The Democratic Dilemma – Where to Go from Here?

George S LedyardThe Democrats are in flux. They have a very real set of issues.
First, the wealth divide, which can also be seen as a generational issue. The democrats moved away over time from their working class roots towards looking to the liberal elites who have made their fortunes in finance and tech in order to raise the kind of money it takes to run modern campaigns.
The Bernie Sanders progressives are far to the left of the bulk of the Democratic voters who are still part of the baby boom generation and while they are extremely supportive of civil rights and diversity issues, they are a bit gun shy of what the right wing propaganda depicts as socialism. That’s why we haven’t been able to get to single payer before now.
Campaign Finance ReformIf we can get the big money out of the electoral process, the party can place more focus on the young voters who are quite a bit to the left of their parents. Studies have shown that millennials are actually fine with describing their political positions as some variation of socialism. My generation, which was born at the time of the Red Scare and McCarthy stayed far away from that term.
But as long as it takes such huge sums to mount an effective campaign, it’s hard for the Dems to shift direction towards an agenda that their big bucks liberal supporters might find to be a bit much. Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, and Hillary Clinton were all quite successful with their centrist focus, at least in terms of having the kind of fund raising machines it takes to win. The Dems may have lost the heartland but it wasn’t for lack of money, it was more where and how they spent it.
Bernie Sanders showed that a Presidential candidate can raise enough money from a real grass roots fund raising effort made up of small contributors. But the fact is that there is no state and local network of progressive candidates or a progressive party organization to mount down ticket races that requires the support of a national organization.
What Kind of Money It Takes to Run for President
Bernie’s fund raising supported his campaign but progressives have yet to demonstrate any staying power. They have not yet shown they can create the structure of a national movement. Bernie’s Movement was in some ways a “cult of personality”. It was all about making Bernie into the Great White Progressive Hope.

Democratic Baby Boomers
Hillary Clinton’s Supporters Were Older

Anyway, clearly the future belongs to the young. However there are probably more young, non-college educated, working class folks out there as there are nice educated liberal / progressive millennials. They will not be able to carry elections on their own for a number of years. The Baby Boomers, like myself, are more moderate and centrist. And They look to be around as a voting block for another three or four election cycles.|

Cornell West and Bernie Sanders
Dr. Cornell West and Bernie Sanders

The second is race. Like it or not, the developing progressive movement has not connected with minorities very well. Hillary Clinton did far better with Black voters than Bernie did, despite the endorsement of Bernie by a number of famous Black activists. In many ways, the Bernie Progressives were as much a white phenomenon as Trump’s Tea Party supporters. In the actual election Clinton got 88% of the Black vote cast but the numbers of Black voters who stayed home was in the  millions.
How Bernie Sanders Lost the Black Vote
White Young Bernie Sanders SupportersAfter eight years of Barrack Obama, the Black community is disillusioned with the whole system, They have consistently supported the Democrats with no measurable change in economic status, without changing the war on drugs, unequal imprisonment, unequal justice in the courts, grossly unequal violence at the hands of law enforcement. The white, college educated professionals who flocked to Bernie Sanders have not connected with minority voters to any large degree. This has to be figured out before we are going to see anything but cynical apathy on the part of minority voters.
So, the Democrats absolutely need to find candidates going forward that can appeal to minority voters and white liberal elites at the same time, as Barack Obama did. And they have to develop a platform which they strongly push at the local, state and national level that addresses the wealth divide. They are not going to win any support away from Trump, heartland supporters, on the social issues that liberals and progressives consider non-negotiable.
These issues represent a culture divide that will not be breached until the income and educational chasm is addressed. But, if, over time they can show they actually have a real plan that would benefit the poor and working class folks in this country without scaring the liberal elites with the money too badly, over time they should be able to get back that old Democratic identity as the party that represents the working and middle classes. The Progressives will have to stop assuming that success and money equal corruption or they will drive away the very support they will need to shift the Dem Party towards a more progressive agenda with progressive candidates.