be that will garner support from people who supported both candidates.
I must admit, I fell into the identity trap myself. I judged Bernie, not based on his actual policies and ideas, but on how he presented as a person, and then determined Hillary was a safer candidate. I even said to people, "Look, I align more with Bernie, but we can't let Trump win and Hillary is a less polarizing candidate." Not that I didn't agree with Hillary and admire her platform, but ultimately I bet on what I thought was the safer horse. That is not a risk we can run in 2020, or in 2018 when we need to try to take back the House. So how can we prevent this? How can we learn from this?
Well we can start by acknowledging our mistakes. I'll go first: I thought Bernie was too far left to garner enough support to defeat Trump. It turns out, Bernie was much more effective at reaching the working-class vote than I gave him credit for. I underestimated people's dislike of Hillary, not as a candidate, but as a person, and took for granted that people would support her based on experience instead of Trump.
Okay, now what? We let it go. 2016 is in the past and bipartisanship is at an all-time high. More than that, our own party is now scrambling to reunify in the face of a Trump presidency that will try to roll back everything Obama accomplished. So here's what I think we need to do: we need to listen to the grassroots movements. Look how closely Jon Ossof came to flipping the Georgia 6th - that is the democratic party reaching out and trying to say something. Grassroots movements are where we can reconnect with dissatisfied democrats and people who voted for Trump. We need to be listening to what people are calling for and understanding why identity is such a concern.
We need to show support for all local elections, no matter how small. We need to carry the momentum from the many marches and protests and channel that into a new age of the Democratic party. The people of our party need to know that we hear them and that, despite varying opinions, we are working towards the same goal. The biggest question: what is that goal?
That's a hefty question for me to try to answer. Don't get me wrong, I'm brazen enough to try, but really I'm not the one we all need to hear from. If our goal is to protect American healthcare, that needs to be completely salient across the democratic party. If it is to push back on Trump's immigration policies, we need to know that every democratic representative is in support of that. In short, we need all the collective voices of our party to unify in what we are protecting.
In my opinion, we are protecting what it means to be American. Donald Trump is not for the every man; he doesn't know how to do this job and he doesn't care about anything but his ratings. To me, being a democrat today means putting our nation first, no matter who you voted for. It means securing affordable healthcare for every citizen, lowering the cost of higher education, supporting refugees within our borders and across the world, and creating legal paths to citizenship for immigrants. It means maintaining a sustainable job market, protecting the environment, and ensuring that every person, gay, straight, or transgender feels safe walking down the street. It means less gun violence and more thorough background checks. It means acknowledging that systemic racism still exists and working to eradicate it. Why should any of these platform's success depend on the identity of the representative? Now is the time for our party to reunite, and it's my hope that, even if only one person read this, it would get them started.