Why the Democratic Party loses – and how it can win again

Summary: The combination of a clownish president and far-right Congress give the Democratic Party the greatest political opportunity seen in America for decades. Their four defeats in four special elections so far this year show why they are losing — and how they can begin to win. This has been badly reported in the news media.

A poll shows the Democratic Party’s failure:
“If the Democrats controlled Congress, things would be…”

CBS Poll - Congress approval by party
CBS Poll.

These articles explain what the Democratic Party is doing wrong. Why they have adopted these suicidal policies is the key question, left for you to answer in the comments.

Failure in Georgia teaches that “to win you must try”

Ghost Candidates Are Not Acceptable” by Nathan J. Robinson in Current Affairs.

“Rodney Stooksbury was the 2016 Democratic congressional candidate in Georgia’s 6th District, nobody could ever actually seem to find a photograph of the guy. Or a campaign website. Or any campaign material. Or anyone who has actually met Rodney Stooksbury. News outlets tried to track down Stooksbury, to no avail. According to one investigation, “when reporters went to his town house in Sandy Springs, no one answered the door. When they inquired with the neighbors, no one had heard of him. He apparently had run no campaign, and had raised no money.”

“Stooksbury, if not a literal ghost, might as well have been one. In November, shortly before leaving to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Republican incumbent Tom Price was re-elected with approximately 62% of the vote. Rodney Stooksbury, whoever he was, came second. He received 38% of the vote.

“This week, the special election to replace Price was held. Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff, 52 to 48, in the most expensive House race in the history of the United States. Over $56 million was spent in total, enough to prevent nearly 17,000 children from dying of malaria. Because Ossoff had positioned himself as a centrist, running mainly on a platform of reducing government spending, a lot of heated debate is now occurring among Democrats. What does this mean for the party? Should it heed the Berniecrats and appeal to the progressive base? If throwing money at a race won’t win it, what will? Might having actual principles and policies do the trick?

Trump: Anatomy of a Monstrosity
Available at Amazon.

“One good reason why Tom Price beat his last opponent by 23 points was that his last opponent was functionally indistinguishable from a corpse or a bag of lettuce. Stooksbury spent precisely $0 on his campaign and has never been seen in public.

“Jon Ossoff had the entire national Democratic Party pulling out the stops for him, and flooded Atlanta television with ten million dollars in advertising. Drastically improving on the Stooksbury numbers should be no dazzling feat. (Although, somewhat hilariously, Stooksbury actually got more total votes than Ossoff, 124,917 to Ossoff’s 124,893. …

“In fact, the Stooksbury candidacy itself (or non-candidacy) is almost as interesting as Ossoff’s loss. Why would Democrats run a non-person to begin with? And how did he get nearly 40% of the vote without anyone even being certain that he existed?

“The latter question is deeply mystifying. But the answer to the former is obvious: Democrats had long since given up on winning Georgia’s Sixth District. …It was Republican territory, they weren’t going to win, so there would be no point directing resources into a doomed contest. Better to focus the party’s energy and money on tight races. (Indeed, in 2004 and 2010 the Democrats didn’t even bother putting up a ghost candidate, allowing Price to receive 100% of the vote.) …

“{F}irst, Georgia’s Sixth District turned out not to be an inevitable Republican seat, since it just had an incredibly competitive race. Second, Ron Snodsberry, a sack of potatoes, got 40% of the vote just by showing up on the ballot! …We are certainly not talking about the kind of place that ought to just be instantly written off and abandoned. …

“Even if we accept the Democrats’ certitude that Price could never have been beaten, the idea that this should lead to not running a candidate is badly flawed political logic.…Elections represent a major opportunity to build your party, spread your message, and garner local name recognition for your candidates. That’s true even if you don’t win. You get to tell people what you stand for, and you can organize them around issues that go well beyond elections. After the race is over, if you’re good at it, you will have built a stronger network of people who can work on issues locally and who will be even better prepared to fight the next race. …

“The Rodney Stooksbury situation is only one small exemplar of larger problems in the party that have made them unable to take advantage of Donald Trump’s unpopularity. They lack both a political strategy and actual likable candidates, and are fumbling aimlessly in their attempts to resist. (It might help if they developed an actual platform beyond ‘Something Trump something something Russia something.’)”

