Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Family Feud

Democrats need to de-escalate the blood feud between the Clinton and Sanders factions of the party, significantly elevate new faces in the party leadership, and embrace ambitious policy goals.

On a very depressing election night, I wrote on this blog that the "struggle to explain how this happened will probably be infuriating". I anticipated the inevitable "Monday morning quarterbacking" and score-settling and post-facto smugness, but lately what's most frustrating is a Democratic Party that insists on deepening a "Hillary vs. Bernie" internecine conflict. Yes, still. I'd hoped we'd be past this by now -- I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and then, obviously, was strongly in favor of Hillary Clinton in the general election. I'm disappointed that so many other people still haven't come to terms with "what happened".

In this conflict, emotions run high -- even among my politically-obsessed family, where we are usually at least directionally aligned. My progressive sister and many like her are understandably defensive about the mountains of unfair criticism that smart and accomplished public servant Hillary Clinton has received, but they seem unable to accept that any criticism of Clinton is not sexism or "haters gonna hate". Sorry, she lost, and that loss involved some strategic missteps and branding blunders that should be addressed.

Some Clinton partisans won't accept that as the months go on, the average voter cares ever less about the name "James Comey," and the Russia bogeyman is not going to produce a smoking gun. They need to understand that clinging to the popular vote victory isn't a retort to the actual election result -- at best, it's a reminder that the difference between disaster and brilliance can be razor-thin, and we almost didn't need to have this conversation.

Meanwhile, old-school Democrats like my dad, whose blood pressure visibly rises when watching a Bernie interview on cable TV, are exhibiting the emotion-driven sensitivity typically associated with sports fans for major rivalries. He's peeved with Sanders' lack of formal registration in the Democratic Party, as if the technicality has any importance, or as if Sanders hasn't energized and grown a key voting bloc for the party. He fumes over Sanders voters we know who didn't vote for Clinton, as if she had some automatic right to their votes. Given that Sanders and Trump were considered the populist candidates in the race it's not surprising they shared a pool of voters. (Recall, too, that 2008 Barack Obama couldn't count on perhaps a quarter or more of Hillary Clinton primary voters who were keen on John McCain.)

I'm not opposed to a pitched battle of ideas between the centrist and leftist wings of the Democratic Party, if it can be done in a way that decisively settles on the strategy for winning back America. I hope, though, that they can use this opportunity to empower a new generation of leaders to fill the shoes of the too-old-for-2020 crowd that includes Clinton, Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, and to my chagrin, probably Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. I don't know who will have the best answers but I'm optimistic they will surface from among the likes of Kamala Harris, Kirstin Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Ro Khanna, Keith Ellison, Chris Van Hollen, and Pramila Jayapal, if these folks are given a far greater share of the spotlight.

I hope they act audaciously. Regardless of party affiliation, most of us are routinely frustrated that our leaders don't tackle big challenges and don't accomplish anything of significance. Americans were inspired by Kennedy's call to go to the moon, short on specifics as it was, and we've seen that 2016 voters rallied around the notion of "make America great again," the dubious methods by which President Trump intended to do so notwithstanding. I'm not endorsing unworkable pipe dreams or pandering promises, but it doesn't hurt to have big aims, be that doubling-down on healthcare coverage expansion, taking a stand for paid maternity and paternity leave, and significantly dialing back the drug war. "Moonshots" like these can be the pillars that energize a party's base and invite new voters in, for years to come.

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