Today’s Democrats are a maze of contradictions so complex that even the most progressive voters could be forgiven for not knowing where they stand. Take, as an example, the Democrat National Committee’s Unity Tour, an attempt to bring together the factions highlighted by last year’s divisive primary and engage in an anti-Trump pep rally. It failed spectacularly and in ways that should leave Democrats nervous about their political future.
The Unity Tour appeared doomed from jump street. After all, party leadership had steadfastly refused to engage in the types of introspection that typically follows years of historic losses, a fact that allowed voting blocs to further splinter, each believing they had the strategy to carry the party back to the majority.
Even the DNC leadership race was fraught with tension as Tom Perez—the ultimate victor—was criticized by Bernie Sanders for being yet another insider to carry President Obama’s water. Imagine the awkwardness then as Perez joined Sanders on stage in the name of unity. Unsurprisingly, Perez was regularly booed by Sanders supporters. It even got more awkward as the two leaders (can you have two?) publicly contradicted each other on numerous issues of importance to voters, including whether to attack Wall Street.
The result, as Chris Reeves write for the progressive blog Daily Kos, was “spectacularly off kilter.”
For some of those in the audience, the Unity tour was about promoting localized candidates and energizing the Democratic brand. For others, this seemed like a kick off to a Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign. Other audience members thought this was an opportunity to gather and figure out what to do next, immediately, in opposition to Trump and the Republican agenda.
The communicators themselves, though, offered very little clarity, and rarely an action step. Without it, the Unity tour offered a confusing mish-mash that was neither fish nor fowl and was easy to derail. This doesn’t mean that the origin of the idea itself was invalid; we should commend Tom Perez, Keith Ellison, and all who participated in taking a new approach to reach out to Democratic party members everywhere. But the planning and the way the idea played out? Spectacularly off kilter.
Off kilter is putting it gently. It’s as if today’s Democrats can’t decide what they want to be when they grow up, an odd situation for a 75-year-old guy who has worked his entire life in politics and a 55-year-old guy who…has worked his entire life in politics.
And yet, there they were. Sanders, happily proclaiming that he was not a Democrat, yet carrying the mantle for the party, alongside Perez, who less than happily endeavored to tone down Sanders’ divisive rhetoric.
Or at least that was the calculus on economic issues. Somehow, Perez became the inflammatory one when it came to social issues—becoming the first head of the party to demand ideological purity on abortion rights—while Sanders seemed to forget that these things were included on the party’s platform at all.
Confused? Yea, so was everyone.
To show how that weirdness plays out in real politics look at two of the most recent high-visibility elections. In the Georgia congressional special election, Sanders was clearly less than enthused by the candidacy of Jon Ossoff, telling the Wall Street Journal, “If you run as a Democrat, you’re a Democrat. Some Democrats are progressive and some Democrats are not.” Apparently, Ossoff—who was running in a historically conservative district—failed to be adequately strident enough when it came to issues like a $15 minimum wage.
And yet, Sanders enthusiastically lined up behind Heath Mello in his bid to be Omaha’s mayor, despite sponsoring numerous anti-abortion bills as a state legislator, including support for a 20-week abortion bill. The reason, apparently, is that Mello subscribed to Sanders’ brand of feisty economic populism, a fact that was not at all comforting to the pro-choice elements of the party.
All told, Democrats are far more divided at the end of this so-called Unity Tour than they were at the beginning. Sanders has adequately identified the problem. As he told a crowd during the tour, “I think what is clear to anyone who looks at where the Democratic Party today is, that the model of the Democratic Party is failing.” The challenge is that the “solution” appears to be conflicting dogmas that pushes away more potential voters than it invites in.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. See more of his work HERE.