Read it in full. There is much more good material in it. For another analysis expanding on the last point above, see “Jon Ossoff’s Georgia special election loss shows Democrats could use a substantive agenda” by Matthew Yglesias at VOX.

Conservatives show another perspective on the election. See Rich Lowry at National Review: “Democrats continue to ignore the one thing that might help them win tough races.

“In retrospect, Jon Ossoff’s loss in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District was overdetermined. Youthful to a fault, he didn’t live in the district and had no record of public service. Yet it didn’t help that he was an orthodox liberal who conceded nothing on cultural issues, even though he was running in a Republican district in the South.

“In this, Ossoff merely reflected his party’s attitude. Stopping Trump is imperative, so long as it doesn’t require the party rethinking its uncompromising stance on abortion, guns or immigration. …Republicans don’t share the media’s obsession with the Russia investigation and don’t particularly care whether or not Michael Flynn should have been more careful about disclosing his lobbying work. …Ossoff didn’t immunize himself at all. He was down-the-line pro-choice on abortion. He didn’t dissent from typical liberal views on gun control. He parroted the usual lines about “comprehensive immigration reform.”

Trump poster: wanted for treason

The Democrat’s Trump Card that has failed to win

Our mad foreign wars, our slow-mo economy, the popular but slowly breaking down ObamaCare, rising racism and other social tensions — all these concern the public but not those running the Democratic Party. For them the bad news is that “Russia-gate Flops as Democrats’ Golden Ticket” by Robert Perry.

“The national Democratic Party and many liberals have bet heavily on the Russia-gate investigation as a way to oust President Trump from office and to catapult Democrats to victories this year and in 2018, but the gamble appears not to be paying off. “

Perry gives a broad analysis of the cul-de-sac the Democrats have dug themselves for themselves, concluding with…

“So, despite Trump’s narcissism and incompetence – and despite how his policies will surely hurt many of his working-class supporters – the national Democrats are further driving a wedge between themselves and this crucial voting bloc. By whipping up a New Cold War with Russia and hurling McCarthistic slurs at people who won’t join in the Russia-bashing, the Democratic Party’s tactics also are alienating many peace voters who view both the Republicans and Democrats as warmongers of almost equal measures of guilt.”

How they Democrats abandoned a successful past for a failed future

A brilliant and brief description of the Democratic Party’s core policy: “Neo-liberalism Expressed as Simple Rules” by Lambert Strether at Naked Capitalism (2014). Neolibealism is the bipartisan core policy of America’s ruling elites.

“In this brief post, I hope to clear the ground by proposing two simple rules  to which neo-liberalism can be reduced.

  1. Because markets.
  2. Go die!”

Also see this excerpt from “Thomas Frank on the Demise of the Democratic Party“- interview by Katie Halper of the Real News Network on 20 June 2017.

Halper: So happy to be talking to you. Now your book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? …What happened to the party of the people?

Frank: They took one hell of a beating didn’t they? They’ve dwindled down to a position of complete powerlessness on the national stage. It’s amazing how they’ve managed to do that. It’s largely self-inflicted. Of course the Republicans have been the ones beating them but some years ago the Democrats decided they didn’t want to be the party of the people anymore. They didn’t want to be the sort of traditional Democratic Party that I grew up with, the party of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson. That’s not what they wanted to be. …

It was an enormous transition in the Democratic Party all through the seventies, all through the eighties, all through the nineties until they are what we see them as today. They are a party that represents a group of affluent white collar professionals. That’s who leads the party. That’s who they speak for. That’s whose issues they care about. That’s really who they are. The general public is just not excited about that.

Halper: How much does that explain Trump’s victory?

Frank: If you dig down into the details, it explains 80%. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. The Democrats, as they moved away from their old working class base — and they treated them very poorly, as they did with other essential elements of their constituent groups (minorities for example) — …they’d say, “Well you know we don’t have to worry about that. Those people have nowhere else to go.” Nowhere else to go. This was a Democratic saying in the 1990s. Trump gave those people somewhere else to go. This is the entire genius of Trump …That’s how he won.

Example of why the Democrats, and the Left, lose

Some People ‘Would Rather Have 1st Class Seats on the Titanic Than Change the Course of the Ship’” by Gaius Publius at Naked Capitalism. Since the 1970s the Left (broadly defined) has relied on doomster stories to terrify the public into supporting their political agenda (the Right also does so, but not as often). It never worked well, and has become ineffective through overuse. See some of their more vivid examples here.

