Let's put a myth to rest.
At the recent Global Politico forum of Democratic figures (earlier post, here), Georgetown University historian and Dissent editor Michael Kazin remarked "I think one of the problems that Hillary Clinton had, and one of the problems that Democrats still have, is people don’t really know what we stand for. "
It's more difficult to understand why Kazin knocked Mrs. Clinton, given that in August 2014 he recognized that Obama won the 2008 Democratic primary and subsequent election in part because he "shuns rigid ideologies and hankers for bipartisanship... and is rhetorically cautious."
Unlike Hillary Clinton, we are reminded frequently by activists, pundits, and others, failed to win the office Barack Obama had. That is not only the largely bipartisan and non-ideological Barack Obama, but the man who did so with the empty slogan "hope and change" (withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, also- how is that working out for you?)
However, people do know what national Democrats stand for, at varying times a benefit or a handicap. Most people believe Democrats stand for minorities and diversity, mutually consistent interests.
That is manifested in differing ways. It can be support for once gay, then LGBT, now LGBTQ, and transitioning to LBTQIA individuals. Or perhaps it is for blacks, as activism toward voting rights or advocacy of "free stuff" (seen by many whites as privileges for blacks or immigrants). Although understandably loathe to phrase it as such, Democrats also stand forthrightly for open borders.
In the March, 2016 debate conducted by Univision, both Sanders and Clinton opposed deporting anyone except felons, and they were far from definitive about that group. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus- all of whose members are Democrats- recently declared "Cannot be wall, cannot be interior [enforcement], cannot be detentions," (That leaves self-deportation, which we're safe to assume the Caucus wouldn't recommend.)
That brings us around to Donald Trump, as does everything. Prior to Trump, the defining principle of the Republican Party was "lower taxes," meaning lower income taxes for everyone at all times. Then along came Trump, who favored cutting taxes for the wealthy, but who was identified far, far more by his opposition to immigration. Against all odds- and as the nearly unique GOP presidential candidate not associated with reducing income taxes- he was elected president.
Ironically, criticism of the Democratic Party as not knowing what it stands for follows 2016 electoral gains by the Republican Party in Congress and the White House. They came about as the GOP came to be identified not with one defining characteristic, rather with several general things- lower taxes, decreased immigration, opposition to abortion and gay rights, skepticism about climate change, among others.
Kazin here seems to understand that the fundamental problem for the Party is not that it doesn't know what it stands for but that it doesn't know how to integrate that with its traditional communitarian message. He asks.
do we both talk about universal programs, have a universal message, and make sure we’re talking about recent immigrants and non-immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT people, as well? To me, that is a serious problem.
It's a serious problem, one not easily solved, and certainly not with the "r" word. That's not the "r" word you're thinking of, and deserves exploration at a later date.