I have given this rant before, but it bears repeating as the Democrat field of would be presidential candidates becomes increasingly crowded. The short form of the message: nominate someone electable to top the Democrat ticket and then get behind the nominee whoever it may be. Wonderful policies and wonkish command of facts and figures mean NOTHING if the candidate cannot get elected. Sadly, this basic message which ought to be seared in every Democrat memory after 2016 when some holier than thou Democrats refused to back Hillary Clinton and thereby handed the election to Donald Trump. We - and the nation - cannot stand another such debacle that could end up re-electing Trump, the most foul, anti-democratic and vile individual to ever occupy the White House. A piece in Politico looks at the danger of Democrats defeating themselves through an intra-party civil war that loses sight of the ultimate goal. Moderate advances under a Democrat are better than more Trump, yet some do not grasp this simple concept. Here are article highlights:
I’ve lived through a Democratic Civil War before. In fact, I’ve been in the middle of two of them. The first was in 1968, when I was the research director for Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign. The second was in 1980, when I was Jimmy Carter’s policy director.
Both times, I watched pressure from the party’s liberal wing tear the party apart and bring down a Democratic presidential candidate. Both times, the Republicans took the White House. Both times, liberal dreams were shattered.
Today, I fear it could all be happening again.
PresidentDonald Trump moved the Republican Party sharply to the populist right, early entrants to the Democratic Party presidential contest have veered sharply to the left, along with several energetic new Democratic members of the House. The left’s new avant-garde has properly identified the need to confront serious national challenges, from rising income inequality and inadequate health care coverage to climate change.
But successfully dealing with these problems demands pragmatic solutions that can gain support from a majority of Americans and do not play into Trump’s false narrative that Democrats are socialists. Speaking from experience, by demanding the moon, their proposals will crash on the launching pad and lead to nowhere good.
Humphrey’s challenger from the left, Senator Eugene McCarthy, who had castigated Humphrey for the Johnson administration’s handling of Vietnam, didn’t get the nomination that year. But McCarthy failed to reconcile with his fellow Minnesotan and led his supporters back into the fold only after it was too late. Richard Nixon exploited the divisions in the party and the country and was elected by the thinnest of margins in November. His election led to an extension of the war Humphrey would have ended; during the next four years another 21,000 American soldiers were killed.
Carter showed what moderates can accomplish. But, throughout his four years in office, Carter never got full credit for this record. He was criticized by women’s and civil rights groups, social welfare advocates and the party’s union leaders for not doing enough. Consumer groups failed to mobilize for him even though he appointed many of their leaders to regulate big business. The “greenest” president in American history got little credit from environmentalists even as he doubled the size of the national park system, made conservation a centerpiece of his energy policy and championed solar energy, even installing a solar panel on the White House roof.
But the big sticking point for the liberal wing of the party was health care. To obtain support from liberal labor unions in the primaries in 1976, Carter agreed to broad principles for national health insurance, but in office refused to accept Senator Ted Kennedy’s single-payer, government run bill at a time of raging inflation. Over many days of negotiations I had with the senator in his Capitol office, we came close to agreeing on a bill that would have substituted a government-run program for a privately managed program and full coverage phased in over many years. But in the end, Kennedy bowed to labor’s demands and refused to back Carter’s own bill, which looks much like Obamacare today: employer-mandated insurance, health care for children, catastrophic coverage for major illnesses and a major expansion of Medicaid. By asking for too much, health care reform stalled for decades.
In 1980, Kennedy decided to challenge Carter from the left. The senator’s liberal supporters gummed-up the 1980 convention with more than 50 minority floor amendments to the party’s platform, demanding more and more spending and full-blown national health insurance. Kennedy lost, but the damage was done. His challenge irrevocably split the party.
Will the liberal wing this time around realize the damage a similar split will do to Democratic chances of regaining the White House? Maximalist ideology is a prescription for division and defeat.
It would be better to focus on policies that can gain broad public support: Expand health care under the framework of Obamacare, encourage more investment in low-income neighborhoods, endorse affirmative action based on socioeconomic need, offer more government contracts to minority companies, repair the shredded social safety net, increase funding of Head Start for poor children and elementary and secondary education in poverty-stricken districts, and broaden Pell Grants to help make college affordable.
It is a misreading of last November’s midterm elections to believe the House was flipped to Democratic control by the election of a few arch-liberals, most of whom displaced centrist Democrats. The greatest gains were made by moderate Democrats capturing Republican districts. A successful Democratic presidential candidate might take a leaf from Carter’s playbook, even more successfully accomplished by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, to appeal to both sides of the party’s coalition to attract and hold moderate Americans tired of partisanship—Americans who want the highest ethical standards in the White House, who will respect and strengthen the institutions that represent our values—from the FBI to the press to our public schools. A successful candidate will eschew identity politics and want to unite Americans rather than divide the country into warring tribes, will strengthen, not weaken, our worldwide network of alliances, and will recognize there is a big country with its own problems that must be addressed between the two coasts.
The Democrats must iron out their differences and present a united front against Trump, who will have the advantages of incumbency, a positive economy and the support of a united Republican Party. If these progressives keep their eye on winning in 2020, they can be part of a broad coalition to shape their politics into laws which tackle the problems they have identified—which is why they took up arms and won their way to Washington in the first place. Otherwise, we could witness another divided Democratic Party leading to another Republican victory. And the progressive left will have accomplished nothing.
Very well said. Frighteningly, I suspect the message will fall on deaf ears among those in the far left of the Democrat Party.