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Friday, November 28, 2014

A PLAN and some STRATEGIES for DEMOCRATS

Last Sunday, I posted a somewhat delayed Blog (because of illness) about the Mid-term Election and its aftermath.  I noted some of the reasons cited for Democratic losses, and I also started a discussion of what may need to be addressed by the Democratic Party as we move forward.  Since last week, I have come across two important thoughts and comments that need to be integrated into this piece about Goals and Strategies for the Democratic Party.

First, it seems important to put the Mid-term Election into a reasonable perspective.  It is far too easy to broad-brush this result, to spread blame across the broad spectrum of the Party, but to forget both hard-wired demographics and the wide-spread support of voters for certain popular and progressive ideas.  Let me explain:

In an article titled “The Disunited States of America”, Slate writer, Jamelle Bouie, makes a point not so prevalent in the mainstream (more conservative) press: 

“The people who just elected a Republican majority in the Senate are a narrow, unrepresentative slice of voting-age Americans.  They’re older, whiter, wealthier, and much more conservative than the public at large.”  Put another way, the “midterm electorate that chose the Republican Congress is itself a Republican electorate drawn from a subset of Republican voters.”  However, it’s just as likely, he contends, that “two years from now, we’ll have a Democratic electorate – voters that are younger, less affluent, and more diverse – choosing a democratic president.”   It’s currently hardwired into the divide that exists between the young and the old, and is reflected in early exit polling:  37% of voters in this year’s election were 60 and older, compared to 12% who were under the age of 30.”  Democrats won 54% of the youngest voters (not much help) while 57% of senior voters went to Republicans.  In 2016, if the younger cohort turns out as in 2008 and 2012, and Democrats again capture 55-60% of that vote, Democrats could again win the Presidency.

Secondly, William Saletan of SLATE reminds us that although Republicans won big this year, it was not based entirely on Republican ideology and policy (although I must say that ‘dark money’ from their favorite super PACs didn’t hurt!).
In fact, many of the Republican candidates who needed desperately to win used liberal or progressive policies with clearly “populist” themes.  These Republicans, who have voted against, or voiced opposition to, some of the issues they then touted, actually used such issues as upward mobility, income inequality, raise in the minimum wage, and even the injustice of cutting Medicare, to successfully steal the thunder of Democratic candidates.  Saletan makes the important point for consideration that while Republicans may have won the Senate, the country is still concerned with traditional progressive populist ideas, and will vote Democratic if Democrats can find the right inspirational message.  “Public Citizen” even claims that “NOW is Our Time!

It is my opinion that there are some things we need to do right away in response to the election and to the fact that Republicans hold the majority, both in the House and now in the Senate. I do not claim to have all the answers, nor will I attempt at this point to present a great many details, but I want to at least outline a Plan.  Unfortunately, the Democrats of the lame duck Congress have not acted boldly to begin essential parts of such a Plan.  One thing seems clear, there must be a unified Plan, and hopefully the Dems will get their act together between now and when Republicans take over in Jan. 2015 as the majority Party!

