Two friends on Facebook, who do not know each other, independently and simultaneously posted their reactions to Tom Perez winning the Democratic National Committee chairmanship. One friend noted that Mr. Perez, Labor Secretary in the Obama Administration, worked hard on LGBTQ issues, in particular on transgender rights. The other friend had a one word reaction, a word I often use myself: ugh.
Both of their reactions encompass my own. I recognize that Mr. Perez has progressive credentials. I also recognize that he comes from an establishment that seems unable or unwilling to look at itself in the mirror to see what’s going wrong, and that scares me.
Democrats won everything in 2008. They already had the House and the Senate and Barack Obama’s victory gave them the White House. Additionally, they held a supermajority in the Senate for the first time in ages. It should have been a perfect moment for the party and the country. But it wasn’t.
Too many Democrats in office during the first two years of President Obama’s term held corporate allegiances. They eschewed anything that smelled too progressive, including parts of the Affordable Care Act (e.g., the public option). When it came time for reelection in 2010, these timid Democrats ran for the hills, away from ACA, away from a popular president. They lost. And the party has been losing ever since.
In 2010, they lost the House.
In 2014, they lost the Senate.
In 2016, they lost the presidency.
In the background of all this national losing, they lost statehouses and governorships across the country. Today, Republicans control 32 state legislatures, Democrats control 12, and 6 are divided. Of the 12 statehouses under Democratic control, only five have Democratic governors. Eight short years ago, Democratic commentators, like Marcos Moulitsas and others, went on about how the Republican Party became a regional party, that it would never win a national election again. Blah, blah, blah. Wrong, wrong, wrong. These commentators had in fact been describing the eventual fate of the Democratic Party.
The New Republic recently published a devastating article, “Obama’s Lost Army,” that details how the DNC squandered the grassroots organization created to elect President Obama in 2008. Rather than turn it into a strong force for progressive ideas, an incubator for a new generation of Democratic politicians, or a force for local organizing, the DNC simply allowed all the organization to falter and vanish. The piece states that Democratic insiders were not comfortable with a separate entity organizing Democratic voters and fielding potential candidates that party bigwigs had not vetted. So they allowed it to die.
Saddest part of all, the Republicans learned the lessons from Obama’s victory and did the grassroots organizing that the Democrats were reluctant to do, leading to victories in 2010, 2014, and 2016 and the election of Donald Trump.
My other point of contention, what happened to everyone who voted in 2008? I asked this before, and I’m still asking it. Trump did not win simply by luring erstwhile Obama voters. He won because a lot of people simply didn’t vote. Folks like Van Jones have focussed on the former problem and have all but ignored the latter. And I’m tired of it. We need to discuss the problem of people not voting.
I contend that people like progressive politics when its explained clearly and when those who espouse it follow through on their promises. People want socialized medicine, even if they don’t like that name. Call it something else, then. But once “Medicare for all” or however you want to call it is established, then folks won’t want it taken away, just as folks are finally waking up and protesting the inevitable destruction of the Affordable Care Act at the hands of the Republicans.
The 2009 stimulus, meant to revive a stagnant economy and reverse rising unemployment, was so successful that Republicans who voted against it touted its benefits to constituents. The stimulus suffered from poor marketing — it really needed a better name if nothing else — and lack of clarity as to what it was and what it was supposed to do. Republicans exploited these shortcomings to their advantage.
Republicans and Democrats are very different in one very crucial way. Republicans mean what they say, say it clearly, and follow through on it. Democrats equivocate and meander. They run for the hills when they should defend what they believe in. Then they lose.
For Tom Perez to change the failing status of the Democratic Party, he needs to address these issues head-on. I really hope he does. Appointing his former opponent for the DNC chairmanship, Congressman Keith Ellison, as his Deputy Director could be a good first start, if he gives Congressman Ellison something meaningful to do. Otherwise, I worry that 2018 will be another in a long line of electoral disappointments, to the detriment of the country.