Truth Bomb: Democrats Need to Embrace Progressivism or Else Move Out of the Way

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“Democrats: Are we the party of the donor class or the working class? This is value clarification time. It’s now or never!”

Nina Turner, former OH State Senator

Democrats, liberals and progressives of every stripe – you’re not going to want to hear this, but hear it you must.

We’ve gone around for too long thinking we’ve got all the answers, but obviously we don’t.

Hillary Clinton lost. Donald Trump won. There’s something seriously wrong with what we’ve been doing to get that kind of result.

There are some hard truths we’ve got to understand, that we’ve got to learn from. Hearing them may be painful. Many of us will fight against it. But we can’t keep fooling ourselves anymore. All that “hope” and “change” we’ve been waiting for – it has to start with us, first.
We’re stuck in a loop and we’ve got to break ourselves out of it. And the only way to get there is to break the track wide open.

It’s time to stop mourning.

Trump is President-elect.

Yeah, that sucks. Hard.

He’s going to protect us by enacting policies to hurt brown people. He’s going to make it harder to get healthcare. He’s going to trample the Constitution. He’s going to offer up our schools to private companies to do with as they please in secret using our tax dollars. He’s going to legitimize white nationalism and embolden racists, bigots, sexist, xenophobes, homophobes and every kind of hate group imaginable. He’s going to hand out tax cuts to his megarich campaign contributors and tax us with the loss of government services. He’s going to use the office as an opportunity to enrich himself and his billionaire buddies and then go on social media and tweet about how he’s fighting for working people.

I don’t like it any better than you. But it’s time to face it.

Sure, Clinton won the popular vote. Sure, there’s a recount going on in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. I’d love for it to overturn Trump’s victory. But I have zero confidence that it will. And I refuse to let it blind me to the urgent need for change.

The first thing we have to do is own up to one essential thing: Hillary Clinton was a bad candidate.

The people were crying out for a populist champion. We had one in Bernie Sanders. He would have destroyed Trump, but we blew it.

I’m not going to rehash it all again, but there’s no way you can honestly say the Democratic primary process was fair. Party leaders were clearly in the bag for Clinton. They ignored her negatives and what their constituency were trying to tell them.

This loss belongs squarely on the shoulders of establishment Democrats. It’s not the fault of the electorate. It was the party’s job to convince people to vote for their candidate. They didn’t do that. Instead they told people who to vote for – or more accurately who NOT to vote for. It was clearly a losing strategy. It lost us the Presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court. Own it.

Next we have to acknowledge that this problem is not new. The Democrats haven’t been what they were or what they could be for a long time.

Since at least President Bill Clinton, many Democrats have traded in their progressive principles for neoliberal ones. They have sold out their concern for social justice, labor and equity in favor of slavish devotion to the same market-driven principles that used to characterize the other side.

Bill Clinton approved NAFTA. He deregulated Wall Street paving the way for the economic implosion. He expanded the failing war on drugs, increased the use of the death penalty, used the Lincoln bedroom as a fundraising condo, ignored the genocide in Rwanda while escalating conflicts abroad in Russia and the middle east. He dramatically and unfairly increased the prison population. He pushed poor families off welfare and into permanent minimum wage jobs. And when people had clearly had enough of it and wanted a change, we gave them Al Gore a.k.a. Bill Clinton part 2.

THAT’S why an idiot like George W. Bush won in 2000. It wasn’t because of Green Party challenger Ralph Nader. It was because people were sick of the Democrats not being real progressives.

But we clearly didn’t learn that lesson, because we did the same damn thing in 2016.

President Barack Obama is just as neoliberal as Bill. He gets credit for bringing back 16 million jobs lost under Bush. But we haven’t forgotten that they’re mostly minimum wage jobs. He gets credit for reducing unemployment to only 4.7%. But we haven’t forgotten that nearly 50 million Americans aren’t included in those statistics because they haven’t been able to find a job in two years and have given up even looking for one.

Obama rolled back legal protections that used to stop the government from spying on civilians, that used to stop the military from being used as a police force against civilians, that used to stop the military from assassinating U.S. citizens, that used to protect whisteblowers, that guaranteed free speech everywhere in the country not just in designated “free speech zones.” Not only did he fail to close Guantanamo Bay, his administration opened new black sites inside the U.S. to torture citizens.

Obama continued the endless wars in the middle east. Sure, he had fewer boots on the ground, but infinite drone strikes are still a continuation of Bush’s counterproductive and unethical War on Terror.