Prominent Democratic Fundraisers Realign to Lobby For Trump’s Agenda” by Lee Fang at The Intercept.

“Lobbying records show that some Democratic fundraisers, who raised record amounts of campaign cash for Clinton, are now retained by top telecom interests to help repeal the strong net neutrality protections established during the Obama administration. Others are working on behalf of for-profit prisons on detention issues, while others still are paid to help corporate interests pushing alongside Trump to weaken financial regulations. At least one prominent Clinton backer is working for a health insurance company on a provision that was included in the House Republican bill to gut the Affordable Care Act.

While Republican lobbyists are more in demand, liberal lobbyists are doing brisk business that has them reaching out to fellow Democrats to endorse — or at least tamp down vocal opposition to — Trump agenda items.”

For More Information

Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the Democratic Party, and for ideas about what you can do see Reforming America: steps to new politics. Especially see these …

  1. Look to the Left to see the force powering Trump and Carson.
  2. New York shows how Democrat-run cities & states contribute to the rise of Trump.
  3. Populism arises amidst American workers abandoned by both Left & Right.
  4. Oddities of the New Left, making them weaker than the Old Left.
  5. Clinton lost because fear failed, and voters disliked her Social Justice Warriors.
  6. How the Left lost but can win again.

Thomas Frank explains how the Democrats can recover

"Listen, Liberal" by Thomas Frank
Available at Amazon.

See an excerpt from the book: Thomas Frank explains how the Democrats became Liberals for the Rich. From the publisher …

“Drawing on years of research and first-hand reporting, Frank points out that the Democrats have done little to advance traditional liberal goals: expanding opportunity, fighting for social justice, and ensuring that workers get a fair deal. Indeed, they have scarcely dented the free-market consensus at all.

“This is not for lack of opportunity: Democrats have occupied the White House for 16 of the last 24 years, and yet the decline of the middle class has only accelerated. Wall Street gets its bailouts, wages keep falling, and the free-trade deals keep coming.

“With his trademark sardonic wit and lacerating logic, Frank lays bare the essence of the Democratic Party’s philosophy and how it has changed over the years. A form of corporate and cultural elitism has largely eclipsed the party’s old working-class commitment, he finds. For certain favored groups, this has meant prosperity. But for the nation as a whole, it is a one-way ticket into the abyss of inequality. In this critical election year, Frank recalls the Democrats to their historic goals-the only way to reverse the ever-deepening rift between the rich and the poor in America.”

 

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10 thoughts on “Why the Democratic Party loses – and how it can win again

  1. Hateful and violent political parties such as the modern Democratic Party core, deserves to be broken up and replaced by something a good deal better. The brand has been sold to the dementors of the maddest of the mad left. Time to discard it and devise something that actually builds up rather than destroying.

    Like

    1. Dashiell,

      “he brand has been sold to the dementors of the maddest of the mad left.”

      That’s quite an exaggeration. Few of Hillary’s policies were leftist. She opposed single-payer health care, favored expansion of our foreign wars, loved Wall Street Banks and big Pharma, etc.

      “Hateful and violent political parties such as the modern Democratic Party”

      Let’s not fall into the “we need parties that match our awesomeness” fallacy — like customers whining about the service at a restaurant. Both major political parties roughly mirror large aspects of who we are. That’s why they have lasted so long and dominate our politics. We can change, which is the necessary first step to reforming America.

      Like

  2. talk about a party that projects. All the things they claim the other side is – you are. Maybe if you quit telling people they’re dumb, deplorable, racist, fascist, your President is a clown, etc you might get somewhere.

    Like

    1. Gute,

      “Maybe if you quit telling people they’re dumb, deplorable, racist, fascist …, etc you might get somewhere.”

      You are describing behavior of the Democratic Party’s elite that these articles condemn. Do you realize that, or did you just not read the post?

      “your President is a clown”

      He is a clown.

      Like

  3. I had to laugh at the suggestions of that Nick Lowry “National Review” article: yeah, becoming indistinguishable from the GOP on economics has worked out so well for the Dems, they should obviously ape their social policies too, haha.

    Looking across the pond, Corbyn and the UK Labour Party are showing signs that actually offering a robust alternative to neoliberal business-as-usual and telling the truth resonates with voters and gets them to turn out. I believe Obama’s 2008 electoral success was also proof of this, as he ran as a much more left-wing candidate than he ended up being. Offering poor and working class voters a true left-wing alternative to the status quo could be a huge untapped political force.

