Saturday, March 4, 2017

John Nichols on the direction of the DNC

Nichols explains What Keith Ellison’s Defeat Says About the DNC “Insider Dems simply do not accept the fact that the party must break its bonds with big money and link itself with grassroots activists.”

The most significant election result for Democrats on February 25 wasn’t the selection of former labor secretary Tom Perez as the new party chair at an all-too-predictable gathering of Democratic National Committee members in Atlanta. It was the result announced that evening in Middletown, Delaware, where environmental attorney Stephanie Hansen won what was supposed to be a close special election for an open State Senate seat with 58 percent of the vote. That win gave Delaware Democrats something their party now has in only five other states: “trifecta” control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature. In other words, they can govern.

The point of political parties is to win elections, thousands of them, in communities like Middletown, and to add those victories together so that people with a shared set of values—as opposed to the same campaign donors—are in control of city councils, legislatures, and Congress. Democratic insiders lost sight of that point over the years, becoming so presidentially obsessed that they told themselves they could somehow survive without legislators and governors, congresspeople and senators. If they could just keep the presidency, these Democratic partisans imagined, everything would be OK—and the media, which is more focused than ever on Washington, reinforced that fantasy. Then Hillary Clinton lost, and the Democrats suddenly recognized that they were at their weakest point since 1928 in the House, and at their weakest point since 1925 in the states.

The truth is that Democrats have been in crisis for a long time. The loss of the presidency matters—as Donald Trump reminds us each day. What matters more, though, is the overall decay of a party that once sufficiently commanded Congress to temper Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, but that now gets shoved around by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Democrats, who once ruled the states, now control just 16 governorships and 31 of 98 partisan legislative chambers. And a new breed of hyperpartisan Republicans are using their dominance to lock in electoral power through extreme gerrymandering, voter-ID laws, and assaults on labor rights.

So what can be done to remake the party and retake America? I think the challenge to the Perez/Ellison partnership is to build a broad coalition including those Democrats who were swayed by Trump.

No matter who won the competition between Perez and Representative Keith Ellison to lead the DNC, the new chair’s only real job was always going to be to end this losing streak. That’s not some crass partisan calculus; it’s an absolute necessity if America is going to undo not just Trump and Trumpism but the program of inequality and injustice that contemporary conservatives advance. …

So is the DNC irredeemable? That question will be answered by Perez and Ellison. Perez was to the left of the Obama administration: for unions and a $15-an-hour minimum wage, for diversity and immigrant rights. He immediately made Ellison his deputy chair. There’s potential in that arrangement—if it really is a partnership, and if Perez implements the “dramatic cultural change” he promises. At the heart of that change must be an understanding that, to advance electorally, partisans must not just resist Trump; they must also resist the uninspiring lesser-of-two-evils arguments that leave voters wondering if Democrats stand for anything.

…Parties win when voters know what they stand for—and when what they stand for isn’t winning for the sake of winning, but a clearly defined set of values. Democrats can be a winning party, but it will take a “dramatic cultural change” to make them one. If Tom Perez delivers anything less, he will have failed his party and his country.

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