I was recently reading an article about the Democratic Party’s inability to train and retain talented campaign help, and found myself nodding along- we really suck at this. Democrats have made a conscientious choice to put their money elsewhere besides human capital. In general, I am a believer in paid communications, though I think we over-spend on it as a share of the campaign budget. The general lack of support for paying for personnel on campaigns was not the main thing that jumped out at me though.
So what was?
- Winning campaigns is only “part” of movement building. This is pretty much the dumbest statement in politics, and the basis for me not trusting the left to protect the marginalized people of America. In the end, the only thing that matters is winning elections. Winning political parties get to pass legislation, write executive orders, name a cabinet, and appoint judges, just to name a few powers reserved for the winners. The losers? They get to scream, yell, be mad, and watch Donald Trump hurt the people they supposedly want to help. Your issue positions are completely worthless if you’re not in office to put them into practice. It’s why compromise and moderated rhetoric are necessary to winning elections.
- They centralize their efforts under the overall cause, we de-centralize under our pet issues. The one thing I saw here, and it’s not new, is how the right generally has very, very broad interest groups, think tanks, and super PACs. Even their single issue groups, like say the NRA or National Right-to-Life, doesn’t mess with more moderate Republicans or those not totally with them. Why? They realize they may need those members in order to elect a pro-gun, pro-life, pro-business Speaker. While Democratic groups line up behind primary candidates most friendly to their individual cause, right-wing groups seem to come to a consensus on electability and play on the team.
- We really don’t have a clear package of what we’re going to do in power. I realize that this is mostly “not what Trump’s doing,” but what does that mean. Republicans are often times backed by industry groups, and rich guys like the Kochs. Those folks know what policy victories they will get for their investment. Democrats are at a disadvantage here because we have no concrete plans. I have some great places to start, if we want- moving tax incentives from fossil fuels to renewables, Medicaid expansion in every state with Democratic control, universal background checks on gun sales, repeal the Hyde Amendment, strengthening the prevailing wage protections nationally, a massive infrastructure bill, card check for union membership, a stronger equal pay bill for women at work, and an actually fair, simplified progressive tax code. I could have went further, and most of this is already in our platform, but you get the point. We often times find ourselves campaigning on values, rather than several concrete things we’re going to do- and saying we’re “stronger together” just doesn’t mean anything to the median voter.
Part of the problem that Democrats have is that we don’t use the campaign to strengthen the brand, we strengthen the candidates bona fides with the activists by appealing to buzz words like “progressive,” or identity connections between the candidate and the voters. This isn’t a shock though, we’re a de-centralized mess. The Democratic Party, to the extent it is a party, is a collection of loosely aligned interest groups that really want their candidates to win, rather than a unified collective that will share power to get a better government. Unlike Republicans, we don’t have a strong governmental ideology, but more so a collective goal of changing society and re-making it more in our image. It leaves us at a loss when people say “what are you going to do for me?” We’re too theoretical. We’re too technical. We’re too concerned with how we do it, rather than that we do it at all. I frankly don’t care who we elect, so long as they are Democrats, committed to passing out clearly stated platform agenda. That’s not how funding in Democratic campaigns gets handed out though.
If Democrats want to win elections and govern, or just be a majority party in America, we need to get serious about winning elections and making concrete laws based on what we promise. Centralize under the party as the cause, and make that mean something, rather than our pet issues. We have to nominate candidates for electability, not to make ourselves feel good. We need to behave like a political party, not a collection of individual causes. I do not have faith we’re heading in this direction though, at least not right now.