On Democratic Socialism

The Democratic Socialists of America hate when you focus on the word “socialists” in their name. They will remind you they’re not Bolsheviks, not North Korea, and Not Cuba. They would like you to focus on the word “Democratic.” They fashion themselves to be more like what they believe to be an FDR Democrat. They believe in a big, active government. They want the government to not “seize the means of production” as Karl Marx wanted, but to implement more “soft socialism” measures like Social Security and Medicare. There are harder line elements that are actual Communists, but for the most part Democratic Socialists simply want you to know they are progressive Democrats, and not capitalists.

This may seem harmless, and on policy it mostly is. Every Democrat running for Federal office in the country this year is supporting Social Security and Medicare, calling for a more expansive government role in health care, talking about a fix for student loan debt, calling for some kind of increase in the minimum wage, and decrying the GOP tax cuts for the rich. It’s unanimous, basically. On the policy side, the difference between moderate Democrats and Democratic Socialists is a degree or two of detail. No matter how much Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attacks a Tammy Duckworth, find me more than a small hand full of issues where their disagreement is more than “how much further” one will go than the other.

The problem, of course, is that AOC and the DSA want you to believe the differences between them and mainstream Democrats is extreme. They are ready to have an ideological war with Democrats to enforce their rigid ideological view of what is and isn’t acceptable. If a Democrat is for a Medicare buy-in plan (also known as the “public option”) instead of “Medicare-for-All,” they’re a neoliberal. If a Democrat is for an immediate increase in the Federal minimum wage to $10.10 or $12, with gradual increases to $15, they’re a corporatist. They ran around calling Sharice Davids, a Native-American lesbian “the establishment” in the KS-03 Primary, without ever considering how ridiculous they sounded. They also never seemed to comprehend that maybe their positions are simply a little bit too much for a white-collar suburban district in Kansas to swallow. Democrats probably can’t elect a majority to Congress that is as ideologically pure as they are. They’ve bought into the untrue myth that most independent voters are actually leftists like them- when they’re generally less engaged, bland moderates that don’t want their taxes to rise or their services to be cut. Instead of being allies to electable candidates in moderate districts, AOC and the DSA have made it their mission to support expensive, pointless, and damaging primaries across the country.

The bigger issue I have with the DSA crowd though is not rhetoric, particularly since I don’t disagree with their ideals, or entirely hate most of their positions. It’s the larger ideals behind re-branding the American left as “socialists.” I don’t support Marxism becoming our organizing ideology economically, and neither really do they. Whether or not they know this, what they are calling for is a mixed-capitalist economy, which is what Democrats have supported and Republicans have opposed since 1930. By branding themselves as “socialists,” they are casting themselves in the same net as Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Mao’s China, or the old Soviet Union, when in reality what they want is some sort of hybrid of FDR and French Socialists. They are casting themselves in with global leftist leaders at a time when most of them are inept clowns. Maduro is overseeing a failed state, Corbyn is celebrating Palestinian terrorists from the Munich Olympics, the French Socialists didn’t even make the Presidential run-off, the German left is invisible, and the Israeli left has ceased to even matter. I’m not sure any of these folks actually represent the American Left in any way, but they’re not the comparisons any functional person should want.

When we get down to it, the chief beef the DSA crowd has with the Democratic Party is the decision under Presidents Clinton and Obama to highlight “identity politics” over class identity. In choosing what to make “non-negotiable,” Democrats have chosen to put their focus on Civil Rights and “social issues,” while choosing to compromise on taxation, the minimum wage, and Wall Street regulation. The DSA folks don’t seem to agree with this approach, not because their social conservatives, but because they have different priorities. This is a healthy debate to have, provided you don’t have Twitter trolls calling their opponents “neoliberals” and Jane Sanders calling for Hillary to be jailed. Their rhetoric has become toxic.

