A lot of people are offering free advice to the Democratic Party these days. This is natural in the wake of a resounding defeat, especially a defeat that was snatched so clumsily from the jaws of victory.
I gave some advice a while back (see: Why Trump Won And How To Fix That For Future Elections). Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of those folks who appeared on the scene, often as members of Indivisible groups, after the election. I see a lot of frustration with the Democratic Party (and our local DFL, which is what we call the Democratic Party in Minnesota). Here are my new suggestions inspired by what I hear people saying out there in the libraries, public meeting rooms, and town halls, at least in suburban Minnesota.
Be A Party
Remember when a judge ruled on an issue regarding voter suppression during the 2016 election? Well, there were a few such rulings, but one had to do with a consent decree against the Republican Party, forcing them to not actively force African Americans and other non-whites away from the polls using intimidation, fear, and misinformation. The concern was that the Trump campaign was doing this, therefore the several years old consent decree should be continued.
The court ruled against extending the consent decree. Why? Because the Trump campaign wasn’t threatening voters? No. They were. Because threatening voters can’t actually change an election’s outcome? No. It can. Because we decided it is OK to exclude minorities from the democratic process officially, not just by default? No. That was not decided.
The consent decree was not extended because the Trump campaign and the Republican party are two different things. Extending the consent decree on the Republican Party because of what the Trump campaign was doing would be like the police arresting you because I rob a gas station.
Crazy, isn’t it? Both major parties have a national organization, plus an organization that helps fund but otherwise has nothing to do with Congressional races. Then, each state has a separate iteration of the party, not quite fully connected to the national party. And, a given candidate’s campaign may or may not have various legal connections with other party entities.
This is actually very complicated, and varies across the landscape.
The point is, regular normal people who are not party insiders can’t really relate to a political party without frequently getting burned or being confused because there is not a political party.
Now, I’m not saying that there should be one entity to serve all the needs of the party across geography and at every level of government. I have no idea if the multi-headed hydra approach is a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve not analyzed that. Perhaps an expert or two will weigh in below, in the comments section.
But I do know this: A sense of oneness, simplicity, and therefore, accessibility to the inside of it, could be engendered to the benefit of the party. The way it works now, individuals can sidle up to what they think is the Democratic Party, then an entity one might easily think is the same entity does some bone-headed thing, and that’s when the regular normal person finds out that their friend, the Democratic Party, has a built in way of making excuses instead of taking responsibility for its actions.
The party asks for unity among its supporters. Fine. But the party should also develop some unity and coherence within itself, so that people can understand it better, and know, that if they are involved at the Congressional District or County level somewhere, that their voices are being clearly heard by the national party as well as the presidential campaign and all of that.
Early Endorsements Stifle
This is an example of what I want to expand on a bit below, but I want to get this near the top of the post because it is a very current issue. I’ve written about this recently. See: A plethora of early endorsements does not endear the new Democrats to the DFL in MinnPost and Collin Peterson, RT Rybak, and David Wellstone Play Inside Baseball? at Minnesota Progressive Project.
Go read those posts to get the details, but essentially, this: We are experiencing endorsement creep, especially by individuals but also organizations. The creep is towards the early date. Insiders, like elected officials or former elected officials, and key organizations, are starting to give Democratic candidate endorsements before many people have even heard which candidates are running. That is a clear message to the voters and would be party participants: Don’t bother, we’ve got this. Please, please, please, Democratic party activists and operatives and sympathetic organizations. Stop this. You are damaging the party, and forcing people to make what suddenly seems a very justified decision to walk away from the party and consider themselves independent. Or worse.
Again, read those articles to get more details.
Try To Act Alive Even While You Are Resting
Meanwhile, as endorsements are too early, other activities are too late. Many of the Indivisible activists I so frequently encounter are wondering where the Democratic Party is. Well, the Democratic Party is there, and they are having various meetings and such, but they are not very visible and the meetings are generally over rather esoteric stuff. A political party has seasonality, because elections are periodic. So, this makes sense.
But right now, people are scared, angry, frustrated, and are trying to do something about the current horrendous situation in American government and politics. Seasonality be damned, get into action!
Several months from now, the seemingly asleep Democratic Party will lumber out of its cave, look around, and try to decide which Republicans to eat. But by that time the rest of the people will have already killed several awful bills, made a large number of elected representatives rethink their strategy of ignoring the voters in their districts, and generally changed the mode and tenor of politics at several levels across the country. Without help or involvement of the Democratic Party.
The party will turn to those activists and ask for their help. The activists will look back at the party, and say, “Who are you? Oh, right, you are the political party that lost all those races. Don’t worry, we’ve got this.” then turn back to their work. I don’t think the Democratic Party wants that.
Political parties change their modus operendus and culture about every 30 years, a major exception being Tammany Hall, which, as a tightly run organized crime organization, kept going for much longer. Sometimes that turnover is accompanied by the disappearance of one party or the emergence of a new one. Seriously, Democrats, you are facing an existential crisis, and you don’t even know it.
Put People Choosing Candidates Above Other Party Business
A detail, but an important one. Please, at conventions and caucuses, do this. If there is a point at which people are expected to vote on candidates, do that first. I have never been to a DFL convention at which the time given to candidates to speak and the time given to participants to vote or caucus isn’t crunched by party business, at least a little, sometimes a lot. Do the esoteric party business last, even if that means doing it at a different meeting later on. (Fact: All DFL conventions are held in rooms that are available only up to a certain hour, at which time everyone has to be out of the room.)
Make Primaries Easier, Caucuses More Engaging
There has been quite a bit of discussion about this, and I have previously offered a solution, not too different from one being considered. (see: How to fix the Minnesota Presidential Caucus). The bottom line: The caucus is what people really need, and the primary is what the people really want. There is a way to have both, we sort of already have both. We just need to adjust a few things to make everyone whine less, which is about as good as it is going to get.
Acknowledge The Waking Giant
I’ve already said this above, in a different way, but it is worth repeating. I was at an Indivisible Event a couple of months ago at which several thousand people spontaneously showed up to yell at a Republican. The Democrats have never managed that, by the way. I was speaking to a woman who had previously never been involved in politics but who suffered through a major traffic jam and was now standing outside in the breezy cold to make her point. She said to me, “They have woken a sleeping giant. And she is pissed.”
I have yet to see any member of the Democratic Party, in any form, acknowledge this phenomenon. WTF, man? Fail to do this at your peril.
Don’t be a brat, eat a brat
Have more events that get people together. The party tends to have certain events and they tend to do a lot of work at these events.
Indivisible has a lot of events and they do a lot of work at those events. When people walk away from the Democratic Party events, they feel like they’ve been involved in something that could be important. When people walk away from an Indivisible event, they feel like they’ve just left a gathering among friends at which they started to figure out a way to survive an uncertain future.
The Democratic Party should start hosting community meetings of its own, inviting everyone including Indivisible to show up, not to have a candidate listen to the people but to have the people listen to each other.
See you at the Tax March, which was not organized by and seems to have nothing to do with the Democratic Party even though it is an event necessitated by the Democratic Party losing bigly at the national level.