The Hidden Change in the Democratic Party

And one reason why the 2020 primary seems so acrimonious. The first thing to know about the Democratic Party is that it’s really two parties: a liberal Republican party and a liberal Democratic party (I use the term liberal Democrat as it was used in the 1980s and 1990s). These are divergent enough within each party such that they really shouldn’t be thought of as wings of a single party, but as separate parties which are in a coalition.

What is freaking out the liberal Republican wing–which has been in the driver’s seat since the late 1980s–is that they are no longer in control. The mythical moderates aren’t the swing voters the Democratic party needs to capture (boldface mine):

After the Republican defeat in the 2018 midterm elections, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham said his party needed to address “the suburban-woman problem, because it’s real.” Political analyst Bill Schneider told the Hill.TV that he noticed “a lot of affluent, white suburban voters, well-educated, particularly women, fleeing the Trump party.”

Yet party-loyalty voting in 2018 was typical, with 94 percent of all House votes cast by Republicans going to Republican candidates and 95 percent of Democrats voting for Democratic candidates, following the pattern of the past two decades. Senate party loyalty is only a little weaker — averaging 92 percent in 2018 and displaying little variation from the cycles before Trump.

The real change was who showed up to the polls — more women, young people (who increasingly live in suburbs), Latinos, Asian Americans and African Americans — not loyal voters who flipped. That meant electorates favorable for Republicans in 2014 became electorates favorable for Democrats in 2018. The real “swing” is the decision to vote at all, a choice driven largely by the backlash to Trump.

This has ramifications for the power dynamics within the Democratic party (boldface mine):

Still, the Bernie-or-Busters, small as they may be, have spun their position into an argument for why others should vote for Bernie Sanders too, regardless of the platform they prefer. As efforts in political persuasion go, this contingent puts forward an openly hostile argument. Sanders is the only electable candidate, they suggest, not just because of his policies, but because of the single-mindedness of his followers. The reason you should vote for Sanders is that we won’t vote for anyone else. You don’t want Trump to win again, do you?

Yes, it sounds like ugly hostage taking—not a brilliant persuasive strategy but a crude ego-boosting exercise for a group of leftists who can’t resist the impulse to lord some power over an electorate that doesn’t normally consider them relevant. But that’s exactly what makes it so normal, even understandable, in a depressing “we’re all human” sort of way. Because the truth is this: Every threat these Sanders stans are explicitly making is one the venerated Centrist Swing Voter makes implicitly—and isn’t judged for. The centrist never even has to articulate his threat. The media narrates it for him. “What does the swing voter want?” is the kind of question that rescues this brand of voter from owning or even admitting any moral consequences at all. The question is framed as sensible, and so is its subject. The swing voter—which, let’s be clear, is diminishing in this political landscape—is typically treated as the antithesis of a Bernie stan: as a rational and passionless subject (as if contemplating just not voting in an election were a morally neutral choice). That the swing voter is arguably worse than the Bernie or Bust crew—in that in lieu of just staying home and not voting at all, he might actually vote for the other guy—doesn’t even register. That’s how accustomed we all are to being held hostage to the centrist concerns. As for leftists, who are undeniably real? Well, the Democratic machine has never wondered what they thought; it’s simply taken them for granted. After all, who else are they going to vote for?

What we are seeing is the beginnings of a power struggle within the Democratic Party. The current dominant liberal Republican faction is so panicked by the mere prospect of a Sanders nomination, they are dreaming of all sorts of fantasy convention heroics.

All this is prelude to the cheery news that the acrimony will get worse before it gets better.

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4 Responses to The Hidden Change in the Democratic Party

  1. Dave Dell says:

    I wear an I Heart Bernie button on my hat (along with a battle flag). I have never had a negative thing said about either but plenty of positive things said about Bernie. Mostly by youngish people (at 70 almost everyone is youngish to me) but quite a few people in my baby boomer age set as well. If the discussion is continued it always turns out that Sen. Warren is their second choice. The hunger for real change is out there.