And when it comes to our schools, Obama continued the same corporate education reform policies of Bush – even increasing them. He pushed for more standardized testing, more Common Core, more privatization, more attacks on unions, more hiring unqualified Teach for America temps instead of authentic educators.

Voters clearly wanted a change. We wanted a real progressive champion who would roll back these neoliberal policies. Instead we got Hillary Clinton a.k.a. Obama part 2.

The Democrats didn’t learn a thing from 2000. We just repeated the same damn mistake. And some of us still want to blame third party candidates like Jill Stein.

It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t voters faults. It was the Democratic establishment that refused to listen to their constituency.

So here’s the question: will we do it again? Will we let party insiders continue in the same neoliberal direction or will we change course?

Re-electing Nancy Pelosi to House Democratic leadership isn’t a good sign. She represents the same failed administration. But we’ve kept her in place for another term, repeating our mistakes.

Maybe we’ll make a change with U.S. Rep Keith Ellison as DNC chair. It would certainly be a good start to put a real progressive in charge of the party. What better way to challenge Trump’s anti-Muslim propaganda than by promoting the only Muslim representative in the House to the head of our movement! That’s a sure way of showing that Democrats include all peoples, creeds and religions in contrast to the Republicans insularity. But there’s no guarantee we’re going to do it, and even if we did, it would only be a start.

It’s time to clean house.

We need to take back what it means to be a Democrat. We can’t have organizations funded by hedge fund managers and the wealthy elite pretending to be in our camp while espousing all the beliefs of Republicans. We can’t have Democrats for Education Reform, a group promoting the policies of George W. Bush, the economics of Milton Friedman and prescribing laws crafted by the American Legislative Exchange council. We don’t need Cory Booker going on Meet the Press to defend Mitt Romney against income inequality and then pretending to champion working people while taking in contributions from the financial sector. The brand needs to mean something again.

The party needs to move in an authentic progressive direction. So we need to get rid of all the neoliberals. They can go become Republicans. All it would take is exchanging in their blue ties for red ones. They’re functional Republicans already.

We’ve got leaders who can take their place. We’ve got longtime progressives like Bernie and sometime progressives like Elizabeth Warren. We’ve got younger statesmen like Nina Turner, Tulsi Gabbard, Jeff Merkley, John Fetterman, and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, to name a few. But we need new blood.

Of course none of this matters if we don’t take steps to secure the validity of our elections in the first place.

We need to reform our entire electoral process. Ancient and hackable voting machines, voter suppression laws and efforts, rampant gerrymandering and, yes, that stupid relic of the slave states, the Electoral College – all of it must go. We’ve got to ensure that people can vote, people do vote and it actually counts. And if something goes wrong, we need a way to double check. Recounts in close races should be standard and automatic.

We’ve got to fight Citizens United and other Supreme Court rulings equating money with speech. We’ve got to run people-powered campaigns like Sanders did so our politicians aren’t so beholden to corporate and wealthy interests. We’ve got to make it easier for third parties to be part of the process, to include their candidates in debates, etc.

These are some of the many challenges ahead.

Sure, we have to fight Trump. But the best way to do that is to reinvent ourselves.

If the Democrats aren’t willing to do that, many of us will go elsewhere. The party cannot continue to exists if it continually ignores its base. It’s not enough to give us a charismatic leader to latch onto – we need real progressive policies.

The next four years are going to be hard. Trump is going to make things very difficult for the people we love. But in a way that’s a blessing.

We have a real opportunity to create an authentic resistance. People will be untied in their dissatisfaction and anger at what Trump is doing to the country. They’ll be looking for somewhere to turn, for a revolutionary movement to lead them through it.

We can give them another fake insurgency as we did against Bush. Or we can learn the lessons of history.

We can move forward. We can change. We can become a party of real progressives.

Or if we need – we can start a new one from the ground up.

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20 thoughts on “Truth Bomb: Democrats Need to Embrace Progressivism or Else Move Out of the Way

  1. Is the Democratic Party worth saving or do we need a new party? While I agree with you positions, I also know that progressive ideas have not won elections since LBJ and to quote a friend of mine “I could have been a Democrat if it hadn’t been for Viet Nam.”

    I think more than anything we need to teach people about the value of human life and the stupidity of bigotry. We also must build respect for all people and find common ground.

    There is nothing in conservative ideology that is against good education and fairness. In addition, real conservatives don’t like control from state and federal capitals. They prefer local control. Like progressive thinking, conservative thinking is evolving. We should bravely, honestly and respectfully engage with that evolution through dialog.

    People don’t want a group of oligarchs running America and the only way that can happen is if Americans are so divided that they cannot have civil debate and learn from each other. It is this harsh division backed by derision that is the real danger.