    Establishment Democrats and their media lackeys have already hand-waved away the UK elections, or at worst, have tried to co-opt their success to say that a milquetoast centrist like Ossoff spending millions to lose is actually a victory (“just like Jeremy Corbyn!”). Just as they blame the FBI or Russia for Clinton’s defeat, instead of facing that “America Is Already Great” rings false with the millions of Americans out of work, underpaid, and/or crushed by debt.

    As you often extol, we can’t wait for politicians to change, we have to be the ones changing politics. What the US Left needs is it’s kind of the Tea Party to start challenging primaries and sweeping away the Clintonite neoliberal wing, much as UK Labour is kicking out their Blairite brethren.

    Also, thank you for inspiring me to get involved with local politics and political action groups!

    Like

    1. ch1kpee,

      “becoming indistinguishable from the GOP on economics has worked out so well for the Dems”

      That’s quite an exaggeration. In six months Team Trump has already moved aggressively to loose regulations protecting us from corporations and push for large tax cuts for the rich. Four years of this will make that statement look quite mad.

      “they should obviously ape their social policies too”

      That’s an add generalization. Lowry correctly points out that many of the Democratic Party’s highest profile social policies — such as open borders, unlimited abortion, and aggressive identity politics — are either not popular or very unpopular. Doubly so in Georgia (successful political parties have politicans who adapt their views to local preferences).

      Like

    2. “That’s quite an exaggeration. In six months Team Trump has already moved aggressively to loose regulations protecting us from corporations and push for large tax cuts for the rich. Four years of this will make that statement look quite mad.”

      Haha, touché. But as you note, neoliberalism is the dominant economic ideology of both parties, albeit the GOP is much more radical in its implementation than the Democrats.

      “Lowry correctly points out that many of the Democratic Party’s highest profile social policies — such as open borders, unlimited abortion, and aggressive identity politics — are either not popular or very unpopular. Doubly so in Georgia (successful political parties have politicans who adapt their views to local preferences).”

      On a national level, sure, but Ossoff wasn’t some purple-haired Berkley radical yelling about pronouns; he was a fairly typical centrist and much more subdued on some of these issues than national Dems. Lowry specifically called out Ossoff’s views on abortion, gun control, and immigration. Ossoff doesn’t even mention gun control or immigration on his [platform](https://electjon.com/priorities/) and he avoided both topics with ambiguous doublespeak during the campaign. Abortion is the only social issue he actually campaigned on. Given Ossof’s fiscal conservative boilerplate platform, being pro-choice may have been the only thing that differentiated him from Handel and inspired turnout. He actually seemed to be banking on it to get more youth and women votes. I don’t know about the 6th district specifically, which has above-average income and education, but from what polling data I can find for Georgia from [Pew](http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/compare/views-about-abortion/by/state/), the pro-life/pro-choice split state-wide is about even. Ossoff might not have been as out-of-touch with local social beliefs as Lowry would like to paint him.

      And let’s also not forget that the GOP’s own core social policies (eg, repealing Roe v Wade, unrestricted access to firearms, constitutional amendments to rescind gay marriage) are also either widely unpopular or only resonate with a vocal fringe.

      My point in the original reply is that an ostensibly left-wing party would be foolish to heed advice from the flagship publication of American conservatism, because it always boils down to “they should just be more conservative.” Clinton’s catastrophic decision to snub working-class voters in order to chase moderate Republicans disaffected with Trump should serve as a painful rebuttal for this line of thinking. I knew lots of conservatives who were appalled by Trump; most of them held their nose and voted for him anyway, some voted Libertarian as a protest, and some just stayed home. *None* of them switched sides for Hillary. When given the choice between a real conservative and a pandering centrist, conservatives are always going to pick the real thing. That’s why Ossoff lost.

      Like

    3. ch1kpee,

      A problem with discussing one of a series of posts is that their overall theme is lost. I’ve not found a solution to this. My point in this series is that the 1% has captured both parties. That is, each is “owned” by a faction of the 1%. Hence the bipartisan agreement on Wall Street, relatively flat taxes, big defense & foreign wars, domestic surveillance, massive profits from a dysfunctional health care system, etc.

