Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Gloomy assessment of Democratic party vs. GOP control of just about everything

Subtitle: "The Democratic Party is in much greater peril than its leaders or supporters recognize, and it has no plan to save itself."

I wish I could remember the source and exact quote, but it was from a very rich Republican and went something like this. "I don't care about national offices like the presidency. I am going to take back the country one state at a time." That's been happening ever since the Powell manifesto almost 40 years ago. Republicans have made vast inroads into down-ballot offices at the state level. The result has been a barrage of attacks on reproductive rights, voting rights, and economic security, for example, increasingly state by state. To be sure, the presidency is about the only office we hope to count on to protect the nation against a total takeover by the far right. But the consequence of losing that one office would be complete, total control of our society by elements of the Republican party such as the "freedom caucus" that is causing so much dysfunction in Washington. The real problem is not the one office but all the other offices that we don't usually talk about losing.

Let's pause here and give my internal editor, my homunculus that looks down from above on my ramblings, a chance to weigh in with counter arguments. ... time passes ... more time passes ... editor, wherefore art thou?

My editor is going to let my first paragraph stand because of the article Matthew Yglesias has written at vox.com, "Democrats are in denial. Their party is actually in deep trouble." I'll try to provide a flavor of his argument in a few snippets (and in the subtitle above). But you should read the whole article. Then, if you think there is more to be optimistic about than he lets on, please do provide me with some positive counterpoints and I will publish them here.

Yes, Barack Obama is taking a victory lap in his seventh year in office. Yes, Republicans can't find a credible candidate to so much as run for speaker of the House. Yes, the GOP presidential field is led by a megalomaniacal reality TV star. All this is true — but rather than lay the foundation for enduring Democratic success, all it's done is breed a wrongheaded atmosphere of complacence.

The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Indeed, even the House infighting reflects, in some ways, the health of the GOP coalition. Republicans are confident they won't lose power in the House and are hungry for a vigorous argument about how best to use the power they have.

The worst part of the problem for the Democratic Party is in races that are, collectively, the most important: state government.

Elections for state legislature rarely make the national news, but they are the fundamental building blocks of American politics. Since they run the redistricting process for the US House of Representatives and for themselves, they are where the greatest level of electoral entrenchment is possible.

And in the wake of the 2014 midterms, Republicans have overwhelming dominance of America's state legislatures.

A left-leaning agenda, therefore, is DOA so long as Republicans control just about every office in the land other than the presidency.

... instead of a dialogue about how to obtain [down-ballot electoral] success, Democrats are currently engaged in a slightly bizarre bidding war between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to see whether Congress in 2017 will reject a legislative agenda that is somewhat to the left of Obama's or drastically to its left. The differences between them are real, of course, and at least somewhat important.

But the much more significant question facing the party isn't about the White House — it's about all the other offices in the land. The problem is that control of the presidency seems to have blinded progressive activists to the possibility of even having an argument about what to do about all of them. That will change if and when the GOP seizes the White House, too, and Democrats bottom out. But the truly striking thing is how close to bottom the party is already and how blind it seems to be to that fact.

h/t Nathan Hicks

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