The Democratic Party Is Failing To Demobilize Its Base. This Is Good.

No, demobilize wasn’t a typo. Traditionally, after winning elections, Democratic officials, apparatchiks, and strongly-aligned pundits go out of their way to demobilize rank-and-file Democrats. One way is to claim much of what they campaigned on is impossible to achieve. Another method is to attempt to act in the spirit of bipartisanship or some other bullshit, which, translated into English, means acquiescing to Republican demands and watering down negotiating starting points. Then there’s the “Third Way”/New Democrat strategy of positioning yourself in the supposed ‘middle’, which is usually just one step to the left of Republican batshitloonitarianism (e.g., calling for middle ground on off-shore drilling days before the Deepwater Horizon blowout). Completely abandoning policies you campaigned on, such as card check (for unionization) and fixing NAFTA (maybe that should have been a priority?) also is part of the toolkit.

I have no idea if this is intentional or instinctive, but it seems to happen shortly after every election. A considerable number of Democratic voters don’t do themselves or the rest of us any favors either: after supporting Democrats during election season, there is rarely any punishment doled out to poorly-performing officials. As far as I can tell, this post-election kissing up is the primary function of sites like DailyKos (GO TEAM! YAY! WHOOHOO! Suckas.).

But with the election of Trump along with the decade-long rout at the state and local levels, rank-and-file Democrats are finally refusing to be demobilized. It’s worth noting that the last three weekends of protests, despite conservative fever dreams to the contrary, had nothing to do with the Democratic Party or establishment. Nothing. When Democrats were thinking about knuckling under on various Trump nominees the response from rank-and-file Democrats was fast and furious. It was protestors (along with many awesome immigration lawyers), not official Democratic inquiries, that stalled and stopped the immigration fiasco.

And the base is still pissed. As best as I can tell, this has less to do with policy and more with the ineffectual politics of Democratic operatives (though, obviously, policy and politics are intertwined–it’s really hard to sell shitty policies). Consider these two bloggers, who I’ve been reading for a long time and I think are to the right of me, at least on economic issues. First (boldface mine):

Really? Still? We’re still doing this? It’s 2017. We’re fully more than a decade past the time when Democrats, eager to take the high road and do the right thing and be patriotic and put country before party, sucked George W. Bush’s strap-on and were rewarded for their decency by having the war hero they nominated for president derided as a commie faggot peace-freak appeaser. We just spent eight years in which a Democratic president gave weekly speeches about nonexistent well-meaning Republicans who just disagreed on policy while they howled outside his windows burning him in effigy. And we’re still gonna do the right thing?

…I mean it, God, why? So rich fucks like Richard Blumenthal can look at themselves in the mirror and talk to their reflections about how they tried, or something? So they can feel good about themselves? So they can say they did the “right thing” as defined by some centrist think tank as its members hump the status quo like their lives depend on it? So they don’t ruffle any feathers on the half-plucked chicken we’ve placed in the executive branch? So that maybe next time they’ll get a freebie? How stupid are these people?

Would that any of you were half as interested in doing the right thing by your constituents, or by America. Would that you felt as strongly about doing the right thing for us. Would that that kept you up at night.


Ed at Gin and Tacos (boldface mine):

Watching someone make the same mistake over and over again is difficult. First, you’re alarmed. Then you pity them. Then you get angry. And finally, you grow to hate them. People proceed through these stages at different speeds. Really compassionate people linger in the first two stages for a long time. Most people get to the latter stages pretty rapidly…

At this point, I don’t see how anyone is still in the shock or pity phase with the 2000s-era Democratic Party in Congress. It is impossible – or is possible for people who are of kinder heart than I – to do anything but hate them for their weakness. The way they make the same predictable mistakes over and over, the way the congressional Republicans openly bully them, and then mock them for rolling over every single time, was sad for a couple years. Maybe back during the W Bush era. Maybe it was still kind of pitiable to watch them all bow to hyperjingoism and decide to trust W on the Iraq War, even though anyone with half a brain – which includes most of them – knew that was going to go over like a lead balloon. But now it is long past being a sad sight. At this point, they know better. They’ve been through this process of getting boned dozens upon dozens of times. They “play nice” and act real Bipartisan-y and the GOP smiles and laughs and can’t believe its luck, and then when the tables are turned the GOP response to literally everything is a middle finger extended in the face. There is no reason to expect it to turn out differently, ever. The sample size is large enough after nearly 20 years of this to conclude with confidence that, no, they have no interest in doing anything but using every last available tactic – hook or crook – to prevent a Democratic president or chamber majority from being able to get anything it wants.

While Elizabeth Warren seems to understand this, it’s unclear if most Democrats do–I’m pretty certain they don’t. It will be important to keep the pressure on Democrats as much as on Republicans–and the former will be far more effective than the latter (though we should also do the latter).

We need to realize that the Iron Law of Institutions will be acting against us: there will be more than a few Democratic operatives who would rather weaken the party than lose their power within the party. The idea that Democratic voters could and should control their own party terrifies them–they might lose their seats on the gravy train. The Congressional Retirement Plan™ is still very powerful. But always remember, we have far more to lose than a Congress of millionaires, so never feel guilty or ‘disloyal’ about challenging them, pushing them, even opposing them.

Like it or not, until conditions improve, rank-and-file Democrats need to view themselves as in not-very-loyal opposition to the Democratic Party and in total opposition to Republicans.

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4 Responses to The Democratic Party Is Failing To Demobilize Its Base. This Is Good.

  1. Net Denizen says:

    Even Elizabeth Warren voted for Ben Carson, for fucks sake! As much as she’s been trying to be visible in opposition, when the time came she caved just like they always do. It’s been extremely unfortunate for all of us that the democrats could not figure out that their constituents want them to do more than take the high road until the 2nd week of trump’s presidency. I had to stop reading daily kos because they’ve been magical thinking their way through the post-election and not actually organizing anyone to do anything as near as I can tell. And they’re supposed to be the “left wing” of the Democrats!

  2. sglover says:

    Dems have one last chance: They should filibuster Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Indefinitely. And if it results in a court with only eight members — so fucking what? It’s a reactionary institution BY DESIGN, so eroding its (unwarrranted) mystique is a bonus. Anyway, throughout Obama’s (wasted) years, the “nuclear option” was the stock excuse for every missed opportunity, every cowardly rollover. So let the worthless fuckers prove it. For once.

    I was talking to a Maryland Dem legislator who said that this will actually happen. I don’t believe it. I would be astonished if Dems mustered the courage or the brains to really go to the wall. (i.e., as Republicans have for about 30 years now). But we’ll see. As it stands now, the Democratic Party needs to provide some semi-plausible justification for its existence.

    • Chris G says:

      Dems filibuster then McConnell will change Senate rules to do away with filibuster and confirm him with a simple majority vote. They should filibuster but they will almost certainly lose if that’s the only arrow in their quiver. Need large scale demonstrations and disruptions to complement filibuster if Gorsuch is to be blocked.

      My hope is that some leaders will emerge from current grassroots actions and that they will boot out and replace ineffective Dem state party leadership.

  3. Chris G says:

    A Democratic vote for a Trump cabinet nominee is a political calculation. If there’s no possibility of blocking them, you think you could conceivably want or need to have a serious conversation with them in the future so you don’t want to stay in their good graces, and voting to confirm will win you political points (or at.least not cost you any) come reelection time then there’s a decent case for voting for. You might need Mattis or Tillerson to take your call some day. Carson? Maybe Warren thinks promises he made will be useful leverage in the future? Devos and Pruitt are vile. There’s no plausible basis for a decent human being to vote to confirm.

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