The Democratic Party may seem deeply divided between its neoliberal and progressive wings (and yes, “neoliberal” is a real thing), but that perception is more an artifact of social media and comments section wars than actual reality.
In the real world, the progress toward unity and healing has already begun at the topmost levels of the party. Democrats in leadership have been seeing the polling data and the focus groups, and understand that the party failed to articulate an adequate vision for how society and the economy should be structured. The handwriting has been on the wall for months now, including in the unity tours with DNC Chair Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders, as well as the open adoption of previously unthinkable progressive stances by presidential hopefuls like Kamala Harris, who just last week described the drug war as a “colossal failure.”
But at no point has the shift in the party been so obvious as in today’s remarkable comments by the normally moderate Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. In wide-ranging interviews with ABC’s This Week and with the Washington Post, he stated that the Democratic message of economics had been “namby pamby,” that a message revamp was necessary, and that blame for losing to a Republican candidate as unpopular as Donald Trump lay more with the party’s own failures than with Russian interference or any external force:
“We were too cautious, we were too namby-pamby,” Schumer said on ABC’s “This Week.” “This is sharp, bold and will appeal to both the old Obama coalition, let’s say the young lady who’s just getting out of college, and the Democratic voters who deserted us for Trump, the blue-collar worker. Economics is our strength, and we are going to get at it.”
Remember that Chuck Schumer is the one who famously said during the 2016 campaign that “for every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” Hearing Schumer internalize and express the democratic socialist critique of the party’s messaging and targeting strategy is remarkable. He continued:
The New York senator said the new Democratic agenda, set to be unveiled on Monday, would include proposals to “just go after these drug companies when they raise prices so egregiously and people can’t afford these drugs” and a plan to “change the way companies can merge,” mentioning the cable, airline and gas industries.
“How the heck did we let Exxon and Mobil merge?” he said. “And that was Democrats.”
Indeed. The point here isn’t just that Democrats allowed their brand to be weakened in acquiescing to corporate malfeasance and consolidated power. He is also laying down a marker that Democratic candidates will be moving away from the “rising tide lifts all boats if we all love each other” pabulum, and communicating the more credible, effective and fundamentally true message that corporate power is the real villain in the decline of the American middle class.
Schumer also indicated a willingness to consider single-payer and other significant expansions of healthcare guarantees beyond just saving the Affordable Care Act exchanges. This is particularly important, as single-payer advocacy has been one of the bitterest fault lines between the party’s progressive and moderate wings–especially in blue states like California.
Perhaps most controversially, in statements to the Washington Post, the Senate Minority Leader said the party needed to take responsibility for its own shortcomings in the 2016 election:
“When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview previewing the new plan. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.”
This is an incredible sea change for the leadership of a party that no more than six months ago still seemed intent on crafting a coalition of professional class and minority communities with messages that focused almost entirely on social inclusion to the avoidance of sharp economic stances that might discomfit donors and wealthier Romney voters.
Ultimately, the data won out. Clinton SuperPAC Priorities USA’s own polling and focus groups showed the power of economic anxiety and disenchantment with the Democratic Party’s stances among Obama-Trump switchers and Obama dropoff voters. A Washington Post/ABC News poll from last week showed that voters feel the party represents little beyond simply resistance to Trump.
It has become obvious that the establishment Democratic Party disgruntled or lost faith entirely with millennials, white working class and even many minority voters, and that the minor gains made with comfortable suburbanite moderate Republicans were not even close to enough to make up the difference. Most millennials who supported Sanders did vote for Clinton in the end, but some did not–and their patience as housing prices remain out of reach, the drug war continues only barely unabated and student debt continues to pile on, will not be interminable. The white working class that always voted for Republicans is indeed bigoted and became even more so with Trump, but the white working class that voted for Obama twice and then shifted to Trump was strongly motivated by economic concerns. Clinton even lost ground with minorities against Trump, compared to Obama’s tallies against Romney.
Leadership now seems to fully grasp this. The party’s new slogan “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages” is an clarion callback to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, offering a realm of possibilities for a new and potentially revolutionary social contract for the 21st century. Many progressives will be annoyed at the focus on “job retraining” programs and the “better skills” portion of the new slogan, and for good reason. But those are kinks that can be worked out over time.
The important thing to note is that the healing has already begun. Party leadership has taken many of the core critiques of the progressive insurgency to heart, and substantive fixes are being made.