 
1)    GO BIG & BOLD!  The President is leading the way on this with the announcement of a pollution reduction agreement with China; temporary suspension of deportments for millions of undocumented immigrants; his continued opposition to the Keystone pipeline, now backed up by talk of a possible veto next time around.  And, of course, we must mention his straightforward approach to the second major enrollment period for Obamacare!  His leadership has proven to be inspirational, but where are the Democrats who should be praising his action.  Some are making noise on MSNBC, but it’s limited. 
2)    FIGHT BACK!  The Democratic Party must finally stand up and defend its policies.  We must have a Speaker’s Group, Strategy Group, Answer Back group, and the Payback Group that gives Republicans a taste of their own medicine.  Nothing offered by Republicans should be allowed a free pass, whether it is lies, unfounded accusations, or legislation!  We must speak Truth & Facts to all of their fiction! No such thing as compromise; there is no compromise, only trade-offs that keep our side intact.
Here are some of the trade-offs we might offer to the Reps.: 
==Leave Obamacare alone or lose options on healthcare for Congress; plus lose your special gym, free care at clinics on site, and free surgery at Walter Reed and Bethesda (and whatever goodies it takes to make the point!)
==Pass CIR or face loss of transportation; staff; furnishings
3)    ORGANIZE Democrats in Congress who need to jump on-board to strongly support the President; and he them.  Support the President loudly and forthrightly, but now it’s also time to put forward a crafted barrage of legislation to counteract and challenge a Republican plan to do this during the first 100 days of their majority rule in Congress.  For instance, The Keystone XL pipeline:  offer an alternate fuels bill in its place, and offer amendments to the Keystone pipeline bill to gut it (Repeal Keystone; not Obamacare!). 
All of this must be part of a planned response, not simply the work of individual Congress members.  We have to be unified in the presentation of a planned response to Republican rhetoric, false claims, and special interest pandering.  But, we must also be unified in the New Deal we are trying to present to the American citizen.  This legislative barrage must send the clear message that we are seeking to aid those very segments of our society who are being ignored and castigated by the Right-wing Republicans (which is 98-99% of us!).
3)      CREATE A POPULIST NEW DEAL FOR AMERICA!  Establish a Command Center to communicate New Deal unified message; blunt GOP criticism; blame GOP for everything, and develop our own populist word and action symbols and rhetoric.   A New Deal must include at least: increase Social Security benefits; expand Medicare and Medicaid; raising the minimum wage beyond the poverty level as an annual salary total; voting rights expanded, not restricted; women’s equality, health care and rights enhanced; investment in a world-class public education system; tax reform; and restrictions on Wall Street excesses. 
4)    PROMOTE CITIZEN GRASS-ROOTS GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT!  See former Blogs for an explanation:  8/5/14; 7/21/14; 1/18/12.  Support and increase leadership of local college students – their activism is imperative. 
5)    RE-FORM PARTY STRUCTURES to exemplify a populist agenda and bottom-up organization.  We need right now an Eleanor Roosevelt-type who can meet with different groups, hear their concerns and then communicate them forcefully to Democratic leaders, Progressive groups and organizations.  That woman appears right now to be Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Her recent appointment to the Senate Leadership group enables her to be the catalyst for Party re-structure and message rejuvenation. 
6)    TURN REPUBLICAN STRATEGIES BACK UPON THEM: introduce legislation that makes voter registration and voting the most liberal it can possibly be; send AG civil rights personnel to every voter suppression state to audit their voter rolls and procedures; in fact, increase audits of all kinds in Republican states; use all means at disposal of the federal government to protect citizens.  As to the ACA, if the SCOTUS rules that federal subsidies cannot be applied to states who operated their own healthcare phone lines, determine if such a ruling can be applied to any other federal subsidies and threaten to withdraw them from all states who joined the lawsuit or any lawsuit against ACA, or that refused to extend Medicaid eligibility or acted in any way to limit health care to their citizens.  This is WAR – so find ways to blunt the enemy’s strength.  We can no longer be passive – we must threaten the Republican Party wherever it has gained control.
Beat Charles Krauthammer to the punch – a bill a week; allow “amnesty” with restrictions for repatriating untaxed profits earned by international corporations: if they don’t pay within a set deadline, issue charges against CEOs and Board members for non-payment of taxes; introduce sweeping reform of the tax code and wipe out all breaks, loopholes and subsidies for corporations (use as a threat against those who pay no taxes and those who escape taxes by moving overseas – remind them Republicans will not always be there to save their “corporate welfare”); set a minimum corporate tax that must be paid.
7)    EDUCATE THE PUBLIC AS TO THE DEMOCRAT & REPUBLICAN ‘BRANDS’.  Begin at the local level running candidates for local offices.  Use every possible opportunity and method to put forth the ‘differences” in philosophy, attitude and legislative initiatives toward people and governance. 
8)    BECOME LITIGIOUS (even a NUISANCE!).  Where federal laws are being ignored or disobeyed, investigate, publicize and punish violations;  bring charges,  impose fines or sue for wrongs whenever possible; empower departments, offices & commissions to carry out such examinations and lawsuits; empower FEC to enforce  election laws, and limit money in political campaigns; make giving transparent; fill all judicial vacancies during lame duck session; stop all sales and gifts of military hardware to local police forces; unmercifully use the filibuster; make 60 votes to pass major legislation the norm;  initiate legal proceedings against every major piece of flawed Republican; call out every Republican who denigrates the poor, working poor, women, gays, or minorities – get them in court on hate speech if possible; find children & families directly affected by Republican cuts in social programs and bring  Republican leadership (state and federal) up on child abuse charges; withdraw every special privilege and budgetary extravagance possible from Congresspersons to help them understand austerity.

