Pandering, Sycophancy, or Explaining?

This article on the Daily Beast drew a decent sized firestorm of controversy in the Twitterverse.

The premise of the article is both false and out of date.  I had pointed out earlier an intersting but seemingly unobserved truism about today’s electoral landscape:  first, Republican dominance of House elections is built on their “safe” districts drawing far fewer voters, especially in presidential years, than their Democratic counterparts.  Recall that in presidential years, many “less politically motivated” voters show up, drawn out by the allure of the presidential campaign.  The absence of these voters on the Republican side means that there are many voters resident in Republican districts who are enthused by neither Democratic or Republican presidential contenders, or, in other words, Democrats stand a good chance of at least being competitive in seemingly safe Republican districts (and stand a chance of capturing the House in the near future) if they can successfully appeal to these “missing voters.”  Furthermore, I had conjectured, based on demographic data, that many of these “missing” voters are likely to be less well off, less educated whites who may not care much for the social liberalism–not necessarily in the sense of being opposed to them per se, but not especially interested in it one way or the other, even if they might be mildly for or against them–that today’s “liberals” define themselves around, but are keen on economic considerations.  If anything, the resounding success enjoyed by Bernie Sanders among this demographic–which, unfortunately, seems to be overshadowed by the misleading even if “true” notion among many  that his supporters were singularly made up of young liberals–provides at least a partial support for the notion that this is in fact a feasible future strategy for the Democrats.

However, this also illustrates the potential problems that the Democrats will face in appealing to these voters:  the Democratic party line, so to speak, on the economy has to change massively, although, their attitude towards social issues need not.  Again, Sanders points to a possible future:  he did not compromise at all on social issues, except for the certain symbolisms that came with being part of the Democratic establishment–e.g. endorsement by established minority politicians, but he pressed on the economic issues which, regardless of the social issues, matters more for the working class voters.  But this is not the future that the Democrats want to take:  the Democratic establishment wants to be as “conservative” as possible on economic matters, while using social liberalism as an alternative draw:  anybody, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or creed, can be a billionaire, and step on the 99.9% equally and with impunity, to put it bluntly.

The problem is not so much that Democrats can or cannot win over these voters.  They can but trying to win over these voters will not be easy:  simple “pandering” will not do.  Just a few words from the sources that are not particularly trustworthy will offer little or no gain.  Winning credibility, indeed, will require that Democrats offer serious guarantees and believable promises, which could, potentially, mean having to step on their allies–as Donald Trump is seemingly doing vis-a-vis the GOP establishment at the moment.  If the conflicts between Sanders supporters–many of whom, I keep repeating, have no vested interest in the Democratic Party, in the end–and the mainstream Democrats are any indication, the kind of price that the Democrats will have to pay for this credibility is potentially quite large.  What they need to do is to “explain,” in the terms that the white working class can understand, believe, and trust. That is not “intersectionality,” although they do not need to be at odds.  To those who only speak the language of intersectionality, having to learn another wholly different language, based on entirely alien way of thinking, will not be easy.  If the Democratic mainstream cannot understand Bernie Sanders and his supporters, they are failing from the first step.

The potential electoral gains from changing the course are considerable, I think.  I had argued, indeed, that this may well be how Carter lost in 1980 and, more generally, the “median” is often a surefire path to defeat in a multidimensional universe misconstrued as a unidimensional one through artifices of political agenda setting via bargaining.  If Democrats nominated Sanders, the advantages that they would gain are equivalent to what Republicans would have gained by nominating a less vulgar version of Trump:  all the partisans would remain, but a sizable chunk of the non-partisans who otherwise would have stayed out of the electorate would have been won over.  In a way, this would have recapitulated how, especially in 2012, Obama was able to raise the turnout among African Americans to unusually high levels, except, in this case, the previously “missing voters” would have been the white working class.  Unfortunately, the short term weakness of the Republicans, due to the factors particular to the personal foibles of Donald Trump, blinds the Democrats to this possibility.

There is a curious parallel to the episodes early in the Civil War.  Immediately after the secession, the Confederacy made the point of immediately dispatching emissaries to negotiate with numerous Native American tribes, to whom they offered generous and fair terms and enlisted much support.  Thousands of volunteers were raised, especially among the tribes forcibly removed from the Southeast, especially the Cherokee, Choctow, and the Chickasaw–although, ironically, many of the people who would have taken their lands would now have been working for the Confederacy.  The North, on the other hand, was far more reluctant.  Ely Parker, the Seneca chieftain who would, eventually, earn an officer’s commission in the Union Army, had twice offered his services in 1861.  First, he offered to raise a regiment of volunteers among the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, then he offered his services as an individual (as he was a trained engineer with years of experience.)  Both offers were turned down, supposedly with the words (attributed to William Seward or Edwin Stanton, depending on different accounts) “This is a white man’s war and Indian support is not needed,” or something to that effect.  I suppose the situation with the Democrats today is a bit reversed:  the political conflict today, I suppose, is the minorities’ fight and the white man’s help is not needed.  But, unlike the Iroquois during the Civil War, there is no guarantee that the white man will simply step aside.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s