Politico staff writer Michael Kruse believes he has found the prescription needed in the form of Cheri Bustos, who
wasn’t the sole member of her party to win in a congressional district Donald Trump also took—there were 11 others—but she was the only one to post a 20-point landslide, and she did it in agricultural, industrial, blue-collar northwestern Illinois.
This is a moment, of course, of existential angst for Democrats. They’re unified mainly by their antipathy toward Trump. Beyond that, they’re grappling with the much more complicated calculus of whether to focus on stoking the Trump-hating base or re-embrace a more moderate approach and earn back the votes of traditional Democrats they’ve leached practically everywhere but cities and the coasts. Ben Ray Lujan, the New Mexico congressman who heads the DCCC, is clear about where he stands on this. “I can assure you,” he said when we talked last week, “that the direction I’m giving is that we need to go back and re-establish trust and earn trust with people all over the country, including rural and blue-collar Americans.”
California Democratic Party activist David Atkins also ponders the electoral weakness of the Democratic Party, arguing that Hillary Clinton and others are losing elections because they fail to recognize, as Bernie Sanders has, that
the obscenely wealthy, especially on Wall Street, have profited hugely by outsourcing and automating the jobs of regular Americans. Liberals and progressives will fight to bring those jobs back wherever possible–and if the fat cats in the private sector won’t cooperate, then we’ll invest in infrastructure and green energy work that not only provide jobs directly, but stimulate the private sector around them. Immigrants and poor minorities aren’t taking your jobs or tax dollars–the hedge fund manager is.
Their ideas are similar, with Atkins concluding "The argument is done. The future belongs to economic populism if liberal parties want to win again" while Kruse embraces candidates like Bustos who are "assiduous in talking about jobs, agriculture and infrastructure while steering clear of the flashpoint social issues."
There is a difference, however, and if you have time to read only one essay, read Atkins and steer clear of the more superficial Kruse, who brings us yet one more lecture about listening to rural voters, who possess wisdom people living on the coasts are unable to imagine. Correction: with or without the time, read Atkins, ignore Kruse.
Yet, the two have in common an approach common to those offering their wisdom to a Party which has increasingly emphasized some issues over those economic issues Atkins has been promoting for years.
Though with more substance than Kruse, they have avoided mentioning the elephant in the room. After agreeing in a March, 2016 Democratic primary debate that as President she would not deport "children" or "family members," Hillary Clinton- the less progressive of the two candidates- was asked whether she would "deport immigrants who don't have a criminal record." She responded "that's what I'm telling you," a few moments before Bernie Sanders agreed that "I would not do that" (deport anyone but criminals).
I am not making that up.
Mrs. Clinton, long viewed as an ardent advocate of womens' rights, was challenged during the campaign by Bernie Sanders, determined to demonstrate that he is equally supportive of what sometimes is referred to as "women's issues." And Clinton and Sanders vied with each other as to whom is now more supportive of gay rights.
In a tweet from July found on her website, Clinton neatly encapsulated the thrust of her ideological commitment, which reflects that of the base of her Party and of the vast majority of national Democratic politicians:
People are crying out for criminal justice reform. Families are being torn apart by excessive incarceration. Young people are being threatened and humiliated by racial profiling. Children are growing up in homes shattered by prison and poverty. They’re trying to tell us. We need to listen.
In one short statement, Clinton hit several of the Party's sweet spots: criminal justice reform (good); excessive incarceration (bad); racial profiling (bad); children (good); prison (bad). (She added poverty, and good for her. Few Democrats mention that, especially after the demise of John Edwards.)
The individuals panning the current state and strategic emphasis of the Democratic Party are decrying "identity politics," whether they choose to use the term or not, the latter as in the case of Kruse and Atkins. Neverthelesss, most refuse to mention immigrants, racial discrimination, mass incarceration,, or "marriage equality," even though they are the issues most approximating litmus tests for modern Democrats.
The debate over the future of the Democratic Party, to which Atkins has constructively contributed, will go on, inevitably so. But let's be honest. Although the Party will not abandon its support for gays, blacks, immigrants, and women, emphasizing other matters requires a de-emphasis on those issues which currently dominate its politics. It may or may not be the proper approach, but that elephant isn't going away simply because we avert our eyes.