Yesterday’s Wins

Well, the votes from Virginia and New Jersey are in and Democrats have soundly defeated every statewide Republican opponent in those elections. I guess we should, at least briefly, celebrate this victory. Fact is, the winning margins were a bit larger than expected – nearly 8% in Virginia, over 13% in New Jersey.

There are probably several reasons for this. It could be that pollsters and pundits underestimated how disliked Donald Trump is becoming among a growing number of Americans. Also, the TV commercials run by Republicans in Virginia followed the Trump playbook and disgusted or frightened some voters who normally might have ignored the election and stayed home from the polls.

But I’m sure that at least in Virginia, some of the victory margin was the result of the mobilization of volunteer Democrats from across the USA, who did their part phoning to get out the vote. This is encouraging as we near the 2018 Election year. – For those of you who participated in that phone effort, congratulations!

But here’s another aspect of this story. In Virginia, only 47% of the eligible voters did vote (although that was the highest for their state elections in 20 years), and in New Jersey, the turnout was less than 37%. This voter apathy or purposeful disengagement needs to be addressed by Democratic Party strategists.

Voters across the United States are cynical and disillusioned. Today we’re in a world where things are changing so rapidly, the public is desperate for reassurance that someone in their government recognizes their concerns. I won’t get into how we got where we are, it’s a pretty messy trail. But I don’t feel that either political party is offering a clear path to better days.  

Democrats need to start sparking the imagination and hopes of voters in positive ways. (We saw what that old guy Bernie Sanders did with scant help from his adopted party.) It seems to me that Democratic candidates could naturally be campaigning with much more substantial ideas and programs than their Republican opponents. Unfortunately, what we’ve been seeing since the 2016 Election is little more than the message, “We’re not Donald Trump.” Simply reacting to a dangerously ignorant narcissist in the White House is not a long-term strategy for creating a political movement.

Our party is still letting Trump’s actions lead our conversation with the public. As far as I can tell, most recent Democratic Party victories have had little to do with clearly stated Democratic programs or goals. In saying this I do realize that running on specific positions is a lot easier said than done. Any promising ideas presented by our candidates will immediately be attacked by Republicans and their money to distort and undermine the message. Even so, more of this type of campaigning has to start happening.

So, what are the messages with substance that Democrats should be delivering? You don’t need to look any further than the platform page on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) website to find them. The Platform presents a list of dozens of issues that Democrats believe are important. They have all been declared Democratic Party planks. Each issue listed is linked to a more detailed position statement. Most represent common goals for Americans no matter what their race, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation. It’s pretty impressive stuff.

When you scroll down the Platform, you quickly realize that you’re reading a list of positions we’ve long associated with being a Democrat. They are worthy, unselfish goals that clearly value the humanity of every American and the irreplaceable miracle that is our environment. (Out of curiosity, I also looked up the Republican National Committee’s 2016 Platform. There is a noticeable, and kinda nasty, difference.)

So, why isn’t the Democratic Party leadership playing a bigger role in shaping consistent messaging for Democrats in races at every level of American politics? — Beats me. We have smart, experienced members of the House and Senate capable of hammering away at programs Democrats support. We have impressive state-level office holders who could do that too. And just like the Republicans, we have wealthy supporters who could help fund think tanks to shape more consistent messaging. We also have many party members who could be groomed to run on those issues – at village, state and national levels.

Yes, Donald Trump is definitely still an issue that should be addressed. But our Democratic leaders should not allow the President’s behavior, and the incompetence and corruption surrounding him, to drown out the discussion of seriously beneficial legislation.

Right now in Washington, there is a perfect opportunity to position Democrats as clearly standing for positive legislation. The Republicans are pushing their version of “tax reform.” And there certainly are tax reforms that could mean a better life for millions of Americans. Those are the reforms congressional Democrats should be strongly advocating using clear specific language. And as for other aspects of the tax reforms being pushed by the GOP, our party’s voices should be speaking out on the damage Republicans are trying to inflict on our future. – Maybe next week I can address some of that damage in more detail.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973 

P.S. To see the DNC Platform click here.