Sunday, February 5, 2017

Tactical weakness, strategic opportunity and system health

The weekend editions are still full of articles either bewailing the state of the Democratic Party or, more ideologically, claiming a moral ascendancy not obvious to everyone else. Today's version is Democrats have no quick fixes in their bid to regain ground lost by Dan Balz.

I take a view of our politics as a side-product of our Constitutional system. The important thing is the health of the system and much less about the ebb and flow between parties over time.

Yes, things look dramatically bad at this particular point for Democrats. They have lost the White House, the Senate, the House, most governorships and most state legislatures. That snapshot is one of ruin and retreat. Balz outlines why their prospects in 2018 are similarly bleak.

But the system lurches on. It is less than ten years ago when Republicans were in a similar boat and the punditry was proclaiming a rising permanent Democratic majority. The pundits are partisan and reliably wrong.

They will be wrong this time as well because these are all short-term issues. An ascendant party always ends up over-reaching, pursuing ideological purity over constituent care. Look what happened in North Carolina and Kansas. The over-reach will happen again this time, it is just a question of degree.

At the end of four years, Trump's administration will either have delivered better outcomes to voters or they will have failed to do so. If he delivers, then likely it will take longer for Democrats to come back. Ultimately though, we need at least two healthy parties. It is not so much the particular policies that either party offers which keeps the system healthy. It is the competition between the parties for the interest and allegiance of the citizens. We can get by with a weak Democratic party for a while but ultimately we need them back and healthy.

My one concern is the intra-party struggle among Democrats. That isn't, in itself, surprising given the decade of losing. But will they end up focusing on ideological purity, a losing proposition, or will they end up focusing on connecting with the citizens. The only long-term viable path is the latter but the ideological purists have the energy at the moment.

One commenter to Balz's article captures the issue. Blubster4072 says:
The majority of the Country is red. The Democrat Party is a dying party. They are the Party of Illegal Aliens, BLM, rioters, Sanctuary Cities, Transgenders, and safe space. Regular Americans laugh at them now.
That is overwrought but he captures the heart of the issue. The Democratic Party brand is indeed the party of "Illegal Aliens, BLM, rioters, Sanctuary Cities, Transgenders, and safe space." I would add, it is the party of caring about inequality more than poverty; it cares more about ideological virtue over service to citizens; it is the anti-science party; it is the panderer to the fringes at the neglect of the majority; it cares more about appearances than outcomes; it is the anti-patriotic party; it is the party of the bureaucratic state over the citizens in the private sector; it cares far more about control and power than it does about liberty and freedom; it believes in blank slate citizens to be engineered rather than in free citizens with human (constitutional) rights; it cares more about redistribution than it does about creation; it cares more about stasis than it does about generation; it cares more about name-calling and shaming than it does about engagement and understanding; it is the party of intolerance; it is the party of pandering rather than the party of hard-choices; it is the party of journalists, entertainers, and humanity scholars rather than the other 95% of citizens; it cares more about social (mob) justice than it cares about justice; it is the party of "the personal is political" rather than the party of civic norms; it is the party of extremism; it is the party that rejects the Bill of Rights; it is the party more comfortable with coercion than persuasion; it is the party of crony capitalism and corruption rather than the party of integrity; it is the party dedicated to preferring some Americans over others based on "identity" rather than protecting the rights of all Americans.

Not everywhere, not all the time, not everyone. But the holistic brand is currently marginalized. Some within the party either fail to see how the brand has evolved or believe the new brand is desirable. Those who see the toxicity are fighting valiantly to wrest the brand back into a form that might appeal to most Americans.

Interestingly, on some, if not many of these characteristics, the Republicans are a close run second. Importantly to their electoral success though, is that the Democratic Party has taken the brand title on most these attributes.

Not all is lost, Democrats can come back as the voice of some portion of the majority. We need them to come back and play their role as a competitive party for the health of the whole system. The longer it takes to begin brand rebuilding, the weaker will be our whole system. We need them to get better faster.

At the current moment, there is no sign that they are interested in redirecting or rebranding. I hope that doesn't last too long.

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