David Brooks - from the right
In the next elections, op-ed columnist David Brooks ask What Is the Democratic Story? Choosing between a focus on race or class is the wrong choice to begin with.
That his message is likely to provoke visceral reactions from the economically and politically oppressed and others on the left and center highlights the divisions facing the Democratic party. Suppress those reactions for a moment and read to the end.
Today’s Democrats tell two other stories. [Other than those told in past elections.] The first is the traditional socialist story associated with Bernie Sanders: America is rived by the class conflict. The bankers and the oligarchs are exploiting the middles. We need a fighter who will go out and battle concentrated economic power.
The second is the multicultural story: American history has been marked by systems of oppression. Those who have been oppressed — women, African-Americans, Latinos — need to stand together and fight for justice.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has risen to prominence blending these two languages into one: racial justice socialism. “I can’t name a single issue with roots in race that doesn’t have economic implications,” she declares, “and I cannot think of a single economic issue that doesn’t have racial implications. The idea that we have to separate them is a con.”
Racial justice socialism seems to be the story of the contemporary left. This story effectively paints Trump as the villain on all fronts, and Democrats do face the distinct problem of how to run against a bully like Trump. But is it good politics for the entire Democratic Party to embrace it?
Well, we should humbly admit we’re in virgin territory at a time when all the tectonic plates are shifting.
But we do know that no national Democrat has ever fully embraced this story successfully. In fact, Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama went to great lengths to assure people they were not embracing this story.
They did because Americans trust business more than the state, so socialism has never played well. They did it because if you throw race into your economic arguments you end up turning off potential allies in swing states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania. They did it because if you throw economics into your race arguments you end up dividing your coalitions on those issues.
In brief, Democrats have stayed away from this narrative because the long hoped-for alliance between oppressed racial minorities and the oppressed white working class has never materialized, and it looks very far from materializing now.
Maybe this year is different, but for 100 years, Democrats have tended to win with youthful optimism and not anger and indignation. The Democrats who have won nationally almost all ran on generational change — on tired old America versus the possibilities of new America: F.D.R.’s New Deal, J.F.K.’s New Frontier, Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century and Obama’s hope and change.
If I had to advise on a Democratic narrative I’d start with three premises: First, by 2020 everybody will be exhausted by the climate of negativism and hostility. Second, the core long-term fear is American decline; are we losing our mojo? Third, communities and nations don’t come together when they talk about their problems; they come together when they do something on behalf of their children.
Maybe the right narrative could be rebuilding social mobility for the young: America is failing its future. We need to rally around each other to build the families, communities, schools, training systems and other structures to make sure the next generation surpasses this one. People are doing this at the local level, and we need a series of unifying projects to make national progress.
This story pushes people toward reconciliation. It is future-oriented. It points to a task that we urgently need to undertake. But who knows what will work. We’re walking into the unprecedented.
From the left - Michelle Goldberg
Another op-ed columnist also has advice as she observes that Democrats Are Moving Left. Don’t Panic. If you want to beat Trump, centrism is not the answer.
She begins by listing “several outright Nazis and white supremacists will appear on Republican ballot lines” this November. If Dems are to be criticized for moving too far left, the GOPlins have already swung to a point where they cannot possibly get any more to the right. Under these circumstances, as always, taking a hard leftward position compromises to a left position, but taking a centrist position invites compromising rightward.
Clearly, the time has come for a serious national conversation. And so political insiders across the land are asking: Has the Democratic Party become too extreme?
Everywhere you look lately, centrists are panicking about the emboldened left. Moderates, reported Alex Seitz-Wald of NBC News, “are warning that ignoring them will lead the party to disaster in the midterm elections and the 2020 presidential contest.” Former Senator Joe Lieberman wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, over Representative Joe Crowley “seems likely to hurt Congress, America and the Democratic Party.” James Comey, former director of the F.B.I., tweeted, “Democrats, please, please don’t lose your minds and rush to the socialist left,” arguing that “America’s great middle wants sensible, balanced, ethical leadership.”
And even people like [James] Comey — center-right figures who are momentarily allied with Democrats because they abhor Donald Trump — should be cheered by the energy that Ocasio-Cortez and others like her are creating. In the midterms, passion is likely to matter more than appeals to an ever-shrinking pool of swing voters, who at any rate tend to be idiosyncratic economic populists rather than the judicious centrists of Beltway imagination.
I’m not wholly unsympathetic to people of good faith who want Democrats to win in November, but who fear that America is more conservative than left-wing activists like to believe. I grew up at a time when Democrats were deeply afraid of liberal overreach. For many of the people who taught me about politics, the debacle of George McGovern’s 1972 rout was formative. Its lessons were reinforced by the overwhelming defeat of Michael Dukakis, who was painted as soft on crime and mocked by George H.W. Bush for being a “card-carrying member of the A.C.L.U.,” as if concern for civil liberties were shameful. I wasn’t old enough to vote when Bill Clinton was first elected, but I remember what a relief it was when he broke the Republicans’ 12-year stranglehold on the White House, and how necessary and worthwhile his compromises seemed.
