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Friday, December 9, 2016

Democratic Party Reform? Part 1

This Blog has seen enough posts on Donald Trump for a while.  Let’s talk about the Democratic Party and how it may have contributed to Trump’s win and Hillary’s defeat in the Electoral College vote.  But most importantly, let us look at where we might have to go in the future, starting right now (see Part II).  We begin with a few of the items that I think characterized the Democratic Party of late, most of which may have gotten us into trouble. 
1)  The Democratic Party has for too long accepted the status quo and used that position as an excuse to accept large single donor campaign contributions, lavish trips, special speaker fees, insider information, special privileges, and 3rd Party Super PACs as routine, normal, and the “way business has to be done.”  Simultaneously, many Party members have used rhetoric that sounds as though they really are in favor of reform, but such reform has fallen by the wayside.  Notable exceptions include Dodd-Frank that attempted to regulate Wall Street and the financial sector, including banks; and the Affordable Care Act which tried to institute health reforms -- and in fact did so—but many of its positive provisions, such as consumer advocacy, got stopped short by radical Republicans.
2)  Democrats over the years have contributed to the unwarranted extreme access to the inner working of government by wealthy individuals and corporations to the extent that those entities have unbelievable control over what government does regarding business, commerce and trade. Democratic temerity has helped to embolden the Republican President-to-be, Donald Trump, to position several of the capitalist foxes on the inside of the chicken coop as he assembles a cabinet of millionaires and billionaires on a scale beyond the norm.  If Trump nominates the CEO of Exxon to be Secretary of State, we will know for certain that the welfare of all the chickens is in imminent danger! 
We need to ask one basic question: when did government of the People, by the People and for the People become government of the rich and powerful dedicated to promoting the desires of less than 1% of our population? 
Would you be surprised to know that such favoritism and surreptitious support for the elite crowd was embedded in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers?  This would not surprise you at all if you remembered that slavery was protected as a widespread business enterprise.  Or, that crops being sold to European countries, where high demand made them most lucrative (including coffee, sugar, cocoa, tobacco and cotton), were mostly products grown on large plantations that used slaves.
Prominent Founding Fathers were also slaveholders in many cases (or supportive of shipping slaves between countries and between states).  Recall if you will that of the first twelve U.S. presidents, only John Adams (#2) and John Quincy Adams (#6) never owned slaves, although two of the others (Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison) did not own slaves while serving as president.  In 1790, nearly 690,00 slaves were domiciled in the United States; by 1860 that population had risen to almost four million slaves (99% of whom were born on American soil).  The South went to war against the North, not simply to protect slavery, or to defend states’ rights, but to preserve the huge industries, property holdings and profits that had developed around the enterprising use of slavery. 
My points:
a) Democrats have not broken through the control of government by the favored capitalist class; we allow exploitation by rich corporations to endure (South Dakota and the Pipeline Protest – where is the Democratic Party?).  How can the rich pay less in taxes than your average working American – where is the Democratic Party on Tax Code reform?  Is the protection of property more important than the protection of the People from disease and ill health? Where is the Democratic Party on research and health care reform?  Is the protection of propertied interests more important than the cultivation of opportunities for middle and working class folks, or those who live in poverty?
Where is the Democratic Party on public education and on all the issues that affect the ‘average’ citizen?  Is the protection of the income of rich folks more important than the protection of Seniors from the ravages of inadequate retirement income and the devastation of health concerns that can be alleviated by early treatment?  Where is the Democratic Party on all the programs that Republicans want to repeal or to destroy like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare and the Veterans Health care system.  And just where does the Democratic Party stand on the issue of a single-payer of universal health insurance?  Trouble is, other than a few individuals, the Party rarely speaks out as a unified voice on such issues.  Not so the Republicans. 
b)  Democrats cannot continue to support the rich at the expense of the working class while talking as though we are the Party of Hope or the defenders of the Poor, or the Party of the middle-class.  Unlike those Founding Fathers who talked equality and owned slaves – we must break the habit of speaking words of reform, but taking little action that achieves reform.  Democrats cannot at once be office-holders and investors or receivers of privileges and tax breaks (farm subsidies, e.g.).  Democrats cannot profess to be supporters of Labor and then vote in favor of NAFTA or any trade deal that attacks workers’ rights and benefits and jobs.  Democrats cannot continue to promote or profit from anything from which they are made exempt under legislative mandate.  Democrats cannot continue to decry the efforts of lobbyists if they can become lobbyists themselves.  Such duplicity, or silence itself, is not a vote-getter.
c)  It’s time to realize that Democrats lost this vital election because we have allowed ourselves to become the status quo Party, the Party of Hollywood, the Party of partiers, the Party of trade deals gone bad and the Party that supported a safety net and substituted it for the challenge of breaking the cycle of poverty-- those ingrown, institutionalized, dyed-in-the-wool (embedded) issues, challenges, barriers and prejudices that threaten the lives of the people caught in its web.  Where are the challengers within the Party who will say to the Republican Right-wing– you’re not only wrong, you are hypocritically wrong because you propose challenging all government programs and projects on behalf of those in need -- “let them do for themselves or depend on private charity” -- while promoting unearned and unmerited government subsidies for the rich and powerful at every possible turn in the road.  I know we have Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker and John Lewis (plus President Obama for eight years) plus some others like Schumer and Pelosi – but where is the Democratic Party as a whole? 
d)  We failed in this election partly because we allowed our candidate to get wrapped up in trying to answer Trump lies and rants or to defend herself.  What should have been happening, especially in the last days before election, was a continuous presentation of what our candidate was going to do once she entered that Oval Office.  We lost because the Party and the Candidate failed to address enough of the issues in depth that citizens of the Rust Belt (and elsewhere) needed us to address with real outcomes and promises.
Here are a few more brief thoughts about where the Democratic Party went off-the-track:
  • "It’s the economy stupid" got left behind
  • Voter education has not been a top priority of the Party mechanism; we trained new leaders and organizers sporadically, and inadequately trained volunteers
  • Because the Democratic Party fails to inform and educate people every day, we fail to keep voters aware of what, why and how the Democratic Party is accomplishing anything.  The beating taken on Obamacare is a prime example of failing to educate the public
  • We also took too much pride in campaigning built on old models: large rallies, phone banking, TV ads; too many metrics and not enough personal contacts
  • The DNC and DCCC gave sporadic aid during local campaigns; where were the strategists, the surrogates, the paid workers?
  • Where has the populist movement gone? Where are all those young Sanders supporters we need to continue a real Movement toward progressive outcomes?
'The Hill' website has a couple of quotes from Party operatives that tend to oppose my opinion that the Democratic Party needs fundamental change:
"The lesson for Dems from 2016 is NOT to change our message, it's to deliver and defend it with more conviction and fearlessness.” 
 “Others argue that the party needs to think about how to frame its message. Greater sharpness in this regard, they say, could matter more than shifting that message to the left or the center.”
And right there is the problem, in two respects – messages separated from deeds are not helpful.  And, more framed messages from Washington are not what we need. Oh, by the Way, just what is that “message” – does anyone know?

[NOTE: go on to Part II for more on what the Democratic Party might want to do to begin to listen more carefully and to make decisions based on grassroots input]