Opinion: The Democratic Party needs to fix itself

It’s been five months since the presidential election, and Newsweek is still asking, “Would Bernie Sanders have won?” Meanwhile, a widely read editorial in Vanity Fair insists that the “alt-left,” its derisive term for non-moderate leftists, “is a problem, too.”

“The primary is over,” I want to scream. But what’s not over is the deeper conflict the primary brought to light: A battle between moderate liberals, who many saw as out-of-touch and corporate-friendly, and farther-left progressives, who boast an authentic commitment to eco­nomic, environmental, and social justice. As the Democratic Party struggles to regain the ground it lost in the 2016 election, both sides are eager to blame the other for their fail­ure and insist their approach is the best moving forward.

One way in which this conflict manifested itself was in the election of the chair of the Democratic Na­tional Committee. Though the person holding this office holds little political power, the race turned into what Alex Shepard in the New Republic called a “useless proxy war.” Keith Ellison, an early favorite who many saw as more aligned with the party’s progres­sive wing, faced an Islamophobic smear campaign and was finally de­feated by Tom Perez, who was pushed into running at the last minute.

Despite being widely viewed as an establishment candidate, Perez has extended an olive branch to the pro­gressive wing of the party, offering Ellison the position of deputy chair. Since then, Perez and Ellison have embarked on a nationwide “Turn­around Tour,” where they pledged to provide better support to local can­didates and build a stronger move­ment in states they neglected during 2016.

It will take time to see whether the efforts of Ellison, Perez, and the rest of the party pay off. But it is cru­cial that they do. Right now, the Democrats’ approval rating currently sits at a mere thirty-six percent, ac­cording to a recent poll by USA Today and Suffolk University. If the Demo­crats want to turn this around, they need to present a unified vision of the future that answers voters’ concerns.

To do this, they will need to coun­ter the perception that they belong to the “establishment.” Currently, there are other groups to the left of the Democrats, like the Democratic So­cialists of America and the Justice Democrats, that are experiencing a rise in membership. If the Demo­cratic Party wants to compete with them, it will need to present itself as authentically progressive.

One way they can do this is by focusing more strongly on class in­equality. Since Trump’s win, some have insisted that the Democrats’ focus on social issues and neglect of the white working class led to their downfall. Framing issues in this way implies that poverty is a white per­son’s issue, while in reality, people of color have statistically lower incomes. Instead of framing economic concerns and so-called “identity politics” as opposites, the Democrats could succeed by acknowledging how race, class, gender and disability all intersect with poverty, and use this framework to combat all forms of inequality.

Also, Democrats should follow up their words with their actions. Otherwise, they draw American pol­itics further to the right. For example, many conservatives thought Obama was soft on immigration, when in reality, he deported a record number of immigrants. Similarly, Trump’s plans for a Muslim registry already have precedent in a program called the National Security Entry-Exit Reg­istration System, a registry targeting travelers to the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries that was only re­moved in December 2016. Trump has already tried to justify his refugee ban by comparing it to a temporary ban on Iraqi refugees enacted under Obama, and will likely draw similar comparisons to policies such as these. Besides, being honest is just a nice thing to do. If the Democrats claim to champion progressive values, they need to do a better job of showing us.

Finally, Democrats should refuse to compromise. When they water down their views in order to court Republican votes, they allow their op­ponent to control the dialogue. For example, Bernie Sanders has intro­duced a bill that would provide uni­versal healthcare, which many Dem­ocrats criticize on practical grounds. It’s not politically feasible, they argue, so we shouldn’t bother. Well, how are you going to know if it’s politically feasible if you don’t try it? If the Dem­ocrats keep giving up on their goals because they aren’t politically feasible, while the Republicans do nothing of the sort, Republicans are going to win.

Clinton’s loss should be a wake-up call showing that the Democrats’ ne­glect of working-class concerns, hy­pocrisy, and attempts to please every­one rather than taking a stand are destroying the party.


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