I’m not a fan of AOC, Bernie Sanders, or the DSA, but it’s not so much of a reflection of policy difference as it is a rejection of their rhetoric, degree of extremity, and priorities. I don’t think labeling the left as “socialists,” or even really anti-capitalist is helpful. I don’t think embracing failed leftists abroad is the look the Democrats need. In short, the policy differences may be slight between mainstream Democrats and more ideological leftists, but the gap is big enough for me to want to note “I’m not them.”

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What You Don’t Get About 2016 and American Politics in General

Above, you see Trump Tower. One of the great falsehoods of American Politics since 2016 is that something innovative and new happened there. The truth? nothing radical happened there. Donald Trump’s electoral coalition wasn’t really a lot different than John McCain or Mitt Romney’s. Hillary Clinton’s wasn’t wildly different than Barack Obama’s, or John Kerry’s. Really.

From 1996 until today, every Democratic nominee for President has received at least 48% of the vote. Every single one of them has carried African-Americans, Latinos, the LGBT community, and millennials (when it’s been relevant). From 2000 until today, every Republican nominee has received at least 46% of the vote. Every single one of them has carried Evangelicals, white men, gun owners, and rural America. From 2000 until today, most of the states haven’t even moved from column to column. Catholics, suburbanites, soccer/security moms, and union households have been your swing voters. Every Democratic campaign has tried to increase turnout among their groups, and Republicans have done the same with their’s. Turnout among the specified interest groups above has changed from election to election, and the swing groups have changed from election to election, which of course has changed the outcome. For the most part though, the electorate has remained stagnant.

Barack Obama’s 2012, and for that matter 2008 election was as much about his ability to beat his opponents into the ground among the swing-voters above as it was his increased turnout in the base. Donald Trump’s 2016 electorate was a mixture of winning the swing groups and base mobilization changes on both sides.

A lot of people look forward and forecast things that are wild variations from where we were in 2016, and they’re probably wrong. John McCain got 46%, Mitt Romney 47%, and Donald Trump 46%- despite Trump’s low approval numbers, he’s probably not going below 45% against any Democratic nominee, if he doesn’t go a couple points higher. There is no reason to believe that people who voted for every Republican from George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign on are now going to flee Trump. They may be embarrassed by his behavior, but they probably don’t really disagree with him.

A portion of the American left wants to argue that a different nominee in 2016 likely would have won. That may be true if that nominee is someone who had greater appeal to the base voting groups that have backed every Democrat since Bill Clinton, someone with say Barack Obama’s appeal. That may also be true if that someone was a candidate who had greater appeal among the swing-voter groups that went from Obama to Trump, someone like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama that did very well with white Catholics, soccer moms, and blue-collar union households. The thing is, neither of those candidates existed in 2016. There’s a pretty good argument that no 2020 hopeful being mentioned has a case right now that they can do that like Barack Obama did in his two races. Even so, there’s a good argument that virtually anyone nominated should get to 48% in 2020, simply because they are the Democratic nominee, and that’s the floor for Democratic nominees in the last 20 years.

So while you’re watching the craziness of American politics, the upheaval and turmoil of it all, over the next three years, don’t get too caught up in the hype. To every action, there is a reaction. To every game changing moment, there is a reality that we’re probably going to end up in a similar place to before. The 2020 Election probably starts out at 48-46%, regardless, and then becomes a fight to the finish from there.

So You Think the Democratic Party Sucks…

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One of the most terrifying things in the post-Obama world of politics is how many of my fellow millennials want a third political party. If you have watched politics in the 21st century, and your takeaway from the madness of the 2000 Election, the Iraq War, the economic meltdown, the unprecedented obstruction by Republicans in the age of Obama, and now the Trump Presidency is that both parties suck equally bad, you’re watching this all wrong. In fact, you’re not just getting it wrong, you’re getting it harmfully wrong. Yes, there were Democrats who attempted to work with George W. Bush, or believed him on Iraq. Yes, there were Democrats who bought into varying degrees the “religion” of de-regulating Wall Street. Yes, there are even some Democrats who reacted to Donald Trump with the idea that we should at least work with him on something, or give him some appointees. Even with those complaints about Democrats, the reality of all the things I just cited above is that the Republican Party was behind them, drove them, and supported those policies with almost unanimous vigor.