Now, however, Hillary Clinton’s defeat has overshadowed McGovern’s as the Democratic Party’s paradigmatic trauma. There are several lessons you can draw from her loss, some of them conflicting — some voters saw her as too corporate, others as too liberal. But it’s clear that in a polarized electorate, grass-roots fervor and a candidate’s charisma matter a lot, and an agenda that seems too modest can be as risky as one that appears overly ambitious.
After all, the economic demands that animate the left are generally quite popular. Though “Medicare For All” means different things to different people, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from last year found that 62 percent of Americans view it positively. A recent Rasmussen poll found 46 percent of likely voters support a federal jobs guarantee, a more radical proposal that was barely present in American politics a couple of years ago.
Those are two of the policies advocated by Ocasio-Cortez.
Centrists might not think these are good ideas, but they are not wild fantasies; they represent efforts to grapple with the chronic economic insecurity that is the enemy of political stability.
Democrats will not defeat Trump and his increasingly fanatical, revanchist party by promising the restoration of what came before him; the country is desperate for a vision of something better. Whether or not you share that vision, if you truly believe that Trump is a threat to democracy, you should welcome politics that inspire people to come to democracy’s rescue.
A case study : Sen.Kamala Harris
Ocasio-Cortez is an example of the rise of women and people of color on the Democratic scene. So is Kamala Harris. Perry Bacon Jr. at fivethirtyeight.com tells us What The Rise Of Kamala Harris Tells Us About The Democratic Party.
In the days after Hillary Clinton’s defeat, the two people who seemed like the Democratic Party’s most obvious 2020 candidates, then-Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, hinted that Clinton had gone too far in talking about issues of identity. “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman; vote for me,’” Sanders said. Other liberals lamented that the party had lost white voters in such states as Ohio and Iowa who had supported Barack Obama, and they said Democrats needed to dial back the identity talk to win them back.
But that view never took hold among party activists. Liberal-leaning women were emboldened to talk about gender more, not less, after the 2016 election. We’ve had women’s marches and women running for office in greater numbers than ever — all while emphasizing their gender. President Trump’s moves kept identity issues at the forefront, too, and gave Democrats an opportunity both to defend groups they view as disadvantaged and to attack the policies of a president they hate.
The Democratic Party hasn’t simply maintained its liberalism on identity; the party is perhaps further to the left on those issues than it was even one or two years ago. Biden and Sanders are still viable presidential contenders. But in this environment, so is a woman who is the daughter of two immigrants (one from Jamaica and the other from India); who grew up in Oakland, graduated from Howard and rose through the political ranks of the most liberal of liberal bastions, San Francisco; who was just elected to the Senate in 2016 and, in that job, declared that “California represents the future” and pushed Democrats toward a government shutdown last year to defend undocumented immigrants; and who regularly invokes slavery in her stump speech. (“We are a nation of immigrants. Unless you are Native American or your people were kidnapped and placed on a slave ship, your people are immigrants.”)
Sen. Kamala Harris has not officially said she is running in 2020, but she hasn’t denied it, either, and she’s showing many of the signs of someone who is preparing for a run, including campaigning for her Democratic colleagues in key races … The Californian ranks low in polls of the potential Democratic 2020 field, and she doesn’t have the name recognition of other contenders. (Her first name is still widely mispronounced — it’s COM-ma-la.) But betting markets have her near the top, reflecting the view among political insiders that Harris could win the Democratic nomination with a coalition of well-educated whites and blacks, the way Obama did in 2008.
Whatever happens later, the rise of Harris and her viability for 2020 tell us something about American politics right now: We are in the midst of an intense partisan and ideological battle over culture and identity; the Democrats aren’t backing down or moving to the center on these issues; and politicians who want to lead in either party will probably have to take strong, clear stances on matters of gender and race.
Harris can’t take the Obama “Kumbaya” route to the White House — I’m not sure at this point that a white Democrat could, either. By the end of his term, Obama didn’t sound particularly hopeful about America getting beyond its cultural divides. Clinton spoke more directly about race and racism in 2016 compared with Obama in 2004 and 2008. Sanders and other white Democrats are already talking taking fairly liberal stances on these issues, and I expect that to continue into next year.
I’m not sure Harris had much choice anyway. She is a Democratic senator from heavily Latino California with Trump as president, so it’s a virtual job requirement for to her to take leftward stances on immigration issues. She is a minority woman at a time when minorities and women are trying to gain more power in national politics, particularly within the Democratic Party — and she is the only black female senator. In other words, Kamala Harris and Barack Obama are, of course, different people. But they also arrived on the national scene at much different political moments.
“When you speak truth, it can make people quite uncomfortable,” Harris told a group of Democratic activists earlier this year in a speech in Henderson, Nevada. “And for people like us who would like to leave the room with everyone feeling lovely, there’s sometimes a disincentive to speak truth.
“But this is a moment in time in which we must speak truth.”
My hunch is that if you put all three of these folks (and adding Ocasio-Cortez) on the same stage, they’d find a lot to agree about: some form of universal health care and job training for a full employment economy, for starters. They might even find a way to fix what divides us, like replacing Donald Trump with someone who has a good dose of empathy and integrity, someone who can remake us into a more humane and rational country. But that’s the task for 2020. Now we must pave the way for such a candidate by winning in 2018.