Monday, October 30, 2017

Finally! A 2016 Democratic Party Autopsy-- Albeit Not From The DNC


Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis was prepared by progressive party activists Karen Bernal, Pia Gallegos, Sam McCann, and Norman Solomon and released today. "After a train wreck," they wrote, "investigators scrutinize the causes. A rigorous inquiry-- not content to merely point fingers at external forces-- takes an unflinching look at what occurred. Bringing to light the preventable problems is central to making significant improvements for the future. With such an approach, we can and must learn from electoral tragedy by evaluating the policies, actions and priorities of the Democratic Party." The DNC didn't bother, primarily because "the party’s national leadership has shown scant interest in addressing many of the key factors that led to electoral disaster." Imagine, for example, an autopsy that leads to questions about how Wassermann Schultz cheated to eliminate Bernie from the nomination. This one doesn't dwell on the familiar DNC topics and excuses beyond the control of the Democratic Party (whether FBI Director Comey, Russia, misogyny of some voters...). Instead, it "focuses on some key factors that have been significantly under the party’s control. While in no way attempting or claiming to be comprehensive, this report focuses on some of our party’s most crucial flaws, fissures and opportunities."
Executive Summary

The Party’s Base

Aggregated data and analysis show that policies, operations and campaign priorities of the national Democratic Party undermined support and turnout from its base in the 2016 general election. Since then, the Democratic leadership has done little to indicate that it is heeding key lessons from the 2016 disaster.

The Democratic National Committee and the party’s congressional leadership remain bent on prioritizing the chase for elusive Republican voters over the Democratic base: especially people of color, young people and working-class voters overall.

After suffering from a falloff of turnout among people of color in the 2016 general election, the party appears to be losing ground with its most reliable voting bloc, African-American women. “The Democratic Party has experienced an 11 percent drop in support from black women according to one survey, while the percentage of black women who said neither party represents them went from 13 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in 2017.”

One of the large groups with a voter-turnout issue is young people, “who encounter a toxic combination of a depressed economic reality, GOP efforts at voter suppression, and anemic messaging on the part of Democrats.”

“Emerging sectors of the electorate are compelling the Democratic Party to come to terms with adamant grassroots rejection of economic injustice, institutionalized racism, gender inequality, environmental destruction and corporate domination. Siding with the people who constitute the base isn't truly possible when party leaders seem to be afraid of them.”

  The DNC has refused to renounce, or commit to end, its undemocratic practices during the 2016 primary campaign that caused so much discord and distrust from many party activists and voters among core constituencies.

Working to defeat restrictions on voting rights is of enormous importance. Yet the Democratic National Committee failed to make such work a DNC staffing priority.

Populism and Party Decline

The Democratic Party’s claims of fighting for “working families” have been undermined by its refusal to directly challenge corporate power, enabling Trump to masquerade as a champion of the people. “Democrats will not win if they continue to bring a wonk knife to a populist gunfight. Nor can Democratic leaders and operatives be seen as real allies of the working class if they’re afraid to alienate big funders or to harm future job or consulting prospects.”

“Since Obama’s victory in 2008, the Democratic Party has lost control of both houses of Congress and more than 1,000 state legislative seats. The GOP now controls the governorship as well as the entire legislature in 26 states, while Democrats exercise such control in only six states…. Despite this Democratic decline, bold proposals with the national party’s imprint are scarce.”

“After a decade and a half of nonstop warfare, research data from voting patterns suggest that the Clinton campaign’s hawkish stance was a political detriment in working-class communities hard-hit by American casualties from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“Operating from a place of defensiveness and denial will not turn the party around. Neither will status quo methodology.”

Sample of Recommendations

Party Operations and Outreach

The Democratic National Committee must make up for lost time by accelerating its very recent gear-up of staffing to fight against the multi-front assaults on voting rights that include voter ID laws, purges of voter rolls and intimidation tactics.

The Democratic National Committee should commit itself to scrupulously adhering to its Charter, which requires the DNC to be evenhanded in the presidential nominating process.

Because “the superdelegate system, by its very nature, undermines the vital precept of one person, one vote,” the voting power of all superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention must end.

“Social movements cannot be understood as tools to get Democrats elected. The ebb and flow of social movements offer a rising tide in their own right that along the way can lift Democratic Party candidates-- if the party is able to embrace the broad popular sentiment that the movements embody.”

“This is about more than just increasing voter turnout. It is about energizing as well as expanding the base of the party. To do this we must aggressively pursue two tracks: fighting right-wing efforts to rig the political system, and giving people who can vote a truly compelling reason to do so.”

