I have been involved in politics now for well over two decades - actually, closer to three - and one of the aggravating factors I have witnessed in both major parties is the tendency of the leadership in both parties engaging in pissing contests and losing site of the larger picture and what motivates the grassroots effort where elections are often won or lost. That is not to say that all decisions should be left to the grassroots. A prime example is the GOP which invited the Christofascists and white supremacists (they are often one and the same) into the party with horrific results as embodied by the current occupant of the White House. Nonetheless, Democrats need to look to the grassroots now for a lesson on how to win elections. Virginia provides one such lesson despite the wrongheaded efforts of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to interfere in the Democrat primary last June - something I will forever hold against them. A column in the Washington Post outlines the lessons that need to be learned by Democrats in Washington, D.C. Here are highlights:
Sometimes, the Democratic Party amazes me. And not in a good way. Here is a party fresh off a series of big election triumphs all over the country. The nation faces an unprecedented challenge brought on by President Trump’s breathtaking irresponsibility. Republicans are pushing through the most reactionary tax bill since the 1920s.And what do leading Washington Democrats want to do? They would have us engage in the “move left” vs. “move to the center” squabbles that have obsessed the party for at least three decades.
[N]ew research is finding that this bickering does not match the mood of local anti-Trump activists.
Ever since Trump’s surprise victory, the distinguished Harvard University scholar Theda Skocpol has been spending a lot of time in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio with her colleagues Mary Waters and Kathy Swartz. They are talking to leaders and rank-and-file citizens in two counties in each state to track changes in our politics wrought by the 2016 outcome.
All the counties they are studying voted for Trump, yet in every one of them, new anti-Trump organizations have risen up. The researchers have found 10 such groups so far. (By the way, all these groups are led or co-led by women, many of whom are also deeply involved in their local churches.)
What’s struck Skocpol is how irrelevant the Democrats’ tired quarrels are to these freshly engaged citizens. “At the grass roots, people are dealing with the crisis Trump’s presidency presents to America, and they’re not refighting the election of 2016,” she said in an interview. “They’re not talking about whether the Democratic Party should be more progressive or more centrist.”
In fact, she finds that “both Bernie [Sanders] and Hillary [Clinton] supporters are involved,” which shows how “you can have energetic citizen action that doesn’t have to sort out national labels.”
This activism, as Skocpol sees it, is motivated by a simple but powerful civic sense that Trump is violating basic norms and principles of American life. The troops on the ground don’t need programs or litmus tests imposed from on high, she adds. They need practical support and the freedom to act as they see fit in their own areas.
This was also the lesson of this month’s elections, which saw victories by Democrats across the party’s spectrum of opinion. In Virginia, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam ran a moderate statewide campaign, while down-ticket winners in legislative races included a member of the Democratic Socialists of America as well as the first openly transgender person elected to a statehouse. Voters in Virginia (and New Jersey and elsewhere) said to Washington Democrats: Stop it with your stupid fights. We have work to do.[Y]es, the party is more progressive on certain questions than it used to be. It is rightly more committed, for example, to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights — but so is the country as a whole. There has been a strong response from Democrats of all races to police shootings of young, unarmed black men. But this is less a move to the “left” than an expression of simple decency. A lot of this left/center business is about abstractions imposed on reality rather than a reflection of it.
The combatants in the intraparty arguments might usefully start by acknowledging the merits of some of the insights their opponents offer. Jared Leopold, the communications director of the Democratic Governors Association, said that Northam’s approach resonated with Virginia voters who “were looking for a calm and strong leader in the midst of chaos in Washington.” Moderates have a point when they say that voters nationally are similarly seeking steady and reliable leadership.
The grass-roots activists know how important these battles are. The ideological infighters should learn from them.