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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

“One of liberalism’s most noble commitments is to advancing the rights of minorities and those who have suffered discrimination,” writes E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his column explaining “How progressives can get identity politics right” in the Washington Post. “Contemporary progressives would lose their moral compass, not to mention a lot of votes, if they cast this mission aside…But there is another strong, if fluid, identity at play in politics and social life: class. What many critics of identity politics are implying is that progressives have downplayed class politics to their own detriment and the country’s. Moving away from a robust focus on the interests of working-class men and women of all races, this view holds, was a mistake on two levels. Liberals lost a rhetoric that can appeal across the divides of race, ethnicity and gender. And they moved away from an approach to politics and policy that would deal with one of the premier problems of our time: the rise of extraordinary inequalities of wealth and income.”

“On the left, the word “intersectionality” has gained popularity as it deals with the cross-cutting effects of race, gender and class,” Dionne continues, “and there is no doubt that progressive politics will, of necessity, be intersectional. But beyond buzz words, progressives must find a politics that links worker rights with civil rights, racial and gender justice with social justice more broadly. In the 2018 elections, Democrats found that an emphasis on health care, access to education and higher wages worked across many constituencies. A war on corruption targeting the power of monied elites holds similar promise. It was a start…In grappling with the tensions entailed in identity politics, we can do worse than to remember Rabbi Hillel’s celebrated observation: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?” Hillel was not a political consultant, but his balanced approach remains sound, electorally as well as morally.”

In “Black Voters, a Force in Democratic Politics, Are Ready to Make Themselves Heard,” Astead W. Herndon writes in The New York Times that “potential Democratic candidates interested in the 2020 nomination have begun reaching out to black leaders and are testing messages for black voter outreach. This courting is particularly critical for white, liberal Democrats like Ms. Warren, Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and lesser-known figures like Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon…There was also a significant generational gap among black voters in the 2016 Democratic primary, with younger black voters significantly more likely to be open to the populist message of Mr. Sanders than older generations, who overwhelmingly backed Mrs. Clinton.”

Herndon’s article also quotes Yvette Simpson, incoming head of Democracy for America, who says, “Black and brown voters are done with you showing up at my church right before the elections,” Ms. Simpson said. The candidates who will be successful with black voters, she said, are the “ones who have strong local presences, who are setting up offices and hiring local people in those offices. It will be the ones constantly asking, ‘What can we do?’ and showing a commitment to come back and do that work over and over again…You can’t just have the one or two black or brown validators as your only connection to the community.” The public appearances and behind-the-scenes outreach by the candidates are commendable, but having an African American on the ticket can certainly help increase turnout among Black voters.

The Washington Monthly’s Nancy LeTourneau argues that the 2018 midterm elections indicate that African American candidates can navigate the politics of race effectively by reaching out to to white voters, while allowing their racial identity as African Americans to be self-evident, rather than making it a major campaign topic. As LeTourneau writes, citing Jamelle Bouie’s “The Path to the Presidency Could Be Harder for White Democrats in 2020” at slate.com: “…In the 2018 midterms, African American candidates like Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, Collin Alred, and Lucia McBath embodied a response to racism in the way Bouie describes—all while reaching out to white voters in their states and districts. When it came time to address racism directly, no one did it better than Andrew Gillum, perhaps because it is something black candidates have been doing their whole lives.”

As Bouie explains the challenge facing white candidates, “Not because of something inherent to being white, but because—somewhat similar to what happened to Clinton—the increased salience of identity puts them in an awkward spot vis-à-vis the Democratic primary electorate. A substantial share of those voters is black and Hispanic, and many of them seek expansive solutions to the ills facing their communities, from draconian immigration enforcement to entrenched racial inequality. These voters are absolutely crucial to winning the Democratic nomination, and everyone running will likely appeal to them with concrete policies. But white candidates will face the additional task of demonstrating social solidarity—of showing that they understand the problems of racism and discrimination and empathize with the victims…One possible implication of all of this is that black candidates may have the strategic advantage in the Democratic primary. Not because they’ll automatically win black voters, but because they won’t have to demonstrate the same social solidarity. Like Obama, they can stay somewhat silent on race, embodying the opposition to the president’s racism rather than vocalizing it and allowing them space to focus on economic messaging without triggering the cycle of polarization that Clinton experienced.”

At PostEverything, Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, argues, “In terms of fighting on Trump’s turf, let’s make the shutdown the last straw,” and observes, “It starts with the recognition, shared by many, I’m sure, that this “wall” argument is tired, old and boring. There’s a new year starting with a new House majority and given the serious work they’ve come here to get started, it’s well past time to stop wasting energy, time and media space on Trump’s chaos…Yes, the first job of the new Congress is to end the shutdown, but every moment spent wrestling with Trump about an imaginary wall is one not spent on what you were sent here to do…But as the new year dawns, so does a unique, political moment, one wherein a new, diverse, energized majority can try to remind the nation that politicians don’t exist merely to cut taxes for the wealthy, pit economically vulnerable groups against each other and engage in high-stakes fights about fantasies (it’s not just the “wall;” it was also the “caravan”).”

From Julie Bykowicz’s “GOP’s Fundraising Problem: Democrats’ One-Stop Online Platform: Democrats, united on a single platform, gain firepower in online fundraising” pays tribute to the effectiverness of ActBlue” at The Wall St. Journal: “Republicans dominated small-donor fundraising in the era of direct mail and telemarketing, partly because a bumper crop of companies saw an easy way to cash in on the lucrative political industry. But that capitalist ethos has backfired as small contributions have moved online…More than a half-dozen for-profit GOP digital fundraising firms founded in recent years are splitting the political market, while nearly all Democrats use ActBlue, a 14-year-old nonprofit payment processor,” which has raised more than $3 billion from more than 5, 800,000 donors since it was founded in 2004.

In a richly-deserved tribute to outgoing CA Gov. Jerry Brown, Todd S. Purdum writes at The Atlantic: “It is no exaggeration to say that Brown’s tenure as governor of the Golden State—two disparate tours, separated by nearly 30 years, four terms and16 years in all—bookends virtually the entire modern history of California. He is both the youngest and oldest man in modern times to preside over his state, and five years ago he surpassed Earl Warren’s tenure as the longest-serving California governor. He leaves office next month, at 80, at the top of his game, California’s once-depleted coffers bursting with surplus, his flaky youthful reputation as “Governor Moonbeam” long since supplanted by his stature as perhaps the most successful politician in contemporary America…He was a dedicated environmentalist, promoting wind and geothermal energy before those technologies were in vogue, and a visionary when that quality was mocked in politics; indeed, the Chicago columnist Mike Royko, who tagged Brown with his lunar nickname (the governor had suggested California might launch its own communications satellite), could never have imagined that Brown would announce just this fall that the state was contracting for the launch of “our own damn satellite” to monitor global climate change. He was a socially liberal Democrat who embraced diversity when gay marriage was no more than a dream, but he was also wary of partisan orthodoxy and famously tight with a buck.”

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