The 2016 presidential election again demonstrated that a majority of US voters align with Democrats. Hillary Clinton did, after all, win the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. Had she not lost 5 key battleground states by a total of approximately 100,000 votes, she would be president. And Combover Hitler would be relegated to an ugly footnote in American history.
In fact, in 2 of the last 3 elections won by a Republican, Democrats received a majority of the votes cast. That was made possible by a combination of voter suppression, Republican gerrymandering and the antiquated Electoral College (a vote in the sparsely populated state of Wyoming is worth many times that of a vote in California or New York).
Further, Republicans have a structural advantage when it comes to the news media, especially in rural areas. Since the end of the Fairness Doctrine, right wing conservatives have been able to spew their lies, conspiracy theories and anti-government hate with impunity on AM talk radio and Fox News Channel. They have also created numerous websites that cloak ideology in the guise of news.
Moreover, Republicans have unified while Democrats bicker among themselves. If elected Republican officials dare to vote their conscience against the wishes of the Party, they are labeled RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and they are faced with well-financed candidates who are even more conservative during the primaries. Democrats, on the other hand, have difficulty keeping their members in line. Indeed, they have long taken pride in describing themselves with a line by Will Rogers – “I’m not a member of an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
In addition, when in office, Democrats have been unwilling to do anything that will cause substantial harm to the nation. Unlike Republicans, they have not used the filibuster to block every initiative of a presidential opponent. They have not shut down the government. And they have been far less likely to use parliamentary tricks in order to get their way.
Far too often, voters are left with the feeling that Democrats do not have the courage of their convictions.
Of course, Democratic voters are not blameless for the mess we now face. For decades, they have been willing to turn out in large numbers for presidential races. But many have failed to vote in local and state elections – a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by Republican leaders who for decades have focused their attention on such races with the knowledge that candidates who are successful at the local level eventually become successful in more important races.
It is this strategy that has allowed Republicans to control statehouses and governorships across the country. And, in turn, that allows Republicans to pass laws to gerrymander districts and to pass laws that suppress the votes of minority voters who traditionally vote against them. In these efforts, they are aided by greedy corporations that use ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) to pass one-sided legislation that undermines working class voters.
During such assaults on our democracy, the leaders of the Democratic Party have remained relatively silent, choosing to believe that the future is in their favor; that the growing numbers of people of color, especially Latinos will turn the tide.
Don’t count on it. Because of the structural imbalance in the media, far too few people understand what Democrats stand for. They can tell you that Republicans stand for “smaller government and lower taxes.” But if you ask 100 people, even 100 Democrats, what Democrats stand for, you’re likely to get 100 different answers. Worse, the most common answer will be the label created by Republicans – “tax and spend Democrats .”
Given these obstacles, what are Democrats to do?
First, quit apologizing for your beliefs whenever you are confronted by conservatives. You are on the side of working people – the largest group of American voters. You also have a great track record. After all, it was Democrats that passed Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. It was Democrats that rescued our economy from the Great Depression and the Great Recession. It is Democrats that have been the party of fiscal responsibility while Republicans have blithely rung up huge deficits and debts.
Second, show that you have the courage of your convictions. Show that you are willing to fight for the people who elect you.
Third, vote! Don’t sit out any election. And don’t let any Republican candidate go unchallenged. Don’t concede a single federal, state or local office to a Republican just because you think you might lose. History is filled with accounts of long shots who have won elections and gone on to accomplish great things.
Fourth, stop bickering among yourselves. Support those who will support the majority of your beliefs. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. You may not think a particular Democratic leader or candidate is perfect. But they’re almost certainly better than the Republican alternative. (How many of those who voted for the Green Party now wish they would have voted for Clinton?)
Fifth, police the candidates who run under the Party banner. Don’t support a candidate who doesn’t, for the most part, toe the Party line. You don’t have to agree with everything a candidate says, but you should be able to agree with a majority of what the candidate says.
Sixth, and most important, communicate your beliefs. Make the label Democrat stand for something. Make your message succinct, clear and memorable. Then plaster that message everywhere. In other words, create a brand!
Then, and only then, will the Party that represents the majority of Americans control the majority of elected offices.