Friday, February 3, 2017

The People's Party

Democrats, it’s important to protest and march, but it’s time to organize.  Yes, it’s time to take the lesson from the 2009 Republican playbook and run with it in every state across this great land.  It’s time the launch the People’s Party.  Not an original idea, well how many really are, and does it matter?  We have a job to do.  Why the People’s Party?  Because it’s time to remind the electorate, not to mention ourselves, that we are the party of the people.  To borrow the iconic Coca-Cola claim, it’s time to declare that when it comes to people’s needs, we are “the real thing”.  And what is that real thing?  Ultimately the goal has to be what Barack Obama talked about in his 2004 convention speech, to be the united states of America.  That will require more than aspirational rhetoric.  Bill Clinton so effectively would tell people, “I felt your pain”.  But empathy can only go so far.  What the many people who are suffering from job loss and our increasingly economically bifurcated society need is that something be done to redress their seemingly hopeless state.  They are, or feel they are, drowning and must be lifted out of the water.  We can’t really have the “united states” without addressing and mitigating this distress.

Donald Trump won an Electoral College victory.  Her popular vote plurality notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton and Democrats lost support of voters in their natural constituency, American blue collar workers.  These are exactly the people for whom the party ideology speaks and will continue to speak going forward.  They should be a core constituency of the People’s Party.  But saying that is not enough.  The anger and angst being expressed, the protest marches against Trump and his administration are not only appropriate, they make tactical sense.  Turning that rejection and disdain on the people who voted for Trump does not.  The essence of a working democracy is that we all have the right to our individual opinions, and equally we all have the right to being respected as citizens and, yes, as human beings.  Bigotry may have moved some Trump voters as racism may account for some of the opposition to President Obama.  But we shouldn’t assume that the majority of those who supported the current president or opposed the past one are bad people.  A large number of Americans rightly feel left behind – feel that they have been ignored – and that includes a good number of Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders.  The growing inequality of our time crosses party lines.  We must turn toward each other in solidarity not against each other.

And that may be the significant philosophical difference between the Tea Party and the People’s Party.  The former grew out of and was sustained by anger.  “No” became more than a strategy, it became an ongoing sustaining mindset.  True to the ideology of the Democratic Party, the People’s Party must be driven by aspiration.  “No” may, and will, be a necessary immediate tactic, but “yes” must remain the core belief.  That difference is important, but strategically what we can learn for the Tea’s is what they learned and refashioned from our own Tip O’Neill’s dictum: all politics is local.  The People’s Party may express a national sentiment, but it’s focus and working battleground must be local.  The problems that require redress are found at home, in the cities, towns and villages in individual states.  It’s got to be a state by state – legislatures, mayors and governors – a systematic and substantive effort.

Much was made of an assumed Democratic Party demographic advantage.  Given the result not merely in the presidential contest but perhaps more so on the state level some may rightly question if that assumption has legs.  I don’t.  It’s a fact that younger Americans along with growing minority communities, perhaps especially Latinos, are becoming a much more significant percentage of the electorate.  Perhaps I should say potential electorate because numbers don’t mean anything unless and until they turn into votes.  Tomorrow’s majority, today’s younger Americans, seem more in tune with the Democrat’s progressive views.  Issues like LGBT rights, marriage equality or reproductive choice, for example, are no brainers.  Latinos, while not a monolithic community, also tend to be more aligned with Democratic positions, certainly on equal pay and immigration.  The challenge for the People’s Party is to marshal the voting potential of this changed demographic into a reality.  While hopefully this past election made that point, we still have to convince citizens of all stripes that every vote does count.  We have to up our voting game.

Equally important is taking on the problem of job loss and deteriorating job pay.  Part of that effort has to be turning back so-called “Right to Work” anti-union laws in place or being enacted in an increasing number of states.  It is an anti-worker trend that gives lie to Republican and specifically Trump claims of being for all those people in America’s heartland.  We must also admit that part of unionism’s decline can be attributed to labor leadership’s inadequate response to automation and other factors that have impacted their member’s workplace.  It’s above my paygrade – I don’t have the "what’s needed" – but I suspect unions and unionism has to be reimagined for our very different age.  Union leaders have often succumbed to the same corruption of power that is found in the political sphere.  Self-interest and a wish to maintain their own, often cushy, jobs has kept them for any such reimagination.  Unions have generally supported Democrats, but their frustrated and often anxious members don’t necessary feel that they are getting any meaningful return on that investment.  That has to change.

Donald Trump is fond of calling himself the leader of a movement.  He has certainly stoked the anger and, I think, unrealistically raised the hopes of many Americans.  Whether someone so into himself can really sustain a movement, real or imagined, is an open question.  It’s also irrelevant to the task that lies before us.  We need to reenergize ourselves, become a viable and potent movement.  Not a movement merely to combat, certainly not the loyal opposition that seeks compromise when there is nothing about which to agree, but a movement that looks forward.  That works for a future that will truly benefit all.  A People’s Party that has legs and substance, that can through hard work keep the promises it makes.

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