“The enduring point of community outreach is to build an ongoing relationship that aims for the party to become part of the fabric of everyday life. It means acknowledging the validity and power of people-driven movements as well as recognizing and supporting authentic progressive community leaders. It means focusing on how the party can best serve communities, not the other way around. Most of all, it means persisting with such engagement on an ongoing basis, not just at election time.”

Party Policies and Programs

The party should avidly promote inspiring programs such as single-payer Medicare for all, free public college tuition, economic security, infrastructure and green jobs initiatives, and tackling the climate crisis.

While the Democratic Party fights for an agenda to benefit all Americans, the party must develop new policies and strategies for more substantial engagement with people of color-- directly addressing realities of their lives that include disproportionately high rates of poverty and ongoing vulnerability to a racist criminal justice system.

With its policies and programs, not just its public statements, the Democratic Party must emphasize that “in the real world, the well-being of women is indivisible from their economic circumstances and security.” To truly advance gender equality, the party needs to fight for the economic rights of all women.

The Democratic Party should end its neglect of rural voters, a process that must include aligning the party with the interests of farming families and others who live in the countryside rather than with Big Agriculture and monopolies.

“While the short-term prospects for meaningful federal action on climate are exceedingly bleak, state-level initiatives are important and attainable. Meanwhile, it’s crucial that the Democratic Party stop confining its climate agenda to inadequate steps that are palatable to Big Oil and mega-players on Wall Street.”

“What must now take place includes honest self-reflection and confronting a hard truth: that many view the party as often in service to a rapacious oligarchy and increasingly out of touch with people in its own base.” The Democratic Party should disentangle itself -- ideologically and financially-- from Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and other corporate interests that put profits ahead of public needs.
The autopsy is divided into 8 sections-- Corporate Power and the Party, Race and the Party, Young People and the Party, Voter Participation and the Party, Social Movements and the Party, War and the Party, Democracy and the Party, and The Party and the Future-- and I urge you to read the whole thing. Below is the first section, Corporate Power and the Party.
Corporate domination over the party’s agenda-- and, perhaps more importantly, the perception of corporate control over the party’s agenda-- rendered the Democrats’ messaging on economic issues ideologically rudderless and resulted in a decline in support among working-class people across racial lines.

First, it’s important to debunk some facile media myths about Donald Trump and “the working class.” The bulk of Trump’s support is still from well-off whites who have always composed the core of the Republican Party funding and much of its voting base, and one should work hard to not feed into the easy media trope that Trump is overwhelmingly popular among “blue collar” or working-class voters. Nor should one fall into the trap (as some pundits have) of using “working class” and “white working class” interchangeably. Aside from erasing working people of color, this trap overlooks the fact that Hillary Clinton in fact won the working class across races, if one uses those making less than $50,000 a year as a proxy for the label.

What did happen-- and what ought to deeply worry Democrats moving forward-- is the massive swing of white working-class voters from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 and the depressed turnout of black and Latino voters for Clinton relative to 2012 Obama. There was a 16-point swing across all races (though this is overwhelmingly due to whites) for those making less than $30,000 from the D to R column and a six-point swing for those making between $30,000 and $50,000. Turnout among African Americans and Latinos was also far lower than many expected, which represents an ominous trend for the party moving forward. To put it in marketing terms: the Democrat Party is failing, on a systemic level, to inspire, bring out, and get a sufficient majority of the votes of the working class.

The Democratic Party, as pollster Stanley Greenberg emphasizes, doesn’t have a “white working-class problem”-- it has a working-class problem. “If there was one area where Democratic turnout was undeniably weaker in 2016 than 2012 it was among African Americans,” Patrick Ruffini wrote in FiveThirtyEight. Black turnout, especially in key swing states, was 14.1 percent less than election models predicted-- far more than the 3.2 percent decline among whites. While it’s important to note the damaging effect of Republican Party attempts at minority voter suppression through gerrymandering and voter ID laws, the Democratic Party has failed to give many of those who can vote a reason to do so.

This is animated, in part, by the perception that the party is in the pocket of the rich. A poll in spring 2017 found that two-thirds of the public sees the Democratic Party as “out of touch with the concerns of most people in the United States today.” Meanwhile, a recent review of census data by the Washington Post found that African Americans are “the only U.S. racial group earning less than they did in 2000.” The unfettered capitalist economy partly enabled by Democrats since the 1990s has devastated the working class, doubly so the black working class, and the Democratic Party’s major role in that devastation continues to have a harmful effect on party prospects.

