Whats Wrong with the Democratic Party?

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It’s been a year now since the bad dream or worst nightmare in the history of this country burst upon us.  For many of us, we still cannot believe it happened.  Never in America has a man with so little character and absolutely no qualifications to be president been elected to this office.  In my lifetime, I have seen several presidents whom I did not think were good presidents.  Nixon and Romney come to mind.  I thought Clinton should have been impeached over the Lewinsky thing.  I thought Reagan’s Star Wars Initiative was the height of stupidity.  Neither of the wars started by the Bushs did one thing to make either America or the world safer.  But the new president takes stupidity, arrogance and downright evil to new heights.  Every day, Americans wake up to a new Trump tweet declaring our hatred and belligerence to the rest of the world.  If there was ever a great depression, it is the feelings that many Americans now share about the fate of their country.

I wanted to start a blog this week without going into another political diatribe or rant as some would call them.  I know we all get tired of the unremitting bad news from the papers, radios, TV, Internet and incessant analysts that surround us like flies on poop.  Bad news sells and in our 24/7 daily schedule of unceasing commercial bombardment, we now must hear bad news from any part of the world and not just our own local geography.   If a mother murders her babies in Angola, we will see it on the front page of our local news.  If a young woman is raped in France, we will be treated to a torrent of trending stories until they get tired of the story or catch the perpetrator.  News is now not only 24/7, it is global as well.

Shortly after Trump was elected, the analysts started to figure out why Hillary lost.  I think I counted over 20 different rationales for her losing.  Everyone had their theory.  The idea of multiple causality seems to have eluded many as each pundit hawked their own explanation.  I won’t bore you by subjecting you to the list.  In a complex answer, each of these theories would be weighted and we would find that some carried more weight then others.  Among the weightier was the issue of racism.  Nevertheless, no single cause contributed entirely to Hillary’s defeat.

One issue is still important today.  There is no longer any reason to worry about Hillary’s email server or about her seeming lack of warmth.  These problems are water under the bridge.  The problem though that is still substantial and that must be addressed concerns the problems within the Democratic Party itself.   If the Democrats want to regain their former influence with Americans, they must do more than fight Trumpism.  They must also stand for something.  The Democrats may be looking better today but that is only because the Republicans and Trump look so bad.  The Democrats were once seen as the party of the working class and the champions of the underprivileged.  They clearly lost this mantle in the years leading up to the Trump debacle.  The Democrat Party has three big challenges:

  1. Moral cowardice
  2. New ideas and creativity
  3. Championing all classes as well as the working class

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Moral Cowardice:

John F. Kennedy wrote a book called Profiles in Courage.   It was about senators who defied the opinions of their party and constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity.  One of the famous stories in Profiles in Courage concerned Senator Sam Houston.  He was pulled from a train by an angry mob of constituents and threatened to be hanged because of his vote.  He steadfastly faced the mob and explained why he voted the way he did and why he would do so again.  Stories like this are rare and while that makes them inspirational, it also makes them sad.

We have a US Senate with 100 members and a US House with over 400 members.  On any given day, most of these men and women are more concerned with their poll numbers than what is good for the America people.  Partisanship has become the norm in Congress with both sides mutely aping their leadership’s call to “back their party.”

I remember well the drum beat to the first Iraq War called Desert Storm in 1990.  A year before the invasion, I could hear the calls going out for an Iraqi Invasion.  I looked for some logic for this war but could not find it.  I waited for my political leaders to counter Bush’s need for an invasion.  Almost everyone in Congress sat mutely by while Bush and his cohorts planned the invasion.  Gradually, they found more and more reasons to invade Iraq.  Gradually, the religious leaders jumped on board to support the administration.  Billy Graham declared it a justified war and held hands with George H. W. Bush while he pretended to agonize over his already foregone decision.  And still I waited and wondered why so few Democratic leaders challenged this war.  Where were the Democrats?

The Second Gulf War was not a repeat of the First Gulf War.  It was an even worse unmitigated disaster.  Trillions of dollars spent, and nothing accomplished except to make some private war contractors rich.  Where were the Democrats?  They seemed to be out looking with the Republicans for the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction that Saddam had supposedly stockpiled.

I had a button many years ago that said on one side “Democrats: The Party of Wimps” and on the other side “Republicans: The Party of Greed.”  I do not know who printed this button but thirty years ago, the writing on the wall was clear.  The Democratic Doves feared the Republican Hawks.  Better to be labeled a Hawk than a Dove.  The term liberal was once a term of pride but under the Democrats it became associated with wasteful spending and half-baked solutions to social problems.  Bleeding heart liberal has now become a term despised by all.

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New Ideas and Creativity:

I live in two counties.  Both are predominantly Red Republican strongholds today.  However, my county in Wisconsin was once a Democratic stronghold.  Wisconsin was once a great bastion of Democratic ideas.  It was a state that was proud to have produced such champions of the underdog as Fighting Bob La Follette, William Proxmire and Senator Gaylord Nelson.  If anyone had ever told me that Wisconsin would have gone Red, I would have said they were crazy.

Now many of my “old” friends and many of my acquaintances in Wisconsin (A state I have lived in on and off for nearly twenty years now) are old line Democrats.  I confess I would rather have Democrats for friends than Republicans these days.  We share many of the same values even though I have never and will never be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party or any other party.  I take pride in voting as an independent and not someone mindlessly following some party.

