Last week, liberals were forced to watch the self-destruction of the New Republic, one of liberalism’s most cherished institutions, just as it was celebrating its one hundredth anniversary. The magazine, which is said to have actually invented the modern usage of the term “liberal,” had recently fallen on hard times. Sales have been steadily falling since 2008, the number of printed ad pages has declined annually, and its circulation had fallen below 50,000.
Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook (or, a guy lucky enough to be college roommates with Mark Zuckerberg, depending on who you ask), purchased the flailing magazine. He quickly decided to reduce the number of print issues, moved the headquarters to New York, forced out the editor, and promised to reinvent the magazine as a “vertically integrated digital-media company.” Almost all of the journalists and editors with any name recognition promptly resigned.
The question is, who was right? Is Chris Hughes a savior for buying a failing magazine and attempting to drag it kicking and screaming into the twenty first century? Or is he a villain for taking a venerable journalistic institution and bastardizing it with click bait?
Those questions are a microcosm of the intellectual debate facing liberalism writ large. Or at least they should be. After all, during President Obama’s six years in office Democrats have lost a total of 85 seats between the House and the Senate, the most in modern history. The losses have costs them control of each chamber. Things have arguably been worse in governor’s mansions and statehouses across the country. Democrats currently control a measly 11 state legislatures, the smallest number since the 1920s. And there are just 16 Democratic governors left, down from 27 just five years ago.
And yet, to all too many Democrat Party officials, the best strategy appears to be staying the course. Scott Bland reports for National Journal:
After another disappointing election for House Democrats, one that gave Republicans their largest majority in almost a century, the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a seemingly incongruous message: Keep calm and carry on.
DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan is adamant, despite a 13-seat loss in November, that the committee has more to build on than to fix. After all, you don’t have to make mistakes to lose an election, especially in the kind of horrible environment Democrats faced this year. . .
“The team we had in place … kept that to 13,” Lujan said. “As we’re moving into all of this, that’s something to build off of.” . . .
Asked to name one thing he would change at the committee after having some time to review things, Lujan said, “We want to win more seats.” And, he said, he wants to keep fellow members engaged with the committee.
That’s not a change. That’s not even a strategy. It’s just more of the same. And it shows just how deeply unserious Democrats are about the utter erosion of their ideological underpinnings.
For all of their whining about campaign finance Democrats outraised Republicans, dramatically in some cases. They also had a more extensive groundgame, an information technology platform that is the envy of every Republican candidate, and the benefit of the White House’s bully pulpit. And yet they lost in the midterms because they lost the battle of ideas.
As former senator and potential presidential candidate Jim Webb said recently, “The Democratic Party has lost the message that made it such a great party for so many years, and that message was: Take care of working people, take care of the people who have no voice in the corridors of power, no matter their race, ethnicity or any other reason. The Democratic Party has basically turned into a party of interest groups.”
Now typically I don’t consider it the job of College Republicans to carry liberal’s water, but the policy debate has become so facile because liberal’s arguments have become so lazy that critics like Webb deserve to be heard.
Democrats must face a choice: Do they stick to their principles, as Webb suggests, even if it means electoral backlash, or do they compromise their philosophy in the face of modern needs and wants? Either answer would be better than what they’re offering now – a foolhardy belief that everyone should just remain calm, all is well.