An Autopsy of the Democratic Party

Since being re-elected in 2012, President Barack Obama has declared war on Social Security by threatening to cut benefits, has presided over a Bush-Obama surveillance state that has violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the American people, refused to issue an executive order on immigration, and has spent more time trying to compromise with far-right Republicans that are completely unwilling to compromise with anybody.

Then throw in Democratic U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and gubernatorial candidates who have run awful campaigns, antagonized progressives, and have flatly refused to fight for anything, and we now have a Democratic Party that is, for all intents and purposes, effectively dead. Republicans are going to gain upwards of two dozen seats in the U.S. House, take control of the U.S. Senate, and score a net gain of state governorships. Even in states like Illinois, Michigan, and Maryland, which are usually thought of as Democratic strongholds, Republican candidates won gubernatorial races in each of those states.

Although reasons for Democratic losses vary widely by race to race, the #1 reason why the Democratic Party has been handed massive defeats tonight is the party leadership effectively treating progressives as if they don’t exist, even though they are the core of support for the party. Democratic governors, U.S. Representatives, U.S. Senators, and candidates for those offices have, among other things supported fracking, pension theft, free trade agreements, privatizing public education, the Keystone XL pipeline, tax breaks for businesses, and Republican witchhunts against Democrats, as well as opposed environmental regulations, common-sense gun control measures like background checks, and even health insurance for millions of Americans. In many states/areas of the country, progressive ideals like raising the minimum wage, protecting reproductive rights, legalizing marijuana, and expanding Medicaid got significantly more votes in many parts of the country than most or all Democratic candidates did in those states/areas, indicating that there are people who are politically left-wing but, for whatever reason, vote for Republican candidates.

Pat Quinn, who lost re-election in the Illinois gubernatorial race, is probably the single-best example of someone who has alienated nearly every political ally and lost re-election because of it. In the past four years, Quinn gave out special tax breaks to two of the largest corporations in Illinois (Sears and CME Group), gerrymandered Illinois’s congressional and state legislative districts, opened up Illinois to fracking, and enacted a pension theft scheme that was partially struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court. Additionally, Quinn picking Paul Vallas, a supporter of Michelle Rhee’s anti-public education ideology, further alienated progressives, making his problems with Illinois progressives even worse. Because of all of that, Illinois will have a far-right Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, who wants to run Illinois like his venture capital company that did more to destroy jobs than create jobs, screw the poor in every way possible, and destroy the public education system in Illinois.

However, Democrats alienating progressives wasn’t the only reason why Democrats lost big time in this year’s midterm elections. The gutlessness of many Democratic candidates was one reason why Democrats lost big time. One of the best examples of this is Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic opponent to presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. During her Senate campaign, Grimes largely distanced herself from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), whose Kentucky state health insurance exchange is known as Kynect. Grimes could have centered her campaign around McConnell wanting to repeal the ACA (which would result in the repeal of Kynect) if she wanted to. Instead, she tried to make the race a referendum on McConnell, and it didn’t work. Another reason why some Democrats lost their races was the candidates themselves running flat-footed or even completely out-of-touch campaigns. Bruce Braley and Mark Udall are two examples of this. Braley, who lost the Iowa U.S. Senate race to Republican whacko Joni Ernst, came across to Iowa voters as an elitist and focused largely on issues that aren’t top priorities among Iowa voters (although they are very important issues), such as reproductive rights and student debt. Had Braley focused his campaign on issues like the minimum wage and wind energy, he might have won the election. Udall, who lost the Colorado U.S. Senate race to Republican extremist Cory Gardner, seemed to have all sorts of trouble trying to getting Democratic voters to mail their ballots in under Colorado’s new vote-by-mail system for whatever reason and didn’t really take his Republican challenger seriously for much of the campaign, and that’s the two primary reasons why Udall lost.

You add all of those reasons up and more and you get the atrocious campaign of Mary Burke, the Democrat who lost the Wisconsin gubernatorial election to far-right Republican incumbent Scott Walker, who will likely be the Republican presidential nominee two years from now. Not only did Burke alienate progressives in numerous ways (such as supporting parts of Scott Walker’s union-busting law that dealt with public employees being forced to overpay into pension and health care plans, supporting Common Core State Standards, refusing to support marijuana legalization, emphasizing “bipartisanship” with far-right Republicans at every opportunity, etc.), act like a gutless wimp for the entire campaign (such as largely refusing to call out Walker for the corruption in his administration until late in the campaign) and run a flat-footed and out-of-touch campaign (such as having an inner circle mentality throughout the campaign and running TV ads praising Ronald Reagan and trying to pass off someone working 60+ hours per week as a success story), she also had Democratic party bosses and political operatives bully any other Democrat who tried to run against her, fueling a negative perception that Burke was only interested in serving the powers to be of the Democratic Party and nobody else.

Another factor as to why 2014 has been a terrible year for Democrats is the lack of an unified party message, largely due to the Democratic Party being too big of a tent for its own good. The fact that Democrats range anywhere from left-wing to center-right on the ideological spectrum makes a unified party message of any kind practically impossible, and, when there is a unified party message, it’s in the form of calling for bipartisanship and compromise at virtually every opportunity. What most Democrats who run for public office don’t understand is that, while “bipartisanship” and “compromise” are approved of by most Americans, “bipartisanship” and “compromise” doesn’t motivate a single person to vote, and it’s virtually impossible to compromise with the far-right Republicans in this country.

In short, as a result of, among other things, Democrats alienating the progressive base of the party, Scott Walker will likely be the Republican presidential nominee two years from now, far-right Republicans will be running state governments in Democratic-leaning states, Republicans will have an even larger majority in the U.S. House than previously, and Republicans will control the U.S. Senate. The Democratic Party will only be consistently successful if and only if the party truly becomes a progressive, pro-middle class, pro-woman, pro-worker, pro-public education, pro-democracy, pro-environment, pro-peace, and pro-human rights party, the party and its candidates deliver a unified progressive message that can be used to drive progressives to the p0lls in large numbers and effectively attack Republican opponents, and Democratic elected officials and candidates actually fight to make America a better, more progressive place to live.

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