I have been each year for the past seven years to the local county Democratic Fundraisers.  Each year, I have listened to Democratic speakers who are jostling for political positions with hopes of defeating the Republican incumbents.  In some cases, more recently they have succeeded.   I can only hope this trend will continue but I am dubious.  My skepticism comes from looking at the people I see running.  Generally, they are well intentioned.  Some might even have the moral courage I want to see in leadership.  However, too many of the candidates that I have seen are either stuck in ideas from the past or lack new ideas that would bring some creativity and innovation to the Democratic Party.

Our political system not only needs new people, we need new ideas.  The same old ideas that worked in the past will not work in the future.  We need forward looking people that can challenge the existing system by promoting innovative ideas that do more than just support the status quo.  Our education system, our health care system, our prison system, our military system, our legal system, our infrastructure system and even our electoral system are all in need of more than reform.  They all need a complete restructuring.  These were systems designed for the 19th and 20th Century.  We need systems for the 21st and 22nd Century.  It is folly to think that simple reforms or piece meal patches to these systems will fix the blight and decay endemic in them.

I see too few of the emerging Democratic leaders as having a vision beyond fighting Trumpism.  That is clearly a start, but we need more than just reaction to Trump we need pro-action in our politics.  We need positive ideas.  We need new ideas.  Good intentions are not enough.

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Championing All Classes as well as the Working Class:

Once upon a time, the Democratic Party was known as the champions of the working class.  They stood up for unions, higher wages, income parity and equal opportunity.  The working class was once the class of high school graduates.  Today, more than one-third of the adult population in the United States has a bachelor’s degree or higher.  The average earnings in 2016 for those ages 25 and older whose highest educational attainment was high school were $35,615.  The average earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree were $65,482 compared with $92,525 for those with an advanced degree (Census.Gov).  The composition of the American workforce has undergone a long evolution from the agricultural era though the industrial revolution to the new information era.  Definition of working class has continued to change as social structure has changed in the age of computers and the Internet.

As educational levels continued to increase, aspirations by Americans continued to increase.  Whereas once perhaps most Americans saw belonging to a union and retiring with a pension after 30 plus years to be the epitome of working life, that vision became obsolete.  The typical worker today sees themselves as a college educated salaried worker whose interests are more aligned with their company then with any union.

My father worked for the Post Office for over 30 years before retiring.  He never thought it was a fun job or an interesting job.  For my father, it was a job that paid the bills, had good benefits and would enable him to retire with a good pension.  My father’s aspirations and attitudes towards work were like most of his generation.  The idea of being passionate about your work would have been a joke to my father and his peers.  Times have changed dramatically.  Workers today want to believe in their work and their companies.  Workers want their jobs to be challenging, rewarding and fun.  The old days of waiting to enjoy life until you retire are dead.

The workers in America are different than they were twenty or thirty years ago.  The Democrats forfeited their allegiance to the American worker and allowed the Republicans to become the champions of the American worker.  From coal miners to computer programmers, from trailer parks to gated communities across America, once proud Democrats have become Republicans.  The sad part of the story is that the Democrats did not seem to raise a finger to stop the migration.  They did little or nothing to prevent it from happening.  They allowed the Republicans to become the standard bearer of wealth and prosperity.

Unfortunately, few workers realized that their Republican champions were more about privileges for the elite than sharing the wealth.  Or that gains for the upper class would come at the expense of other classes in this country.  The concept of Trickle Down is alive and well in the Republican Party.

Conclusions: 

Democrats need to build a new party.  Trumpism is a short-term aberration.  Euphoria might be high right now for Democrats who see Trump as the best thing to ever happen for Democratic candidates.  With one of the lowest popularity ratings of any president in history, Trump will help insure a wave of Democratic Party victories.  However, it can be nothing but short-sighted folly to mistake the present disgust for Trump with a disgust for Republican principles in general.  The Republican Party became strong because they offered the American people a vision of society which promised a better life for millions of them.  Unless Democrats can come up with a compelling vision of society that addresses a wide spectrum of workers, the Republicans will regain power once their debacle with Trump is over.

Time for Questions:

How do you decide who to vote for?  Do you belong to a political party?  Why or why not?  What do you like about political parties?  What do you dislike?  What changes do you think we need to make in the political system in America?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”  — GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

“If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.” — DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, speech, March 6, 1956

 

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Fritz
    Jan 21, 2018 @ 15:18:14

    Oh no, not computer programmers, too?!! Tell me it’s not so!

    Reply

  2. johnpersico
    Jan 21, 2018 @ 21:46:24

    Jane, I was just kidding too with my reply.

    Reply

  3. Tom Guthrie
    Jan 23, 2018 @ 13:26:02

    I posted this on Facebook. Good one!

    Reply

  4. SonniQ
    Jan 24, 2018 @ 18:50:56

    Well written.

    Reply

  5. jeanine
    Jan 26, 2018 @ 10:40:26

    LOVED IT!! WELL SAID!!

    Reply

  6. SonniQ
    Feb 15, 2018 @ 20:50:10

    I re read this. You and I think very much alike. And since I spend a great deal of my day writing and reading I, too, tell myself I’m not going to get political. Then I will read something and feel the need to pass it on with my opinion added. I consider myself well informed and not so stupidly attached to a party that I would cut off my nose to spite my face, but reading what the GOP stands for and what they want to do scares me. A lot. But other than writing and signing a zillion petitions there is not much I can do.

    Reply

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