Dear Democratic Party,
What in the Hell is going on? Seriously, we lost a presidential election to Donald Trump. Sit back and let that sink in for a moment. Trump. A man so scandal ridden, so corrupt that even his own party thought he was a joke. But we picked the one candidate in the world that he could beat. A corrupt, scandal ridden woman viewed as the closest ally of Wall Street in the election.
When I was a kid, I had a very simplistic view of the two parties. Republicans looked out for business and Democrats looked out for the working class. It seemed like a good balance. Being working class poor, you were the natural party for me. But you have changed. And the change hasn’t served you or me well.
It hasn’t served me well because my healthcare costs keep going up, college tuition is crippling two generations with debt (students and parents) and while American corporations are making record profits, wages are stagnant.
It hasn’t served you well because you keep losing. And losing.
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 do the same in only six states. That is a problem. Your brand is gone and people don’t trust you. They don’t trust you on the economy and they don’t trust you on defense they don’t trust you on homeland security. You have completely lost touch with the people that in the past elected you. But you can fix it. It won’t be easy, but it can be fixed.
Engage, Listen and Inform. That is a Key Part of Liberalism.
The left is becoming increasingly intolerant of anyone who does not share what their own brand of what “Progressive” is. The left is no longer liberal. Much as the Tea Party has hijacked and taken over the Conservative brand, far left elements are doing the same to the Democratic brand. Democrats cannot be seen as the party of intolerance. But that is what we are becoming. People are afraid to have conversations with us. We are afraid to have conversations among ourselves. If we don’t conform to the orthodoxy of the left on social issues, if we don’t use the same language, we are branded as intolerant, bigots, misogynists, and all around bad people. Democrats have long been on the right side of social issues; LGBT rights, women’s rights, racial equality. But we have to understand that these victories did not come easy. They did not come without hard conversations and they did not come by dismissing people as ignorant or evil. Social change is disruptive. Often fair-minded people are slower to accept change than we like. The difference between a leftist is and liberal lies in the willingness to address and discuss the issue, not the person.
Understand What You Are Up Against.
Roughly 35% of the population approve of Trump. While his behavior is erratic, crass and not at all representative of what I want the President to be, his base supports him BECAUSE of his behavior. Not in spite of it. But every base can turn. While there is some debate as to what role racism played in his victory, there is no doubt that he ran a populist campaign. And during a time that Populism had reached a fever pitch, we ran the ultimate “Establishment” candidate.
Focus on The Issues that People Care About
A recent Gallup poll laid out the top concerns that Americans had. Here are the top 2.
1 – The availability and affordability of healthcare.
60% of Americans now believe that the government should ensure access to healthcare for ALL Americans. This is an area that Democrats are consistently trusted more than Republicans by voters. But we only want to talk about Obamacare. Obamacare was sold as a way to help the American public and put America’s health-care system on a sounder foundation. For too many Americans, the opposite has happened. Health-care expenses for many individuals and families are higher, their insurance costs are higher, their choice of doctors and insurance is restricted. But rather than focus on solutions, we pretend that Obamacare fixed everything.
We spend all of our time as a party talking about how the Republicans want to kill Obamacare and take away our insurance. This is the time to offer solutions, not just point fingers at Republicans. Go more left. Explain what single payer is. Make people understand the difference between single payer and universal healthcare. People don’t want the government running the healthcare system. but they do want affordable healthcare. As it stands, we spend 30% of every healthcare dollar on administrative costs and profit. We have the highest per capita healthcare costs of any industrialized nation. And we have the poorest outcomes. Single payer healthcare would create true competition, make private insurance more affordable and provide more choices. But when people hear “single payer”, they think of socialized medicine such as the Canadian system. The key is education on the differences and the will to make it happen.
2- The economy
Republicans have long held that the reduction of top marginal tax rates, the liberalization of trade, privatization of government services, and deregulation would help the economy and in doing so would help everyone. That is not the case. Income equality has exploded, Due largely to these policies created by the wealthy, for the wealthy. And they have served the wealthy very nicely, and the Democrats have gone along with them. While very little of what Trump said during his campaign has actually come to fruition, and there is no reason to believe it will, he railed against these same policies.. And that message resonated with people. Meanwhile, the Democrats were focused on his treatment of women, minorities, and immigrants without giving people a reason to vote for them. “He is a bad man” is not a winning message.
We have to drive home the message that the middle class is playing a game by a different set of rules than the wealthy. We can’t demonize the rich. We need to demonize the system that has been created that greatly favors the rich. The rich pay a lot of taxes. But they don’t pay the same percentage of taxes that “we” do, or a fair amount that they can easily afford. This was driven home by an anecdote that Warren Buffett shared. He had every employee in his office figure out the percentage of their income that went for taxes. It turned out that because his income was from dividends and capital gains, he paid a far lower percentage of taxes than anyone in the office. Despite being one of the world’s richest me. And he did zero tax planning during the year. Yet every time we discuss raising taxes on the rich we are told it will hurt the economy. It wont. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the top bracket income tax rate was over 90%–and the economy, middle-class, and stock market boomed. The other argument that the right makes is that raising taxes on the rich equates to class warfare. As Mr. Buffett stated “There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
The fact is that a large portion (except for the country of the top 1%) in this country is in a chronic state of anxiety over their financial and employment situation. But Democrats not only fail to address this, they are seen as being just as friendly to wealthy donors as Republicans. That is not the Democratic party that I grew up with. The chart below shows how the middle class has done versus how the top 1% have done since 1979. This should be at every campaign rally.
Lastly, we need to understand as Democrats that we have won the major battles in the culture wars. Rove v. Wade has been in place for over 40 years. LBGT rights have made huge strides. And while racism may be more open in some areas, discrimination and bigotry are not acceptable to most Americans. They are important issues that we need to stay on top of and lead on. But they can not be the centerpiece of a platform. They are issues that can be addressed when we are in power. But we have to be in power to do it. We don’t need to run on the basis that we are better people. We need to run on our ideas.
The Democratic Party needs to find their Huey Long. And we need to admit that it was not Obama. The Republicans did, and they didn’t even want him. But unlike Long, Trump’s promises of “every man a king” are empty. Most of the country knows that the Emperor has no clothes. We don’t need to sell that message. We to tell Americans how the party can make their life better, and then do it.