Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Democrats Must Build A 21st Century Party

Robert Reich isn’t the only person to notice that the Democratic Party is in dire straits. All the Democrats in the running to be the Democratic Party's next leader are saying it too.

The former Secretary of Labor and UC Berkeley professor wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle to confront the party with seven hard truths. His conclusion, if they don’t deal with these realities, is harsh: a third party is going to form that will replace them.

Here are those seven realities:

1. First, and foremost, “The party is on life support.” Reich cites not only the electoral losses but also the fact that the so-called leadership is aging, with no replacement generation having been groomed to take their place. No one provides the party with a substantial voice. It makes one wonder if they’re able to focus on anything other than getting themselves re-elected — a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely. There are voices that could be heard, but they have to be pushed to the forefront.

2. “We are now in a populist era.” It’s the populist voices that have attracted — and could continue to attract — those who are needed in order to form a robust political movement — the younger generations. Many have rejected the current power structure, the status quo.

According to Reich, populism is going to win out. It’s just a question of in what form. On the one hand, ‘authoritarian’ populism has already put Donald Trump in the White House. On the other hand, Bernie Sanders stimulated a tremendous outpouring of support for the progressive branch of populism, from demographics that haven’t been particularly engaged before. Authoritarian populism ‘destroys democracy’ while progressive populism builds it in a purer form.

3. “The economy is not working for most Americans.” This is ultimately what lost the election for Hillary because of economic devastation in the Rust Belt. After adjusting for inflation, families aren’t making any more than they were is 2000 — sixteen years ago! Plus, they’ve lost benefits and job security. Robert Reich wrote:
Inequality is wider, and its consequences more savage in America than in any other advanced nation.
4. “The party’s moneyed establishment — big donors, major lobbyists, retired members of Congress who have become bundlers and lobbyists — are part of the problem.” There’s no impetus from within the party to regulate the economic forces that have created extreme inequality. Of course not, because big donors benefit from the bailout of Wall Street and inside trading, even as they claim to be ‘liberal.’ Plus, Democrats have done nothing to shore up labor unions — the American worker’s protection against abuses.

5. “Democrats also need to fight for a bold vision of what the nation must achieve.” The status quo, even before Trump, just wasn’t good enough. Again, the proof is in the appeal of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Inequality can be addressed through measures like increasing Social Security, providing universal, one-payer healthcare, strengthening labor unions, and increasing educational funding and opportunities.

Many of the changes, like education and labor unions, need to happen at a local level, putting more power into the hands of the people rather than hierarchies.

6. “The life of the party — its enthusiasm, passion, youth, principles and ideals — was elicited by Sanders’ campaign.” Robert Reich gives Hillary Clinton her due for what she accomplished — but it wasn’t enough. What was missing was this:
… the huge outpouring of excitement that Bernie’s campaign inspired, especially from the young. This is the future of the Democratic Party.
Not that Sanders needs to run again. New, fresh faces with the same commitment to progressive values do, however. And there are signs that more women, more minorities, and groups like scientists are preparing to answer the call.

7. “The party must change from being a giant fundraising machine to a movement.” The powerless must be united in common cause — women, minorities, workers, the middle class — everyone who has been increasingly deprived of rights and economic opportunity by repressive, conservative policies. This should even include Republicans as they experience pain and disillusionment in the face of Trump’s drastic actions.

If the Democratic Party doesn’t heed these cautions, Robert Reich has little hope for its future. A new third party will emerge to fill the void of leadership and progressive action. Reich wrote:
Third parties usually fail because they tend to draw votes away from the dominant party closest to them, ideologically. But if the Democratic Party creates a large enough void, a third party won’t draw away votes. It will pull people into politics.

And drawing more people into politics is the only hope going forward.
All of us need hope. The question is, who is going to provide it?

The Nation writes: Why We Support Keith Ellison for DNC Chair.
The Democratic Party hasn’t faced this serious a crisis of confidence and direction since the 1920s. Republicans control the White House, Congress, 33 governorships, and 67 of 98 partisan state legislative chambers nationwide. Even as Americans fill the streets demanding resistance to the extremist agenda of Donald Trump, congressional Democrats often lack the numbers for the pushback.

The right response to this crisis is a retooling of the Democratic National Committee to align it more closely with movements for social and economic justice. The party must make the inside/outside connection that will strengthen immediate resistance to the Trump regime, while improving the long-term electoral prospects of Democrats. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is prepared to do just that. In an impressive field of contenders for the position of DNC chair—including party leaders that The Nation has often praised, like former labor secretary Tom Perez, as well as energetic newcomers like Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana—it is Ellison who combines the ideals, skills, and movement connections that will revitalize the party.

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