Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, November 17, 2016


The Democratic Party has very few leverage points over the national government right now.  The most important is the Senate.  Initial signs are that Democratic Senatorial leadership is going to cave to Trump.  Given their history, I am as worried as everyone else.

I'm with Scott Lemieux on this one.  I hope this is rhetorical posturing.  "Of course we will work with President Trump on needed legislation." But since the legislation before them will likely be crappy, they will sadly conclude that they can't agree to support THIS bill.  That's smart, because it contrasts with McConnell's obstruction for obstruction's sake.  I suppose they think they can drive a wedge between Trump and Congressional Republicans.  I wouldn't count on that.

At any rate, Democrats are basically in the place of Republicans from 8 years ago.  They have to wage an insurgency against the administration that directly threatens their interests.

This requires both strategy and tactics.  The tactics are clear enough: fight legislation and appointments as necessary to preserve key parts of the Democratic policy agenda.  For instance, Pual Ryan's plan to get rid of Medicare and replace it with vouchers and tax cuts is a terrible idea and likely to be very unpopular.  Unified and vocal opposition to this is critical to put the unpopularity of the hard right agenda on the defensive.  Tactics are likely to be as defensive as anything.  Insurgents win by striking at areas of weakness, until they can build momentum to strike at areas of strength.

Attack Bannon and Bannon-types, resist the worst ideas - vocally, peel off Republican factions as necessary.

The larger strategic issue is where I really feel like Democrats are adrift.  Sun Tzu wrote that a good general never fights a battle that he hasn't already won before the fighting starts.  You have to prepare the battlefield in a way that insures your victory.

A critical task for Democrats is to make a long-term plan to address some concerns of rural working class whites, while retaining the support of traditional Democratic voters.  You don't have to win rural Michigan or Pennsylvania, but you can't lose it 20-80.

There are policy ideas that would likely appeal to WWC voters: Martin Longman has suggested anti-trust attacks on banks, big box retailers and other entities that squeeze the life out of small town entrepreneurs.  I would add supporting rural health cooperatives that bring needed health care to rural areas.  Protections for small farmers would be popular, especially watershed protection from the fracking explosion that is likely to happen under Trump.

Those, too, feel a little tactical, though.

My idea - and I admit, I'm not sure how to achieve it - is more long range.  How do we bridge the rural-urban divide.  Country people are friendly, but they are also insular.  For that matter, so are minority and traditionally liberal communities.  How can we bring that sweet, church-going lady from small town Pennsylvania into contact with a 21 year old African American college student, or a gay school teacher in a way that pulls down the suspicions on both sides?

In studying American politics, we typically talk about different party systems and partisan realignments.  In my mind, there are only two parties going back to Hamilton and Jefferson.  There is the party of the community and the party of the individual. The labels we have put on those parties have changed.  The Democratic party was the party of the individual for a long, long time.  It is not anymore.

What we need to do is convince white working class voters something they already partly believe.  They already instinctively know that the Republicans are the party of the individual.  They need to come to see that the party of the community has a place for them at the table.

UPDATE: As usual, Jon Chait is right.

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