The party has attempted to convince working-class voters that it can advance the interests of the rich and working people with equal vigor. This sleight-of-hand was more feasible pre-2008 economic crash, but it has since lost credibility as inequality grows and entire communities are gutted by free market, anti-union, anti-worker ideology and policy. The champions of the growth-raises-all-boats mythology had their chance and they failed the vast bulk of working Americans. President Obama, with his unique political skills, preempted and co-opted economic populism to some extent (though it surfaced briefly and strongly with the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011/2012), but it re-emerged with Bernie Sanders’ insurgent primary campaign. In her 2016 general election loss, Clinton was outflanked on economic messaging by Trump’s huckster appeals to anti-NAFTA and anti-free-market sentiment.

Tone-deafness on class was seen time and again in Clinton’s campaign: avoiding clear, class-based messaging and instead offering up bloodless micro-targeted policies. Clinton didn’t propose free public college as such, but rather student loan abatement for potential “entrepreneurs” and a series of other convoluted, means-tested “solutions”-- many involving GOP-like bootstrap work requirements. Her messaging on health care was just as deficient. Instead of speaking of health care in simple, rights-based terms (much less embracing single-payer Medicare for all), Clinton talked of “expanding ACA” and frequently employed needless modifiers before “health care” such as “access to” and “affordable.” While she would toss out the concept of health care as a right in the occasional tweets, her speeches and online texts rarely, if ever, framed the topic that way. “If you believe,” Clinton said in her convention acceptance speech, “that every man, woman, and child in America has the right to affordable health care, join us.” How the word “affordable” adds to that sentence -- other than rendering it rhetorically weak and corporately palatable-- is not clear.

The Clinton campaign mocked Trump for lying about his wealth, floating the idea of labeling him “Poor Donald”-- a too-cute-by-half attempt to call Trump a financial fraud. That actually backfired, making Clinton look like a rich snob and Trump like a regular guy. (It wouldn’t have seemed so glib had Clinton herself said much about the issue of poverty on the campaign trail. Instead she, like the broader Democratic leadership, relied almost exclusively on the go-to, offend-no-one label “middle class.”) Clinton told a crowd in Lake Worth, Florida that she liked "having the support of real billionaires” because “Donald gives a bad name to billionaires.” That was a deeply strange messaging choice given that 82 percent of the population think the wealthy “have too much influence in Washington.” Most importantly, during the campaign Clinton-- unable to throw stones from her glass house-- virtually abandoned talking about pay-to-play big money in politics.

The surge in populism (which can be broadly defined as a dislike of “the establishment”), brought on by widening inequality and economic stagnation, will be filled by some political force or other-- either the cruel and demagogic forces of the far right and its billionaire backers, or a racially diverse and morally robust progressive vision that offers people a clear alternative to the ideological rot of Trumpism. The mainstream Democratic storyline of victims without victimizers lacks both plausibility and passion. The idea that the Democrats can somehow convince Wall Street to work on behalf of Main Street through mild chiding, rather than acting as Main Street’s champion against the wealthy, no longer resonates. We live in a time of unrest and justified cynicism towards those in power; Democrats will not win if they continue to bring a wonk knife to a populist gunfight. Nor can Democratic leaders and operatives be seen as real allies of the working class if they’re afraid to alienate big funders or to harm future job or consulting prospects.

On environmental matters, similar problems abound. Leading Democrats have been forthright in condemning GOP climate denial, yet most of the same Democrats routinely indulge in denial that corporate power fuels climate denial and accelerates climate damage. While scoring political points by justifiably lambasting dangerous Republican anti-science positions, most Democrats have gravitated toward proposals (like various forms of carbon trading and cap-and-trade) that cannot come close to addressing the magnitude of the climate crisis. Steps like a carbon tax-- necessary, though insufficient-- are badly needed along with imposition of major regulatory measures to drastically reduce carbon emissions. While the short-term prospects for meaningful federal action on climate are exceedingly bleak, state-level initiatives are important and attainable. Meanwhile, it’s crucial that the Democratic Party stop confining its climate agenda to inadequate steps that are palatable to Big Oil and mega-players on Wall Street.

It's telling that during the 16 years of the Clinton and Obama presidencies, when so many U.S. jobs were “outsourced” to cheap labor countries, one is hard pressed to recall either Democratic president ever taking a single U.S. corporation to task on the issue, even rhetorically. (To chair his Jobs Council, Obama chose the CEO of outsourcing pioneer General Electric.) Such silence and/or complicity on corporate greed and irresponsibility allowed a charlatan like Trump to grandstand as the savior of jobs and working people.

