Democrats are in the middle of an identity crisis. Who do they want to be, what constituency do they want to represent, and who should lead them in making these decisions?
These are questions that Democrats should have been wrestling with over the last decade, as their party slowly ebbed towards its historic nadir. After all, during President Obama’s tenure more than 1,100 Democrat elected officials were replaced by voters with Republicans. When Obama came into office in 2009, Democrats controlled 62 of the nation’s 99 legislative chambers, in 2017 they control 30. At the federal level, Democrats lost majorities in the House, then the Senate, and ultimately lost the White House, as voters continued to lose faith in the direction of the country under Democrat leadership.
And yet, during the entirety of this period Democrats were comforted, and perhaps deluded, by the fact they held onto the White House. But, given the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that President Obama was spectacularly talented at getting himself elected, but in parallel, spectacularly awful at creating a platform that allowed other Democrats to succeed. John Podheretz and Noah Rothman write for Commentary:
“As [the coalition of the ascendant] dissipated, the farm system of elected officials shrank over the course of the Obama era to a single minor-league team of coastal and urban politicians. The result is a Democratic Party even more doctrinaire in its cultural, social, and political attitudes. Gone is the pro-life Democrat, the gun-rights Democrat, the Democratic hawk, the Democrat who supported the traditional definition of marriage, the Democrat concerned with religious liberty at home—and good riddance to them, in the eyes of whom remain.
One of those chanting good riddance is Bernie Sanders, who has somehow become of the key players in today’s Janus-faced Democrat Party. But Sanders’ leadership is emblematic of the deep problems facing Democrats.
After all, it’s not ideal to have the purported leader of the party say that he still does not consider himself a Democrat.
“No, I’m an independent,” Sanders said when asked by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes whether he now identifies as a Democrat.
Nor is it ideal to have Sanders, who is on a nationwide unity tour entitled “Come Together and Fight Back” with party chairman Tom Perez, apparently engaging in a litmus test of a candidate’s progressive bona fides before making an endorsement decision. That became an issue last week when Sanders apparently made the decision to keep candidate Jon Ossoff, a moderate Democrat who was running to replace Rep. Tom Price, at arms length.
In an interview, Sanders seemed to say that he wasn’t prepared to back Democrats just because of party labels.
“If you run as a Democrat, you’re a Democrat,” he said. “Some Democrats are progressive and some Democrats are not.”
This is a microcosm of the same Clinton/Sanders, moderate/progressive, pragmatist/firebrand dynamic that threatened to rend the party in two during the 2016 election. And yet Democrats continue to do nothing about it. As Rothman writes:
Democrats have so far refused to find an antidote to their brand’s toxicity. They have performed no introspection with regard to how the 2016 election was run and lost to a former game show host, the most unpopular presidential candidate in the modern age. They have not engaged in a critical analysis of how the relatively popular Barack Obama could be replaced with a man who promised in both manner and deed to be everything the former president was not. The Democratic Party is facing a nearly 100-year nadir of its political power. Its representatives were defenestrated at nearly every level. Obama left the GOP with all three branches of the federal government and in total control of the levers of power in fully half the Union. Yet there has been no “autopsy,” and there apparently never will be. Their state of denial is all-consuming.
And so their political fortunes are unlikely to change. Rather than chart a cohesive path forward, they’ll continue to compete against themselves, ostensibly led by a 75 year old man who can’t decide what party he identifies with.
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