Again, this is not definitive, it’s not even agreeable to every Democrat or Progressive.  What it is meant to be is one set of suggestions for proceeding to advance a progressive Democratic agenda.  It is clear that not all of those with a liberal bent would buy into this, or any other set of suggestions.  However, that does not mean we must eschew a unified message and proceed with individual Democrats constructing their own agendas and campaigns in their own areas of the country.  We have to find a basic “platform” that presents the Democrat brand in a way that most of our citizenry will find compelling for themselves.  To not attempt such a program, plan or platform is to admit we cannot compete, that we have an inadequate approach to presenting solutions to major problems or we are failing as a Party to mobilize our forces in the battle for our form of governance and freedoms.  Why then, have we not heard from the Democratic Party about this significant movement?  Why is there such silence from the DNC or the DCCC, or the DSCC?  Is the Party incapable of polling its members to determine their thoughts, opinions, and policy suggestions?  Perhaps we are so concentrated on organizing from the top down that we have forgotten HOW to solicit grassroots input.

Putting that assessment aside, let me say that it may be incumbent upon local, state,  regional or national private organizations dedicated to progressive liberal causes and policies to take the lead and to feed their own thoughts up the chain to the Democratic powers-that-be. In that vein, let me turn to the attempt of one small core team in one small community in central New York State, to make their own attempt at using a survey instrument to lead them toward answers to: What happened in this election? What responses are needed? How should we organize to present our Plan?   That group of (10 people), met a week ago and after going through a survey where they answered questions individually and then pooled their answers to reflect a weighting of answers, came up with some interesting findings.  I will not reveal here the entire instrument, but will give you their results so far.

Their answers characterized the off-year election in this way:  this election showed that Democrats running away from their President and the issues and policies he expounds is not a winning strategy.  For instance, the long-term attack against the Affordable Care Act produced a narrowly focused view of “government” as incompetent and unhelpful enabling Republicans to prevail in a contest about government’s role and its accomplishments, or lack thereof.  On the other hand, more than policy matters worked against Democrats.  Demographics worked against Democrats and for Republicans (to put it simply: more senior citizens showed up to vote for Republicans than young people showed up to vote for Democrats).  Finally, unlimited undocumented funds from billionaires and super PACs for highly damaging negative ad campaigns helped to determine the outcome.  While there were sympathies expressed for other causes (like: voters not feeling a “recovery”; a series of international crises; a unified Plan of Attack from Republicans), this scenario represents one picture and informs their thinking of what to do about the election.

Next, the group looked at various aspects of what a responsive Plan might contain, essentially covering four areas:  Jobs Now; Build Stronger Communities; Make Democracy Work for the People; Everyone Pays Their Fair Share.  The rankings were weighted; that is, a first place vote got three points, second place two points and third place earned 1 point.  Then the values were added up to give a weighted score on the various elements of each section.  What happened?  Well, these ten Progressives called for the following to be part of a responsive Plan:

End All Tax Breaks for Companies that ship jobs and profits overseas;
Invest in America’s Infrastructure to create jobs;
Put Americans to Work NOW – create temporary jobs immediately especially for the long-term unemployed;
Stop the War on Workers and Labor Rights

Invest in Public Education
Strengthen Corporate Commitment to the Communities in which they operate;
End the War on Drugs
(3 more tied in rating included: Medicare for All, Protect Women’s Rights and Equality; Focus on Reducing Poverty among Children and their Families).

Election Reform
Overturn Citizens United decision
Support permanent Comprehensive Immigration Reform

A third area on what to do in response as an organization was not able to be completed, but the group decided to ask its members to do so in a somewhat unique way:  to answer the final section as a survey on the website surveymonkey.com.  In that regard, it is perhaps a fitting ending to this piece to invite readers to take a look on surveymonkey.com where you will find the entire survey at this link:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JS2J8D2

Take it if you wish.  Your own scores and choices should be available to you when you finish.  It may be helpful to you as it has been to the referenced small group as to their concerns and commitments.  Check it out.  You may even want to use it within your organization, or to promote it to others.  Maybe your own version might produce better results... 

The point of it all is: as Progressive Democrats, we cannot sit by because the status quo is not acceptable.  We need to be asking ourselves why we lost.  What can we do about it?  How do we proceed as an organization to implement a responsive Plan?  Let’s Get Busy!