Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Reflections on Election 2016

It’s part of human nature.  You lose, or your team loses, or your candidate loses, or your party loses – followed by a period of (self) recrimination.

No doubt, the pending Electoral confirmation of Donald Trump is a harbinger of Presidential stupidity not seen since the days of George W. Bush, and malfeasance in office that could exceed that of Richard Nixon.  But the country survived eight years of Bush, five and a half years of Nixon, and it will survive four years (possibly less) of Trump. 

It is not the end of the world as we know it, but it’s going to be a rough ride.

However this is painted by the blogosphere and the media, 2016 was not a rout of the Democratic Party.  Democrats gained at least six seats (four remain undecided) in the House of Representatives, and two in the Senate.  And Hillary Clinton, as you may have heard, earned the highest number of votes, despite narrowly losing the Electoral College.

But there are anomalies in the Presidential race which demand further scrutiny.   In 2009, Barack Obama rammed an auto-industry bailout package through Congress which saved Michigan’s economy – not just for the Big Three automakers but for the vendors who serve them, everything from auto parts to food for their cafeterias to toilet paper.  If blue collar Michiganders indeed voted for Trump it would be the most striking example of political ingratitude since voters sat home and allowed Republicans to take over Congress in 1946.  But given the Putin government’s repeated attempts to hack into our nation’s computers – both public and private – and the obvious collusion between the Russians and Wikileaks, a sudden spasm of ingratitude from Michiganders seems less likely.  Will our government investigate this, and if merited call the Russians out on their behavior? Unlikely.  That would jeopardize world stability – which Putin knows we are loathe to do.    

The 1946 reference above is hardly random.  Americans, after enduring the Great Depression and World War II, were enjoying a strong economy, plentiful jobs, the reuniting of loved ones, and the beginning of families – a normalcy not seen since the 1920s.  The demand for new housing was such that there was a shortage as suburban development proceeded at a breakneck pace.  But the American people have a short memory – relatively minor issues like inflation were irritants and a series of strikes caused a backlash among conservative voters who began to fear a middle-class that had it “too easy” and was becoming too “uppity”.    As for the middle class, many were too busy enjoying the “easy life” which, for them, meant a regular job, food on the table, a decent home, a car – along with saving a little for the future.  President Truman’s program, called the Fair Deal, was intended to build on the gains made under the New Deal.  But Truman’s actions on their behalf were not enough to drive middle class voters to defend their gains, leading to the low turnout elections of 1946. 

Does any of the above sound familiar?  In 2008, the economy was in tailspin.  Only quick action by Presidents Bush (in a rare moment of poise and competence) and Obama prevented a second Great Depression.  In 2008 the United States was mired in two wars: Afghanistan and the misbegotten war in Iraq.  Obama began to immediately move upon taking office on getting the economy moving again, reducing unemployment, pulling our troops out of harm’s way, and locating and killing Osama Bin Laden.  He also began work on reforming Health Care, a task which has confronted Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.  The Affordable Care Act, while far from perfect, has resulted in 20 million Americans obtaining Health Insurance.  But the lobbyists for Health Care Insurers, along with the NRA, are two formidable forces in American politics, and they – along with Dick Armey’s AstroTurf Tea Party – were able to collectively throw the House and Senate to the Republicans – along with enough Governorships to Gerrymander House districts. 

After the 1946 elections, Harry Truman was worse than a lame duck – politically he was considered a dead duck and was widely expected not to seek reelection.  But persevered through 1946’s election losses and gained reelection in 1948 by focusing on issues that mattered to ordinary Americans and by ceaselessly pointing out how the “good for nothing” 80th Congress was working against their interests.  In the process, he also helped return the Democrats to majorities in the House and Senate.

Today’s Democrats, too, will recover from the 2016 election and regain the White House - if they learn Truman’s lesson.  The Democrats must return to their roots as a people’s party, which means, at a minimum, that there must be a house cleaning in which corporate types like Debbie Wasserman Schultz no longer have influence beyond her own Congressional District.  Further, the party should pursue Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy which was the blueprint for President Obama’s victory in 2008.  Big money donations, as this year has shown, are not enough to win election.  Neither are strategic firewalls.  In every district of every state, Democrats should declare rhetorical war on the 115th Congress, which stands poised to become the most anti-people Congress since the 80th.   Democracy is like a rubber band: whenever a politician or party pulls too far to one side – as the Republicans are now likely to do – the people snap it back.  Finally, Democrats must seek and nominate someone who will motivate supporters – no matter that person’s gender, ethnicity, or religion.  As much as I like Hillary Clinton, she was not someone who inspired the deepest level of motivation or loyalty among ordinary Americans – particularly independents.  She has served her country well since the 1970s, but it’s now time for her to retire.   The same is true for Ohio Democrats.  The Governor's race is in 2018.  It's time to move past relics like Ted Strickland and find a younger candidate with solid credentials who will appeal to voters.  

We have work to do.