The biggest complaint I can lodge against the Democratic Party is that it is not craven enough, it does not lust for power like our opponents, and it wants to be both competent and liked. Democrats try so hard to be responsible and competent, to do the right thing, that we often times end up telling our activist base “no” to their more extreme wants, while our opponents just feed their angry, zombie base whatever they ask for. Democrats still think the government should function sanely, that order should be maintained. Republicans? That doesn’t matter to them.

The reward for Democrats is nothing. Many of my millennial comrades give them no credit for this cold “functionality” party they have created. When they fight back against the Republicans, we say we don’t want fighting, we want solutions. When we roll over and play dead, we get accused of doing just that. When we’re in power and say we’ll only go so far on a policy issue (like President Obama “only” seeking to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 a few years into his Presidency), we’re neoliberals, sell-outs, and “weak.” It can be enough to drive you mad. For many of my fellow millennials, what they want is a socialist revolution, and really not an inch less. When you explain to them both why they shouldn’t want that, and why it’s not possible, they tune out and start saying they’d like to see a third party.

The idea here for many of them is that if Democrats simply fought harder, they’d get their way. The idea is that if they fought with more vigor, zeal, and passion, they would convince the people who disagree with us (and elected Donald Trump and George W. Bush), to suddenly agree. They think the problem is one of effort, and one of a lack of vision. They don’t consider why Democrats from FDR to Obama didn’t necessarily go as far as they want us to. They don’t consider the fact that maybe far, far left wing governance wouldn’t work, and hasn’t worked in other places in the world. They don’t consider the differences between us and some of the countries where elements of it have worked.

The main thing they overlook though is just how great the modern Democratic Party has been for progress in this country. The Affordable Care Act is providing health insurance to some 20 million people. The Dodd-Frank Act did stabilize Wall Street after the collapse, and bothered the crooked oligarchs of America so badly that they wanted it repealed. The 2009 Stimulus Act may have been too small, but the simple fact is that since it’s passage, the American Economy has been on an upward trend. No, DACA didn’t pass through the Republican Congress in the Obama era, but President Obama’s executive order did keep millions of dreamers in this country and protected. They write off the Clinton 1990’s, the greatest single stretch of collective economic growth this country has ever seen. They write off the 1993 Clinton budget that kicked that off. They forget about President Clinton signing the Violence Against Women Act and the Assault Rifle Ban. They forget that Senator Chris Dodd had to push the Family and Medical Leave Act through Congress THREE times to make it law, and it only got to be so when President Clinton took office and signed it (after President Bush 41 vetoed it twice). They ignore Speaker Pelosi pushing through the last minimum wage increase in her opening hours as Speaker. They forget the Lilly-Ledbetter Act that Pelosi pushed through, and President Obama signed, to help fight against the wage gap. They forget about the progress of Presidents Clinton and Obama in fighting AIDS, third world poverty, and nuclear proliferation. They forget about the Kerry State Department’s work in pushing through the Paris Accords to fight climate change, and the record investments by President Obama in renewable energy and mass transit to help fight that fight. They forget that a Democratic Administration ESTABLISHED net neutrality. They forget about the investments of the last two Democratic Administrations in womens’ health care, and for that matter that the ACA created the contraception mandate. Democrats negotiated the Iranian Nuclear Deal, which is working, and also normalized relations with Cuba. They even discount the importance of the party electing the first African-American President, nominating the first woman for President, and putting the first Latina on the Supreme Court. The best part here? I’m missing a ton of achievements. Electing Democrats has lead to the enhancement of literally millions, if not billions, of lives around the Earth. It’s no wonder Vladimir Putin was so desperate to harm this party, and take the United States down a notch. Hillary Clinton had put forward the most progressive party platform, on both economic AND social issues, in the history of the nation.

I know, the establishment Democrats aren’t willing to fight for your pet program. They’re not giving you your free stuff. So all that stuff doesn’t matter- it was neoliberal sell-out stuff.