Opinions Column: Maenner's Musings
Coming off big gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia — as well as a stronger than expected showing in the Virginia House of Delegates elections — the Democratic Party is currently riding an anti-Trump wave that seems poised to deliver them substantial gains in House elections next year. Yet, for all of this talk of the Democratic Party being in the political driver’s seat, it seemed just a few days prior to last week’s elections that liberals were preparing the excuses and scapegoats as poll numbers showed Ralph Northam’s lead in the Virginia governor’s race dwindling.
Chief among these prepared scapegoats was Donna Brazile, the former interim chair of the DNC, who was revered within establishment circles until she came out in Politico and confirmed that the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was not a fair fight at all. But even as party elites push back against re-litigating the battles of the 2016 primary, it is necessary for the party to fix these issues sooner rather than allow them to continue festering.
For Democrats, the battles within the party stem from Clinton’s co-opting of the DNC, as well as her introduction of toxic identity politics into party discourse. On the topic of Clinton’s stranglehold over the DNC, Brazile lays out the agreement that “specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised.” Although it is common practice for a campaign to increase control over the national party when their candidate becomes that party’s nominee, the agreement which gave the Clinton campaign final say over party decisions was made “in August 2015, just four months after Hillary announced her candidacy and nearly a year before she officially had the nomination.” While Clinton ended the primary process with more votes than Bernie Sanders, she was not nominated through the power of the people so much as she was anointed by the might of her own wealth. With total control over party decision-making before the first votes were cast or the first debate barbs were heard, it was impossible for the DNC to uphold its charter and offer an impartial and neutral setting for the primary to take place–a charge that the national party has all but admitted to in court.
But even more damaging to the Democratic Party than the Clinton takeover of the DNC before the 2016 primary, is the party’s newfound reliance on identity politics when campaigning. For all of the talk of Clinton’s “Stronger Together” campaign motto, her actions throughout the 2016 election cycle contradicted this sentiment at every turn. Throughout the 2016 Democratic primary, Clinton and her supporters were avid users of the moniker “Bernie Bro” to describe the supporters of Bernie Sanders — a pejorative term meant to point out the disproportionate support Sanders received by white males, as if that was inherently a bad thing. Not just that, but this identity-based attack also served to discount the young women who sided with the Vermont senator, creating a deep rift among the opposing ends of the Democratic Party on the basis of sex, race and age where it did not need to exist in the first place. For all of the talk of the toxicity of “Bernie Bros,” which for the most part was confined to anonymous internet comment sections and chat forums, it was Clinton supporter Gloria Steinem who discounted the feminism of female Sanders supporters, saying that all they were interested in was meeting boys, and it was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who said at a Clinton campaign event that “‘there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.’”
Moving forward, it is imperative for the Democratic Party to shed this propensity to use identity in order to achieve political gain, and in turn stop falling into the trap of reducing diversity to strict appearances. The politicization of identity is a zero-sum game, as evidenced by the backlash in this past presidential election of the Clinton campaign’s focus on niche social issues as opposed to the broader economic appeals made by President Donald J. Trump. As we move forward, the Democratic Party must get back in touch with the economic messaging that once united working class people from all races, religions and sexes under the Democratic banner. For Democrats to take back the House next November, it is imperative that they follow the pertinent wisdom of former Bill Clinton campaign strategist James Carville, who coined the phrase: “‘It’s the economy, stupid!’” With inequality continuing to widen as working class Americans of all stripes find it increasingly hard to find well paying jobs and take care of their families, it is crucial for the sake of the average man and woman that the Democratic Party stops playing stupid.
Hunter Maenner is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in criminal justice and political science. His column, "Maenner's Musings" runs on alternate Mondays.
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