      There are major differences. Why and how are complex subjects, about which we can only guess (and I have). But “magnitudes matter”, so the two parties are not equivalent threats.

      But reform requires more than becoming loyal pawns of either party. Somehow we have to break out of voting for the least bad. How to do that is the subject of another series, ideas about how to reform America.

      I believe that addresses, more or less most of the points you raise. Here are some specifics.

      “but Ossoff wasn’t some purple-haired Berkley radical yelling about pronouns; he was a fairly typical centrist and much more subdued on some of these issues than national Dems.”

      The only relevant point is Ossoff’s politics vs. the voters in his district, and how. I don’t understand your point, or why that is a rebuttal to what Lowry said. Re: abortion – by now its clear that on average those opposed to abortion are much more likely to weight that vote than those in favor of it — hence its importance in southern states.

      This is esp important given Robinson’s cogent case that Ossoff did astonishingly badly given the specific circumstances. I suggest it might be more useful for Democrats to understand why he lost rather than attempting to explain why Lowry was wrong and Ossoff should have won (this is also true about Clinton’s defeat — they’re locked into a self-defeating mode).

      “And let’s also not forget that the GOP’s own core social policies (eg, repealing Roe v Wade, unrestricted access to firearms, constitutional amendments to rescind gay marriage) are also either widely unpopular or only resonate with a vocal fringe.”

      How unpopular is an interesting question. But its the wrong question for Democrats, much like their effort to explain how they should be winning. I recommend that they ponder why a party with such unpopular views has been defeating them on local, state, and the national level. It’s like me losing at arm-wrestling to a six year old — then explaining why I should have won.

      “My point in the original reply is that an ostensibly left-wing party would be foolish to heed advice from the flagship publication of American conservatism”

      That’s really really missing the point, an example of the behavior I have described throughout this series. One’s opponents are often our most incisive critics. Listen to their observations. That DOES NOT MEAN taking their advice about how to respond.

      The Left and Right in America are totally locked into a mode of tribal thinking. If he’s not in my tribe, I won’t listen to him because he must be wrong. Comment threads consist largely of I see he is an other, therefore I know he is wrong. This makes us a gift to our ruling elites, astonishingly easy to rule.

      Like

  4. The Democratic Party will continue to struggle because it has started a undeclared war on its former base. Their prime, overarching goal is globalism and its prime enemy any shade of nationalism.

    I come from a family of FDR Democrats. I have known many old time Henry Wallace style Democrats, most of whom are deceased now. First and foremost, they were patriotic nationalists, who strongly believed in improving the quality of life for all Americans.

    The 60s radicals grew into anti-Americans and their legacy controls for many in the Democratic Party today. They don’t care about the half million deaths from the opioid crisis. They don’t care about the deaths from despair, the widespread carnage globalism has produced throughout the Midwest.

    The radical Leftists I know still do love America. They just fail to reconcile their policies with reality. They can’t comprehend that America is worse off for many today due to mass immigration and free trade. They can’t see their policies caused the existence of the “deplorables.”

    This is not to say the Republicans are much better. The Republican establishment is as awful as the Democratic establishment.

    The best political ad last year was Sander’s America ad (sorry, I don’t have a link and don’t know how to embed the video here). It embodies a love of country and its people largely absent in the Democratic Party.

    Identity politics are about division. Until the Democrats dump identity politics, they will struggle.

    They to focus instead on economics. Finance is a cancer, a parasite, eating away the country, “Killing the Host”, as Michael Hudson puts it.

    But they can’t, because the Democrats are owned by Wall Street and billionaires. And so we are screwed. The more they oppose Trump, the more he will give the Right. They could have co-opted him to do a New New Deal, if not for their ridiculous Russia canard.

    Like

    1. Gaius,

      Nicely said. That’s a better summary of the situation than anything I’ve written.

      “The Democratic Party will continue to struggle because it has started a undeclared war on its former base.”

      Exactly so. As Trump has proven, the GOP likewise wages an undeclared war on its base.

      “Their prime, overarching goal is globalism and its prime enemy any shade of nationalism.”

      That seems a misstatement. Globalization is one of many means to their goals. It’s part of the ideological packaged called Neoliberalism that guides both parties.

      “Identity politics are about division. Until the Democrats dump identity politics, they will struggle.”

      That’s the best statement about identity politics I’ve seen!

      Liked by 1 person

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