Barnhart Media


2017: Moving on

Losing an important election has one guaranteed outcome: lots of finger-pointing and blame-throwing. The Democrats, and non-Dems who think they have a right to tell the Dems what to do and how to do it, are still slogging through that mess. I don’t want to pile on, but let me start with this tweet from Matthew Yglesias on December 23rd:

Fact: If the Upper Peninsula were part of WI and the Florida Panhandle were part of AL the GOP would be out of touch with real America.

More directly: Switch those few counties in Michigan and Florida to Wisconsin and Alabama, respectively, and Hillary Clinton wins Michigan and Florida – and the White House. Not the definition of a massive loss.

So in this endless effort of I-told-you-so and Here’s-what-we-need-to-do-now, the first step ought to be to understand the nature of the Democrats’ losses on November 8th. I think the following come as close to being facts as anything can be:

  • Clinton won the popular vote by a significant margin. She lost the Electoral College by a much smaller one (see above).
  • The Democrats picked up seats in both houses of Congress; earlier in the campaign, however, they expected to win a lot more.
  • Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate. Much of that was the creation of the Clintons’ enemies, dating back to their days in Arkansas. No candidate has ever been so vilified by political enemies and had the mainstream media echo that propaganda so mindlessly. Then when real issues arose, like the stupid but insignificant email server, the predisposition to assume the worst became the common wisdom.
  • Third-party voters did carry enough votes to sway the election, but few of those voters would have voted for any Democrat – probably not even Sanders.
  • Gerrymandering and voter suppression laws passed by Republican legislatures and governors kept away enough likely Dem voters to cost them the White House and numerous seats in Congress.
  • The failure of Clinton to campaign in the Rust Belt states aggressively was a mistake. Whether that would have changed the outcome cannot be known for certain, but a smart campaign wouldn’t leave itself vulnerable in that way.

Given the national popular vote and gains by Democrats in Congress, saying the party is a mess, that it’s got the wrong focus, etc, is hard to justify. A change in campaign strategy – such as more time in Michigan and Wisconsin – might have made all this moot. As Yglesias’ tweet notes, just a small change in Electoral College voting and it’s the GOP with the identity crisis, not the Dems.

So: moving on

The dude in the upper right corner of Matt Bors’ cartoon is on the right track: Democrats can and must take on multiple issues and multiple interests – and, unlike the dude at the end, must do so progressively. The political map in 2018 is going to be a tough one for Dems, but we have to understand one thing that will help them immensely:

The Republicans in Congress will over-reach, and by a lot. Once they attack Medicare and Social Security, AARP is going to bring down hell on them. They will likely break the economy. One “good” corruption scandal from the White House will splatter the crap on them all. And god help them (not to mention the world) if they decide to send tens of thousands of troops to fight a hopeless Middle Eastern war.

As a Democrat, I’m very optimistic heading into 2017. My local party, Multnomah County, will soon have new leadership and a chance for a lot of people to use the party’s resources and potential for progressive activism. The nature of the GOP in Congress gives us a clear view of what our political goals are: resistance and promotion of progressive alternatives, aggressively and with compassion for those who need us to succeed.

I do not believe the Democratic Party needs to reinvent itself. We need to stop chasing big money, we need to separate ourselves from the military-industrial complex, we need to learn (per Lakoff) that there is no mythical center we should be aiming for, and we need to get it through our collective thick skulls that grassroots organizing and local politics are the strength and future of the party.

The Dems in Michigan have different needs and priorities than do those of us in Oregon. Texas Democrats do not share the full agenda of those in New York. Our values and principles can align – justice, equal opportunity, we all play by the same rules, etc – but how this plays out locally won’t be the same. The national party’s job isn’t to dictate how each state and all the county parties should set priorities and pursue policy goals; the DNC’s job is to provide the resources needed to build local capacity.

And I think that job is more easily accomplished than many fear. We lost in November, but not by much. We’re on the right track in many ways, and that’s where our focus should be. Not what the DNC did in 2015, but what all Democrats can do in 2017.

T.A. Barnhart