Perhaps the most literal instance of the party’s sense of corporate entitlement came in the summer of 2017 when the Democratic National Committee sent out fundraising mailers designed to look like collection letters to its supporters. The DNC team scrawled “FINAL NOTICE” across the envelopes and put “Finance Department” as the return address. The message it conveyed, intentionally or not, was: you owe us. That, not coincidentally, is a message the party leadership has been sending to core constituencies through its policies and campaign spending priorities.

Meanwhile, for the party, longtime neglect of rural America has come back to haunt. “If the Democratic Party wants to rebuild trust in rural areas-- if it wants to win back states like Wisconsin-- then it has to develop robust social policies that address rural needs,” journalist Sarah Jones observed midway through 2017. Fighting for rural broadband and obtaining more funds for Federally Qualified Health Centers in underserved areas have been important efforts and deserve higher priority. Meanwhile, the party should stop elevating Big Ag allies like Tom Vilsack, the Monsanto-smitten politician who served as Agriculture Secretary in the Obama administration for eight years. “Identifying the corporate power that holds back farm communities could revive Democratic fortunes,” author David Dayen wrote a few months ago. “Obviously, there are huge cultural barriers dividing Democrats from these areas, dominated by a media that paints them in the worst possible light. But the answer to that isn’t to walk away from the region, or present Republican-lite ‘moderates’ who line up with corporate interests; it lies in showing farmers you stand with them, not the monopolies.”

It must be stressed that any attempt to win over working-class white voters cannot be at the expense of a firm commitment to racial justice, LGBTQ equality or women's rights. Attempts to win over those who exited the party in 2016 must never involve racist pandering or putting off issues of social justice lest they “offend” whites. Immediately after the 2016 election, several high status pro-Democrat pundits suggested Clinton’s loss was a result of a backlash to “identity politics”-- thus blaming those most vulnerable to Trump for Trump. This posits a false dichotomy between discussing economic injustice and fighting for rights unique to certain communities. Indeed, women, trans people, Latinos, and African Americans disproportionately comprise the working class-- and issues that specifically target them are, by definition, “working class issues.” Just the same, big tent goals such as higher minimum wage, single-payer health care and free public college-- issues that have huge appeal among poor whites-- will disproportionately benefit these communities.

Many party leaders have strongly advocated for women in such vital realms as reproductive rights, pay equity, protection against employment bias and equal access to public services. Yet the widening economic disparities that especially harm women-- sometimes called the feminization of poverty-- are directly related to policies that boost the power of large corporations. The corporate-friendly inclinations of the Democratic Party have ended up increasing rather than reducing those disparities, with dire consequences. As activist Carmen Rios points out, “women’s wages have gone stagnant, and women continue to find themselves on the bottom of every ladder, looking up through a glass ceiling.” In the real world, the well-being of women is indivisible from their economic circumstances and security.

Building an intersectional coalition-- one that unites the working class across racial lines while addressing issues specific to people who are targeted based on identity-- is key to creating an electoral force that can not only win, but also overwhelm the small group of wealthy white men the GOP works to further enrich. If the Democratic Party is to become such a political force, it will require a much bolder economic agenda to directly challenge corporate power.
I spoke to a few of the deeper thinkers I know in politics about the autopsy and thought I'd share some of the comments. First to get back to me...

Randy Bryce (WI-01)- "I'm running for Congress with one intent-- to make a table big enough for everyone. It really is sad that so few feel that they actually have a say with politics after Citizens United. If we as Democrats want to get 'our people' to the polls we need to convince them that we'll fight for things that make their lives better. This begins by changing our current corporate economy into a worker economy. We have enough for everyone. Rich people will still be rich. I don't have any problems with rich people. I have a problem with greedy people. Democracy is based on 'will of the majority.' How can we expect for that to happen when only a minority of the population votes? We can't. We need to not only make sure everyone has a place to sit but that they can get in through the front door just to get to the table."

Austin Frerick, the anti-trust populist worked as an economist at the U.S. Treasury Department and who's now taking on David Young in southwestern Iowa, was especially concerned about how the Democratic Party has indeed ignored the plight of rural voters. "It's not enough," he told us this morning, "to just say that Democrats are anti-monopoly in the 'A Better Day.' These words are meaningless unless we name names. Let's start by showing family farms that we are on their side by opposing the Monsanto-Bayer merger. We cannot let two companies soon control 75% of the corn seed market! Democrats will win back rural voters by taking bold stances like this one. Our campaign has been saying this since July and we'd love more company."