    That’s what Pres. Obama did so well. He tapped into that desire for change. The disapointment of the Obama presidency wasn’t that he didn’t accomplish much due to Senate hostility but the thought that he didn’t even try to govern to the promise of his campaign.

    That’s what Sen. Sanders is running on. The promise of his best efforts, our best efforts, for real change. Sen. Warren offers that as well but she’s such a policy wonk that she can’t simplify her message enough for a broad spectrum of voters to understand what she wants to try and accomplish.

    I guess what I’m trying to convey is that a lot of people are tired of holding their noses and voting for the least objectionable candidate and need inspiration to vote at all. The DNC doesn’t see this. The punditry class doesn’t see this. Pres. Obama saw this and ran on it. Sen. Sanders sees this and is running on it. Today will be a big step in seeing if I’m correct or if the death spiral of the Democratic party will continue.

  2. elkern says:

    Another complication is that the Dem Party has been losing Peace voters by sucking up to the MIC/”Intel Community”. Trump is no Peacenik, and I’ll never vote for him, but his chaotic Foreign Policy is preferable to the Bush-lite “consensus” that the Clinton Dems are pushing.

  3. John Christiansen says:

    I appreciate the “two parties” concept. I’ve been thinking something like this for some time.

    I’m turning 65 this year and in my lifetime have seen very few Democrats, especially at the national level, who were ever trying to be anything but the lesser of two evils. They went into a defensive crouch after the Mondale ’72 debacle and since then have been “Republican lite:” It may not taste better or even be less filling, but it beats the alternative with the electorate often enough to keep the party afloat. The lack of actual fight has led to the mostly quiet but steady erosion of the safety net, civil liberties, environmental protection, etc., generally under arguments that everybody agrees these are nice things but we really can’t afford them – until the last election when the mask came off. The Republican party these days isn’t even pretending to be concerned about any common good; if we want them, we’re gonna have to fight for them.

    I like Bernie and support him because he not only speaks of but is willing to fight for these kinds of policies; ditto Warren. Biden seems to me like the aging tail end of the Republican lite party, and it can’t pass soon enough for me. He’ll probably get the nomination, and if so I will vote for him and I seriously hope the factions can get it together enough to win (which I seriously hope happens if Sanders gets it, too, of course). But we’ve had nigh unto half a century of steadily more right-wing Republican rule which has been periodically retarded but not interrupted by neoliberal Democratis episodes. It’s time to move on.

  4. k says:

    1) When the thuglican party went off the deep end following tricky dick being caught as the criminal he was the so called :moderate: thuglicans whipped out their checkbook went to the d’s and said how much? Bloomberg is the natural result of 50 years of increasingly delusional thinking on social issues and driving the “Rockefeller” thuglicans from the party they belong to buying the d party.
    2) If bloomberg, buttigieg and all to many others had shred of honesty and a dollop of political courage they would run as the thuglican they truly are.
    3) This is why the rahm’s acolytes at the dnc, dccc and other party structures would rather allow a thuglican win then support a progressive. From air dropping in candidate into primary races financed by party money to kneecap progressives ( Cegelis Ill) to actively recruiting thuglicans to change party registration, not agendas or policies/ beliefs just registration, with the promise of the d nomination rahm and his coterie of apperachek have tried to sabotage any progressive who dared challenge their surrender monkey behavior.
    4) Even now after political scientist’s and consultants (Bitecofer, rove, bannon)have shown that all elections are basically base elections with the difference being who inspires their base to get out and vote.
    Now with the establishment support of biden while using dirty tricks against progressive wing (dccc blackballing any firms working for challengers) the d’s seem intent to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It is increasingly obvious that the D’s party structure would rather have 4 more year of demented donnie then allow a progressive to win.
    From, at least, the McGovern campaign where the party deserted their candidate because not accommodating enough to the financier’s through the support of liarman against Lamont in Conn and all to many others it is obvious that the party prefers thuglicans to d’s.

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