Democrats biggest problem: all the disadvantages of being Socialists, none of the advantages
How we can regain some of the Obama-Trump voting white working class
The circular firing squad, the recriminations and the finger pointing have all started. Democrats, frustrated that they again underperformed the polls and face the prospect of another two years of Republican control of the Senate, are looking for scapegoats to blame.
Never mind that Biden won an impressive victory, winning an absolute majority of the vote and defeating an incumbent. Democrats also held onto the House and defeated two Republican incumbent Senators. As a result, there are those arguing that the Democrats should be pleased with the results.
Most Democrats are not, however. We may be happy about seeing Trump defeated, but our expectations were certainly not met. While the pipedream of a blue wave may have been unreasonable, poll aggregation sites were predicting that the Democrats would win control of the Senate. As of now, that has not happened.
While it is true that the Democrats may still win the Senate if we win the two runoffs in Georgia, a not completely unrealistic hope given that Biden won the state, we lost at least two races where we felt we had it in the bag. In both Maine and North Carolina, the Republican incumbent was re-elected despite massive Democratic spending. And in our dream wins of Iowa and South Carolina, we were similarly defeated.
Indeed, the biggest loser in this election was likely the pollsters. For the second presidential election in a row, their predictions included a higher-than-average polling error. The result is that in both 2016 and 2020, our reasonable expectations based upon the polling were not met.
Pollsters thought they had corrected their errors from 2016 when they undercounted Trump supporters. Apparently, their fixes were insufficient.
At any rate, whether Democrats feel good or bad about the results, the circumstances provide us with another opportunity to engage in the “are Democrats too liberal” debate.
On the one side is John Kasich, the former Governor of Ohio and Republican presidential candidate. I know it seems strange to position a Republican as a leading voice in an intraparty debate for Democrats, but he did speak at the Democratic National Convention. Kasich argued that “the far left … almost cost [Biden] this election,” and urged him to govern as a moderate.
Kasich’s position is not unique to Biden’s Republican supporters. In a tense conference call among Democratic House caucus members, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who nearly lost her seat, argued that “we need to not ever use the word ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again. . . . We lost good members because of that.” Reports are that Spanberger was not alone in this position.
In the other corner is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, often referred to as simply AOC, who has emerged as a true star among Democrats. In a series of tweets, AOC argued that the reason many Dems lost, including in Maine and North Carolina, was their poor campaign execution, particularly in the digital realm. As AOC wrote, “when it comes to “Defund” & “Socialism” attacks, people need to realize these are racial resentment attacks. You’re not gonna make that go away. You can make it less effective.”
Fundamentally, though, the progressive argument is that people won’t turn out to vote if they feel there is nothing in it for them. In other words, Democrats need to deliver substantive change that people can experience in their daily lives, or they will feel no motivation to turn out and vote.
In reality, both sides have a point. The centrists are correct in that the “socialist” and “defund the police” arguments hurt Democrats in marginal districts. Indeed, I have long argued that the “socialist” label would have made Sanders unelectable in a general election.
At the same time, the progressives are correct in that people only turn out to vote when they feel they have a stake in the election. In this last election, Trump took care of that for us. His outrageous behavior, regressive policies and overt racism and misogeny drove Democrats to the polls with an unequaled passion and furor. In truth, it really didn’t matter what Biden stood for, Democrats were coming for Trump.
Trump, with his finely tuned ear to grievance, however, capitalized upon this sense that Democrats are all talk and no action. Remember his comment to Black voters that “it can’t get any worse.” The point of that attack was not to get Black people to vote for him. The point was to convince Black people not to vote at all, and given the Black community’s strong Democratic leaning, lower Black turnout would help Trump.
Indeed, that’s exactly what happened in 2016. Black turnout that year dropped by seven percentage points, more than a ten percent drop overall, reducing the Democratic vote in key states and giving Trump his opening. Fortunately for Democrats, Trump showed the Black community that things could indeed get worse. The result was predictable.
A clear pattern has emerged: where Black people turn out to vote, Democrats win. When they don’t, the Democrats lose. Consider Doug Jones’s improbable victory in the Alabama special Senate election in 2017. Black voters, and particularly Black women, were credited as being key to his victory. Clearly, they played a similar role in 2020.
But Black activists are sounding an alarm. Trump support was actually higher among the Black community in 2020 than in 2016. As a result, a number of activists are saying that the Democrats can’t continue to count on such support unless Democrats deliver some results to them.
Unions are another example. Unions used to form the bedrock upon which the Democratic party was built. Indeed, some are crediting the strong casino unions in Las Vegas with Biden’s close win in Nevada. A study found that enactment of anti-union right-to-work laws causes a drop in the Democratic vote by 3.5 percent, and a drop in turnout by two to three percent.
The sad truth is that there is federal legislation pending for decades that would reverse some of the losses of organized labor. But did the Democrats pass this legislation when they had supermajorities in Congress after Obama’s election? No.
I previously argued that the failure of Obama to deliver more relief to the working class might have contributed to the rise of Trump. Consider the elusive “Obama-Trump” voter. Despite the very real problem of racism among the white working class, there exists a segment of that population who were willing to support a Black man for president if they believed he had their best interests at heart. Unfortunately, Obama’s weak response to the Recession of 2008, seemingly taking the side of the bankers rather than average people, only increased the frustration of these working class people, leading them to believe that the system was stacked against them. No wonder then that they supported a candidate who promised to tear the whole system down.
At the same time, what legislation Obama did accomplish, namely the Affordable Care Act, currently enjoys widespread popularity. Defending the ACA has become a Democratic rallying cry and is one of our most potent electoral issues. And yet, at the time, Obamacare, as the ACA has come to be known, was attacked as socialist.
Ironically, many of our most popular programs were originally attacked as socialist, including Social Security and Medicare. Now, they are referred to as the “third rail of American politics.” In other words, a politician goes after Social Security or Medicare at his or her own risk.
So if we follow the pattern established by those “socialist” programs Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare, the goal should be to pass programs that directly benefit average folks that we can point to as making their lives better. Expanding the ACA, large investment in infrastructure, addressing institutional racism, and coronavirus crisis relief are examples of this. Then, run on the programs.
Republicans may call us socialists for supporting these programs, but they will do so anyway. They called Biden a socialist, and he is the most milquetoast moderate ever to come down the Democratic pike. If they will attack him as a socialist, they will attack anyone as a socialist. As a result, if we are going to get the moniker attached to us, we may as well have the programs to point to that people will support.