“In the century in which we live, the Democratic Party has received the support of the electorate only when the party, with absolute clarity, has been the champion of progressive and liberal policies and principles of government.
“The party has failed consistently when through political trading and chicanery it has fallen into the control of those interests, personal and financial, which think in terms of dollars instead of in terms of human values.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a letter to the 1940 Democratic National Convention
By rights, the Democrats should be licking their chops. With the 2018 midterm elections on the horizon and unprecedented engagement from Democratic-leaning voters in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as president, the prospects for big Democratic gains look good, at least at first glance.
Political events are certainly working to the advantage of Democrats. The disastrous GOP House health care bill, which is little more than a $900 billion tax giveaway to the wealthiest people in America at the expense of the most vulnerable, could well prove devastating to re-election prospects for as many as two dozen Republican House members. And Trump’s terrible poll ratings, which won’t be helped by his recent sacking of FBI Director James Comey or his release of highly-classified information to the Russians, will further undermine his party’s prospects.
Yet Democrats face major challenges of their own, not the least of which is the inability of too many top party leaders to truly recognize why their party has lost the trust of so many average Americans. A recent poll showed that fully 67 percent of the American people believe the Democratic Party is out of touch, and that view is shared by nearly a majority of Democrats! And there is no greater example of a party operating out-of-touch with reality than the continued reign of Nancy Pelosi as the Democrats’minority leader in the House.
Pelosi, to put it mildly, is a disaster for Democrats— and Republicans know it even if Democratic party leaders are unwilling to face the fact.
While Legislatures in many GOP-dominated states left many House districts heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, a true Democratic wave could overwhelm the impact of such tampering and give the Democrats control of the House for the first time since 2010. But that’s far less likely with Pelosi in charge.
A special election in Georgia to fill the vacancy left by the selection of former Rep. Tom Price to serve as Health and Human Services Secretary under President Trump, should be a bellwether. It’s a district that leans strongly Republican, but in the primary the Democrat John Ossoff, garnered just over 48 percent of the district-wide vote, nearly winning the seat outright without going to a planned June general election.
But Republicans have since mounted a full-scale advertising blitz against Ossoff, and every ad features the daffy mug of the San Francisco congresswoman. Republicans recognized they need utter just two words to turn the stomachs of a majority of American voters: “Speaker Pelosi.” If the ad blitz results in a Republican victory, Democrats should recognize the handwriting on the wall.
Pelosi, after all, doesn’t just turn off Republicans. She’s been having much the same effect with the party’s progressive wing, which Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders helped awaken with his remarkably successful primary challenge to Hillary Clinton last year. Sanders may have lost in a rigged primary to Clinton, but he emerged from the experience, according to polls, as the most popular politician in America.
Pelosi, by contrast, sits at rock bottom in those same polls, and she’s gone out of her way in recent months to toss as much cold water as possible on the populist insurrection brewing within her own party. Even after the disastrous election in November, Pelosi said Democrats don’t need to change a thing. They just need better talking points, she says. Talk about out-of-touch.
It is long past time for Democrats to get the hook on this walking, talking public relations disaster. A true leader would have fallen on her sword after the 2010 shellacking, in which her party lost an astonishing 63 seats in the House, but for Pelosi, it seems, the perks of high office matter far more than advancing her party’s political prospects, much less a truly progressive agenda.
Too many Democratic leaders continue to suffer under the delusion that Trump-bashing alone is enough to ensure their comeback in 2018. It’s fertile ground to be sure, but it was well-plowed by the Clinton campaign, and Trump sits in the White House today nonetheless.
Democrats need to offer an inspirational agenda of progressive and populist change in 2018, or they risk— and will deserve— two more years in the political wilderness.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood that in 1940, and politicians like Bernie Sanders understand it today. Sanders has been touring the country since November setting forth a progessive and populist agenda that includes a $15 minimum wage, fair trade, expanding Medicare to everyone, and providing free public college tuition nationwide.
It’s an agenda that would spark real economic growth by putting the interests of average Americans at the forefront, and asks those who’ve cashed in big in our casino capitalist system to pay their fair share. In other words, it’s completely out-of-step with the status quo in Washington, which is why Sanders continues to face pushback from far too many in the Democratic establishment, not to mention Republicans.
While such policies may not play with the Washington of today, Sanders’ popular proposals could give progressive Democrats the boost they need in 2018 to finally begin the long process of steering the party’s, and the country’s, politics in a new direction.
But the party and the country won’t get there without trimming the dead wood— and that should start with Pelosi. She’s the living embodiment of a party that grew too comfortable believing their opponents were such scoundrels that the American people could do nothing other than vote for Democrats and their compromised, Wall Street-friendly policies. The voters showed they had little interest in the weak gruel being peddled by Democrats. Trump, the carnival barker, came along with his grab bag of half-baked promises and the Democrats paid the price.
They’ll continue paying until they remember the populist fire in the belly that once propelled them to electoral victory all across the country. FDR understood those ideals and won the White House four times and built a Democratic majority that dominated American politics for decades. With the right leadership, and a return to the ideals that once motivated party faithful, they can do it again, and in the process truly help to make America great again.