Goal ThermometerDavid Gill, the emergency room physician running for Congress in Central Illinois has worked with the Democratic Party long enough to understand what the establishment is up to. "Based on what we've seen here in IL-13 over the past few election cycles, it's crystal clear that Democratic Party leadership is in the pocket of the rich and that they are out of touch with the concerns of most people. As a longtime passionate advocate of single-payer healthcare and green energy, it was no surprise that I was not their anointed candidate in the 2012 primary, nor that they had such difficulty in getting behind my campaign in the 2012 general election. What followed did surprise me, and demonstrated to me that I previously had no idea just how thoroughly the party is in the thrall of Corporate America."

He continued, "After my progressive campaign fell short in the 2012 general election by just 0.3% (even with the handicap of sharing the ballot with an extremely liberal independent who took 7% of the vote, splitting progressive support just enough to keep me out of Washington) and after the DCCC-anointed moderate Democrat lost in 2014 by 18% (in other words, she lost by 60 TIMES what I lost by, and there wasn't even a liberal independent on the ballot with her), the DCCC still could not get behind me for another campaign. They are so in thrall to insurance companies that they simply cannot embrace a doctor who backs single-payer, even if that means giving up a precious Congressional seat. Instead they have to contort themselves into the ridiculous position of saying to Democratic voters here in IL-13 that 'actually, to our way of thinking, 18 is actually a smaller number than 0.3', i.e., we feel better about our chances of success running a Republican Lite candidate than Dr. Gill again.' And voters watch this and grow ever-more disheartened with the party; voters know that 18 is actually 60 times larger than 0.3, and to watch their party try to tell them otherwise speaks volumes about the party. To watch a major political party simply give away a Congressional seat sends a very loud and clear message to voters: the party doesn't care about you and your concerns."

Ro Khanna, essentially the most progressive member of the California congressional delegation got a look at the autopsy and told us that "Corporate elites have accrued too much of the gains of the modern economy not just in the U.S. but around the world because of rigged rules. The goal of economic justice for working class whites often intersects with the goal of economic empowerment for minorities, immigrants, and even the disenfranchised around the world. Today’s struggle is not paradigmatically between working class whites and 'the other.' Rather, it is between those who have benefitted from globalization and those who have been excluded and left out."

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At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sure doesn't help that they misnamed their effort as an autopsy -- something that is done to determine the cause of DEATH!!

What this is, really, is a post-mortem on the '16 debacle. So... why can't you call it what it is??

Their post mortem is largely correct. However, it soft-sells the root cause(s):
1)Sentient lefty (redundant, I know) voters won't support fake liberalism nor progressivism. So all this "message" bullshit should be called what it really is... LYING. And the higher-functioning voters are never going to support fakes again. It's been 35 years now. Enough. fucking period.
b)It wasn't bad strategery or even tactics. It was fucking election fraud and voter suppression that handed the nom to the corrupt, lying banking whore instead of Bernie. Yeah, the superdelegates are antidemocratic by design... but the entire primary system needs to be fixed -- no more caucuses; several other reforms also needed... but why 'splain them to a party that does NOT want fair elections.
III)they need to admit that the victory of the retarded orange-utan is MORE indicative of the (lack of) quality of their nom than anything else. Name any previous D nom that could have lost to that pos? Admit it, DNC, your nom was so odious that $he lost to THAT!!

The post-mortem should conclude that the party is irreversibly corrupt, needs to be killed in a total mercy killing, and that voters should immediately (as in 8 months ago) begin the process of coalescing around a truly and honestly left party. Make Bernie and Elizabeth and Pramilaya decide, once and for all, whether they are progressive or democraps... and choose. Then pose that same choice to Bryce et al...

Lacking this, we'll always be writing D post-mortems... and electing enema nozzles worse than this one.

At 2:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the hopeful info on rising progressive candidates, what this article is good for is a reminder when HER! decides to run again. I'm thinking the way Richard Nixon recovered from his loss to John Kennedy in 1960 only to rush to the fore by 1968 as the Law and Order candidate. He laid very low after losing the gubernatorial election in 1962 and was thus a "fresh" face to present to the voters as someone who could fix the problems (remember, this was still 1968, and it did work).

It won't be the law and order banner that HER! will run under. It will be economic inequality, since the Democrats are doing everything they can to ensure that the GOP screws the pooch AND the pooch's owner to produce that condition. With enough economic pain, voters are expected to forget what a horrible and greedy person HER! is and vote for HER! as the way out of a bad impoverishment. "We're sorry!" we're expected to shout. "We should have seen how much better a candidate you were and voter for HER!!"

Let's ignore for a moment that more people DID vote for HER! She still lost, because she won't FIGHT for people and their needs. It's all about HER!

And when the American economy is destroyed, and drags down the rest of the global economy with it, there won't be an FDR to emerge and make things better.


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