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    • Tell your friend it wasn’t LBJ that got us into Vietnam. That was Eisenhower, a Republican president. There were five U.S. presidents involved in that war and 3 of them were Republicans. I always find it interesting how conservatives always blame liberals and/or democrats for everything, even what conservatives and/or republicans started. For instance, the explosion of cutting taxes for the wealthy and growing the National Debt that started with Reagan and grew some more under the 1st Bush and then went viral under the 2nd Bush.

      “In February 1955, President Eisenhower sent the first American military advisors to Vietnam to help build up Diem’s army.”

      http://thevietnamwar.info/us-presidents-during-the-vietnam-war/

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      • I know what you say is true, but I was there when Johnson lied about an “unprovoked attack at high seas.” At the time 2 destroyers were terrorizing coastal cities in the North. The response was from 2 gun boats that were no match at all. That lie took us from 30,000 troops to more than 500,000 – The Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Many many American boys were killed because of that lie. Like the destruction of public education, Viet Nam was a bi-partisan blunder.

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      • I know about the Tonkin Gulf Incident that didn’t happen. I know it was the lie that launched the escalation in a war that had been going on since Eisenhower. Still, the Democrats are not alone in the blame for this war. Three of the 5 presidents were Republicans. Nixon was the one who ordered the illegal bombing of Cambodia and Laos where more bombs were dropped then the U.S. dropped in all of World War II, more bombs than people that lived there.

        I know about the escalation of troops under LBJ because I was one of them.

        What LBJ did with his lie is the same as George W. Bush’s lie of WMDs in Iraq to launch a war there that should never have happened.

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  2. The money is obviously too tempting for politicians. Not every candidate can raise real money from the grassroots like Bernie, overcoming name rec and spending deficits against the establishment.

    We therefore need a systemic approach to make PAC money spending a liability instead of a benefit. We also need to make media a big part of the change – they won’t cover candidates without lots of cash. Not only because they doubt their chances, but also because they want races with lots of ad spending.

    Bernie came very close this year, and it was progress that Hillary’s rhetoric changed sharply as she vowed to get money out of politics and end the revolving door. If she wasn’t lying, she would have won handily. The next Democratic nominee must fund their campaign Bernie-style, not just to help them win, but to transform all future elections into 1% vs 99% referendums.

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  3. Was Hillary “progressive” or “neoliberal”? Both terms leave.a bad taste in my mouth. One seems to mean solving the problems of all of the world’s.downtrodden people without first solving matters at home. The second seems to mean privatizing all social services, education included.
    We need to ditch those labels, focus on helping workaday Americans, and leave hedge fund managers, wall street billionaires and DFER out in the cold. Let republicans have them.

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  4. You made excellent points in your post. Since the democrats weren’t willing to clean house, the voters did. This is my message to the democrats. If you are going to be owned by corporations and promote policies that serve corporate interests rather than American workers’ interests, I might as well vote republican. And that’s exactly what I did on Election Day. I was willing to put the bogeyman in charge to get your atttention and I will continue to do so until you clean house and fight for working Americans. Trump can sodomize a puppy on national television and fail to boost the economy. He will still get my vote in 4 years, if the democrats don’t change their ways.

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    • Jane, I don’t know if I’d go THAT far. But I agree that if Democrats want progressives to vote for them, they need to run progressive candidates. That shouldn’t be such a hard concept to grasp. Personally, I’d never vote for Trump. I’d vote for a third party candidate I can believe in.

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  5. Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads and commented:
    The Democrats need to stop appeasing the Republicans and moving farther and farther to the right, as well as stop acting like “Republican light.”
    If people want Republicans, they’ll vote for actual Republicans.
    The Democrats need to start fighting back and move back to the left. Otherwise, they lose, not just me, but a whole lot of Democrats. I won’t vote Republican, ever, but I will support a Third Party.
    “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me.”

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  6. I am really confused about this opposition to NAFTA. The impact on jobs in the US was relatively minor, far less than we see with technological change.

    If you really want to save jobs, outlaw self driving cars and trucks. Unless you do that, the estimated 5.7 million people with commercial driving licenses will lose their jobs.The drop in the number of cars needed will cost additional drops in automobile and truck production, the drop in the number of driving accidents will reduce employment in a whole variety of occupations from emergency room staff to body shops.

    Technological change is the job killer, as people have known for a very very long time. When you choose which pair of shoes to put on tomorrow morning, remember the people who lost their jobs so that you could afford to have one or more pairs of shoes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9UusP_4XSs

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