Saturday, December 13, 2014

John Nichols derides the "party of pablum"

Here is a related post from John Nichols in The Nation.

When Bernie Sanders gets to griping about the Democratic Party, which happens frequently, he asks, "What does it stand for?" The independent senator argues that, after years of sellouts and compromises on issues ranging from trade policy to banking regulation, and especially after letting campaign donors and consultants define its messaging, the party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman has become an ill-defined and distant political machine that most Americans do not relate to or get excited about. His point has always been well-taken, but it was confirmed on November 4. How else can we explain voters who chose Mitch McConnell senators and Elizabeth Warren policies?

Nichols uses Arkansas as an example of the deep disconnect between the Democratic politicians and (what should be) Democratic policies.

That's what happened in Arkansas, where 65 percent of voters expressed their concern about income inequality and poverty by approving a substantial minimum-wage increase on the same day they gave Senator Mark Pryor just 39 percent of the vote. Pryor was one of many Democrats who ran away from President Obama in 2014, and part of how Pryor distanced himself was by announcing his opposition to increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. 

Pryor got out-played by his opponent.

Republican Tom Cotton, who also opposes the federal increase, slyly endorsed the state ballot initiative and swept to victory in a race where what could have been sharp distinctions between the contenders were neutralized by the Democrat.

If you want a lesson about what to do better, here it is.  

At the root of the problem is a delinking of politics from policy. Increasingly, Democratic candidates in major contests run as "brands" carefully constrained to make a lowest-common-denominator appeal that is satisfying to campaign donors and insiders in Washington but that makes little sense to voters. While GOP candidates rage cynically against "elites" and "crony capitalism," Democrats peddle pablum. As such, they don't excite even their own base. What excited activists were those initiative and referendum campaigns; indeed, some of the biggest rallies I witnessed during the 2014 campaign were organized by backers of minimum-wage hikes and "Move to Amend" campaigners for an end to corporate influence on politics and policy. They were right to be excited: they were on their way to big and meaningful victories because they were fighting for big and meaningful—as well as popular—proposals. That's a lesson Democrats should ponder, because as Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee reminds us: "When elections are about nothing, Democrats lose."

We have to make the next election about something.  We need to convince our Democratic politicians that voting with Republicans is dangerous to their political health.  If you walk like one and talk like one, voters think you are one.

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