Since the November 4 elections, there has been a broad and needed discussion concerning what the Democrats did wrong or, to put it better, why they were unable to turn out their base. Among other things, many African Americans felt taken for granted by the Democratic candidates which, to a great extent, was true. Nevertheless, the problem runs deeper.
In addition to the historic fact that midterm elections tend to run badly for the party that controls the White House, it is also the case that the Democratic Party has a strategic problem; a problem that is frequently—and incorrectly— limited to what is called “messaging.”
During the run up to the election many, Democrats were making the point that the economy was improving, yet they found that this assertion was not resonating with the electorate. While it is true that by almost all standards the economy is improving, for the bottom 90 percent of the population, their income has either stagnated or continued to decline, a pattern that started in the 1970s. The foreclosure crisis, which appeared to have ended, actually has not and, as a result, we continue to face the ramifications of the collapse in the housing market in 2008.
The Republicans addressed this situation by blaming Obama. This was actually quite irrational on many levels since the Obama administration helped prevent the USA from entering a depression. But the Republican argument mixed with white racial resentment and, presto, conservative, white voters turned out. Democratic voters, except in a few states, largely felt uninspired.
What the Democrats have been missing is a recognition that the bottom 90 percent of the population needs a voice and it needs someone willing to speak out on the reality of life in this country. To do that, however, means that the Democrats would/will have to address Wall Street’s domination of the economy and the fact that we continue to witness a polarization of wealth in this country even while the economy–by the stats–improves. The Democratic
Party officialdom is fearful that such a message will strike terror in the hearts of those rich, Wall Street funders who have supported the Democratic Party in the past.
As a result of this ambivalence, the Democrats either tried to speak to part of the problem, e.g., the need to raise the minimum wage, or they channeled Michael Dukakis from his 1988 run for the presidency and attempted to argue that they were sane and competent managers of government in comparison with the Republican extremists. Neither argument worked; neither was compelling.
A progressive force is needed within the Democratic Party that is actually prepared to articulate the message and build the constituency that needs to be created. Some of the leaders we need are already in elected office, and some are in mass struggles, e.g., the Moral Mondays. In either case, we need a very different sort of politics. Inspiring people will necessitate more than good speeches.