Funny how a humiliating loss in an election can bring out the worst in a political party. While the media plays up the alleged disunity in the GOP with tales of policy differences between, for example, the Tuesday Group and the Freedom Caucus in the House, a deeper division is evident in the Democratic Party that involves not only policy, but strategy and the soul of that party.
In the Democratic coronation of Hillary Clinton, deep animosity built between the competing camps and their supporters. Sanders supporters called Hillary a stooge for Wall Street, a liar and someone who could not answer a simple “yes or no” question. They disliked Hillary as much as they disliked any Republican. Conversely, Clinton supporters called Sanders a dinosaur who made promises that could not be kept and inferring his supporters were a bunch of sexist white men- called “BernieBros.” If you didn’t know any better, to the Clinton people Sanders was a card-carrying member of the NRA and that he was no progressive on LGBT rights.
Perhaps that is what propelled Clinton to ultimate defeat- her lack of principle. On gun rights, Clinton and Sanders held identical positions. On LGBT rights, Sanders voted against DOMA, something Clinton supported before it became vogue to support gay marriage. And the list of Clinton hypocrisies can go on.
The fact is large groups of pundits misjudged the dynamics that created both the Sanders and the Trump phenomena. Republicans were looking for someone who diverged from orthodoxy on jobs and trade while Democrats were looking for someone who diverged from the more centrist incrementalism of the party establishment. In effect, there was an affinity for an anti-establishment candidate on both sides. It would have happened even if neither Trump nor Sanders ran at all. Regardless, identity politics was to play a huge role for Democratic voters given the influence of Black Lives Matter and the NARAL/Planned Parenthood axis of influence in that party.
This residual animosity first played out in the battle to succeed Wasser-Schultz/Brazile as head of the DNC. Howard Dean passed on a bid stating at the time:
“The party can’t win if it’s not inclusive, and the way to be inclusive is not to re-litigate the old battle. And there’s obviously some attempt to do that.”
In the end, Thomas Perez- a Clinton supporter- narrowly defeated Keith Ellison- a Sanders supporter- after several ballots. Soon thereafter, a 39-member unity commission was established to bridge the differences between the two groups. This led to a unity tour where Sanders joined Perez at events.
Enter the 2017 special election races and one for mayor of Omaha. In Georgia, Sanders was slow to endorse the “progressive” credentials of Jon Ossoff. That earned the ire of many Democrats who yearn for a victory having failed in Kansas. Sanders (and Perez) endorsed Heath Mello for mayor or Omaha (which is basically Nebraska’s 2nd District). That brought out the feminist wing of the Democrats since Mello, while a state official, supported pro-life legislation.
The following is a quote from feminist writer Anna March writing in “Salon” which epitomizes the problem for Democrats and illustrates why many are not feeling the Bern:
Economic populism and what are commonly erroneously and dismissively referred to as “social issues” — such as reproductive rights, immigration reform and civil rights for people of color, those who have disabilities, people of all faiths, LGBT people and women — are indivisible. Sanders routinely demonstrates his own lack of progressive values by dividing them…There is no economic populism without abortion rights and civil rights. No one can have economic justice if he or she doesn’t have fundamental rights…
Sanders routinely divides matters of race and gender and class — which, again, cannot be untwined — by discussing the “pain” and needs of working-class voters and perpetuating the dangerous myth that the Democrats have ignored them…Being pro-choice is not an optional part of being a progressive. Full stop….One hundred percent pro-choice is the only pro-choice position. That is, abortions should be safe, legal, accessible, funded and available on demand — for all.
This is the typical intersectional feminist bulls$#! pablum fed the average graduate of a women’s studies course in college. And obviously false since Trump’s victory proved the opposite, but ideas like this (or the money that backs them) were heard.
Perez soon reiterated the party’s dedication to “reproductive rights” by stating:
“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.
In other words, the Democratic Party would support only pro-death candidates. There is a serious problem with that as highlighted by a Pew poll taken in 2016 that found that 40% of women OPPOSE the notion of abortion on demand. And the future holds the same: 37% of those women 18-29 OPPOSE abortion on demand. Even worse for Democrats, pro-life sentiment runs higher in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania (do these states sound familiar?) than in other parts of the country. In West Virginia, 58% of adults think abortion should be ILLEGAL. Full stop.
Further, historical data indicates that pro-life versus pro-death sentiment among the electorate oscillates between the two with neither side ever exceeding 52%. The most recent poll put the number just about dead even at 47%-46%.
This battle within the Democratic Party over abortion is simply a symptom of the larger disease that afflicts them: identity politics. They do not view the world in terms of individuals, but in terms of groups. It is what motivates and animates their one-size-fits-all policy prescriptions and their political strategies. It is what caused Clinton’s electoral demise and her use of data-driven strategies which was fine in grossly predicting voting behaviors but could not account for individualized deviations that swung the election in the more important electoral vote count.
Even today, we hear the excuse about how Clinton won the popular vote. Well, she also won the popular vote in the primaries against Sanders, but Sanders is no less a phenomena within Democratic politics today and Trump is no less the president. It is a foreign notion to Democrats that their candidate lost because she sucked. Surely, it was racism or sexism or xenophobia- all those things that identify an affinity towards some demographic group. Of course, they- as Bernie Sanders realizes- forgot about one group that remains important in electoral politics despite other demographic trends- white males. They also assume that these groups are monolithic. But small swings in black, Hispanic, or female votes in individual states can have a huge impact on political outcomes nationally.
As others have argued, anti-abortion Democrats are likely to be alienated by the recent edict from Perez which explains why Pelosi- a Clinton backer- would scramble to mitigate the damage of the statement. People like Joe Manchin, Bob Casey or John Bel Edwards now stand as potential pariahs in their own party because of their stance on a single issue that is of vital importance to a minority of a minority. As Edwards said: “It’s hard to be a big tent party if you have a very small platform.” With Perez, the platform just got even smaller.
The disingenuous attacks on Sanders are failing. A recent study by Harvard found Sanders to be the most popular politician in America today. It is odd that despite the calls by people like Anna March that “we are not the party of the great white male” in reference to her attack on Sanders, he remains most popular with blacks, women, Hispanics and millennials. He is least popular with white males.
While they denigrate the GOP as a party of extremists, they are blind to their own extremism. This is not the party of JFK who would find himself being more at home in the GOP than in today’s Democratic Party. It is clear that Democrats want Sanders to fall in line, but he seems content to be the independent gadfly. There is even online talk of Schumer stripping him of certain committee memberships to force that conformity on him.
He may eventually be beaten down and sent into exile in America’s Siberia- Vermont. But because they fail to see the individual and persist in group identity politics, they will continuously miss feelings of anger or hope in the electorate- emotions that define the individual. And there will be the inevitable excuses- voter suppression, gerrymandering, sexism, racism, xenophobia, etc.- to explain their electoral failures. For the future of the GOP, one hopes the Clinton wing wins the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. She may and her supporters may be the best weapon Republicans have… again.