Sunday, September 23, 2018

Are We Missing the Real Significance of the 2018 Campaign?

The editors off the Democratic Strategist have just issued a memo that urges us not to miss the potentially profound significance of this election season--significance that could go way beyond the tally of election wins and losses we'll see on November 6. We may be witnessing the reinvention of the Democratic Party in a very positive way that will have effects for years to come. As the memo argues, these changes are not fundamentally about ideology and definitely don't fit into a "Democratic civil war" framework.
Here's how the memo puts it.
"[T]o grasp the genuinely extraordinary scope of the advances that Democrats have made in just two years, it is only necessary to look at the situation today.
First, literally hundreds of new, young Democratic candidates have flooded the political system. In every state and at every level of politics—from congress and governors to state legislators and county officials—new candidates are actively challenging GOP politicians, many of whom have not faced a Democratic challenger in years. These new candidates are impressively diverse in race and gender and share a unique idealism and commitment to breaking with “politics as usual.” As a result, it is now the GOP that looks increasingly old, stagnant and out of touch.
Second, a massive and sophisticated network of Democratic grass-roots organizing has emerged across the country. These initiatives are both “bottom-up”—developing out of the local campaigns of Democratic candidates—and “top-down,” supported by a wide range of both new and established progressive organizations. A year ago there were already over twenty significant national initiatives that provided first time Democratic candidates with candidate training, political campaign management and support for door to door canvassing, phone-bank operations and digital outreach and still more have emerged since that time. A similar array of internet based initiatives has also emerged that connect small Democratic donors with political campaigns across the country. The combination has made it possible for new progressive candidates to run for office without needing big money donors or expensive political campaign management firms.
This massive Democratic mobilization is testament to the profound evil that Trump represents but—equally important—to the massive and thrilling political awakening that is occurring this year. The advances have been so dramatic that in political science textbooks of the future, 2018 may very well be cited as the critical first year of a long-term Democratic resurgence.
This is, of course, not the dominant storyline today. Many commentators—with their invincible penchant for choosing the most clich├ęd and simplistic approach—tend to frame the rise of the new candidates and campaigns as reflecting a Democratic “civil war” between left and center and describe it with florid metaphors borrowed from military campaigns and boxing matches. But what the new Democratic resurgence actually reflects is something very different—the emergence of two very positive underlying trends that are not based on political ideology.
The first trend is demographic—the new generations of voters who are under 40 are increasingly diverse in race and gender and have grown up attending schools and living in places that makes them comfortable with diversity. To inspire and mobilize them to vote, they need to see candidates that they can recognize as their own and identify with—not simply because of race or gender but because they reflect these younger voters very distinct perspective, life experience and aspirations.
This generational transition necessarily disrupts existing hierarchies and ways of doing business in the Democratic Party and can be uncomfortable for many members of the traditional order. But in order to achieve a broad nationwide Democratic revitalization, winning the support of these voters is not optional but mandatory.
The second trend is political. The new generations of voters who are under 40 have seen nothing but procedural sabotage, cynical dishonesty and bitter extremism from the GOP for their entire adult lives. They have correctly concluded that the older generations’ memories of having once been able to achieve “compromise” or “cooperation” with Republicans are today nothing more than a political mirage. As a consequence they are drawn to candidates who reflect this same perspective.
Both of these trends cut across the distinction between moderates and progressives and have little to do with ideology—candidates like Colin Lamb and Amy McGrath are as disgusted with GOP dishonesty and sabotage as are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ben Jealous. If they are all elected, these candidates will have sharp and vigorous (but ultimately productive) debates among themselves about the best design of social programs but at the same time they will also work together in close and cordial collaboration as part of a broad Democratic congressional coalition.
So what we are seeing is not a “civil war among Democrats” or “Dems in disarray” but rather the natural and healthy reflection of the process of growth and renewal that must occur for a genuine Democratic renaissance to occur.
In fact, there are two quite distinct ways that this process is taking place in the different kinds of districts that exist across the country:
In heavily Democratic districts the entrance of the new generation of candidates and voters into the electorate has led the more adept Democratic politicians to adopt more progressive positions in order to keep in touch with their changing districts and constituents. Other Democratic politicians who thought they could ignore the change have been sharply challenged and in a significant number of cases replaced.
In heavily Republican districts, on the other hand, a different dynamic has developed and a new kind of eclectic and “moderate” but still very clearly democratic candidate has emerged. In college educated suburbs, these candidates are appealing to formerly Republican middle class professionals who are recoiling from Trumps extremism. In rural and white working class areas, where support for Trump and the GOP remains most firm, these new candidates are combining moderate but recognizably democratic social and economic policies with a willingness to respect and support many enduring elements of cultural traditionalism that exist among their constituents.
In their distinct ways, these two trends represent not a civil war among Democrats, but a process of renewed outreach and revitalization of the party—one that has the potential to build a solid and enduring Democratic majority."
Is this overstated? Maybe, but I think my friends at The Democratic Strategist may be onto something. And they are very right to urge us to look at this election in the long view and just reduce it to a series of wins and losses, however important those may be.

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