The Democrats' Catastrophe and the Need For a New Agenda

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The party's failure isn’t just the result of Republican negativity.

By Harold Meyerson

Democrats had ample reason to fear that this year’s midterm elections would not go well for them, but bad doesn’t begin to describe what happened to them—and the nation—yesterday. Catastrophic is more like it.

Democrats didn’t just lose the Senate; they lost statehouse after statehouse. They didn’t just lose the red states; they lost the purple and the blue. They lost the governorships of Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, and had the governor’s contest thrown into the legislature by the failure of their incumbent governor to win 50 percent of the vote in the socialist enclave of Vermont. They lost their last white member of the House from the deep South (Georgia’s John Barrow), but they also lost seats in the deep North—two in New York, one in New Hampshire, possibly one in Maine, and they are clinging to narrow leads in two of Connecticut’s five districts. Their statewide down-ticket candidates will probably all claim victory in deep-blue California, but by margins far narrower than those they’re accustomed to, and some presumably safe Golden State House seats are in danger as I write.

A defeat this comprehensive should compel the Democrats to acknowledge that their problems go beyond the six-year jinx—the year in a two-term presidency that usually sees a rout of the president’s party in Congress—the smaller electorates of midterm elections, the Republican suppression of the minority and youth vote, and even the flood of money that has deformed our democracy. A defeat of this magnitude suggests that the Democrats are in the same fix as most of the center-left parties of Europe—parties that purport to be the economic advocates of the middle and working classes, but preside over abysmal economies with no clear sense of how to make them better.

In Europe, the austerity economics that the European Union enforces at the insistence of Germany has caused massive disaffection from the ranks of the governing parties of Southern Europe, whether center-left or center-right. In the U.S., the declining economic prospects of the Democrats’ core constituencies—minorities and the young—greatly reduced their turnout in yesterday’s elections. Democrats pointed to the economy’s recent growth, but apparently did so at their own peril: When 95 percent of the income growth since the recovery began goes to the wealthiest 1 percent, as U.C. Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez has documented, reports of a recovery strike most Americans as news from a faraway land.

Wherever Americans could directly diminish economic inequality and better the lot of the poor in yesterday’s elections, they did. South Dakota, Arkansas and Nebraska joined San Francisco and Oakland in voting to raise their minimum wage—the one and only indication in yesterday’s vote that the ghost of the New Deal coalition still stalks the land.  But when it came to Democratic senators who had voted to raise that wage in the Senate, and Democratic candidates who endorsed a higher wage in their campaigns, voters often remained cool. The Republican Congress’s refusal to raise the wage, like its refusal to fund an infrastructure program that would create jobs, or enact immigration reform, or reduce payments on student loans, redounded more to the detriment of the Democrats—who couldn’t turn out the voters who would have benefited from such policies—than it did the Republicans.

But the Democrats’ failure isn’t just the result of Republican negativity. It’s also intellectual and ideological. What, besides raising the minimum wage, do the Democrats propose to do about the shift in income from wages to profits, from labor to capital, from the 99 percent to the 1 percent? How do they deliver for an embattled middle class in a globalized, de-unionized, far-from-full-employment economy, where workers have lost the power they once wielded to ensure a more equitable distribution of income and wealth? What Democrat, besides Elizabeth Warren, campaigned this year to diminish the sway of the banks? Who proposed policies that would give workers the power to win more stable employment and higher incomes, not just at the level of the minimum wage but across the economic spectrum?

The party’s demographic edge and its advantage on cultural issues will still serve it well in presidential elections. But they’re demonstrably not enough in midterm contests, and may not suffice even in presidential years unless the Democrats can credibly campaign again as the party that can produce broadly shared prosperity. There is work, much work, to be done.  

Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect.

HaroldMeyersonAID.png Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect and a Washington Post columnist. He is a Vice Chair of DSA. 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 


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Starting a Local Chapter from Scratch (9pm Eastern)

October 04, 2016 · 5 rsvps
Webinar, RSVP required for sign in information

So you are now a member of DSA, but there is no local chapter where you live. You are thinking of starting a local chapter, but you're not quite sure how to do it.

In Starting a Local Chapter from Scratch you will learn:

  • how other locals got started in recent years
  • how to find out who is already a member
  • the importance of a comrade
  • how to recruit new members
  • the importance of a mentor
  • how to become a recognized organizing committee
  • how to become a chartered local
  • what works best to bring new people in.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

Training Details:

  1. Workshops are free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have preferably headphones or else speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org 607-280-7649.
  5. If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  6. You can participate in every webinar or just attend once in a while.
  7. Workshops will generally be on weekends or evenings.
  8. Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance -- by midnight Sunday for Tuesday's webinar.

NOTE: This training is scheduled for 9:00pm Eastern Time (8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific, 5pm Alaska, 3 pm Hawaii).

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DSA New Member Orientation Call

October 19, 2016 · 12 rsvps
DSA New Member Orientation

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 6 PM MT; 5 PM PT.

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