No, This is Not Normal — It’s Time for a Democratic Party Makeover

by Hillary Kleinz

The news cycle has been dominated by the actions of the new president and his staff. It has been a dizzying few months trying to keep up with the news out of Washington. Every day there is a new story about Russia’s influence. We’ve seen travel bans implemented, overturned, and attempted again only to be challenged in the courts. All to result in fellow American citizens and visa holders being held up in airports because their name sounds Islamic. It’s difficult to discuss President Trump without falling into the trap of Goodwin’s law. So what are we, as Democrats, to do in the Trump era?  It’s clear that we cannot continue accepting the fact that while the majority of American’s agree with our platform, they reject the Democratic label. We need to understand how that happened in order to start fixing it. For us Democrats to win in this environment, we need to learn how to communicate with not only the disaffected Democrats who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton and those who did but Trump voters as well.

Democrats are Outspent in Most Election Years

The most obvious problem is the lack of money to get information out to the voters and counter attacks ads. Despite the rhetoric that the GOP spouts about Democratic donors like George Soros, the Republican Party raises substantially more money for down ballot races. In PA in 2016, the Republican Party raised $7.6 million vs. $5.2 million by the Democratic Party. This fundraising goes toward funding mail, television ads, and staffing. To put this number in perspective, assuming the average race for the state legislature costs $100,000, the PA GOP can fund 25 more races than the Democratic Party. This discrepancy in campaign contributions is organic and logical when you consider the number of big businesses that benefit from dismantling labor and environmental regulations that the Republicans promise during campaigns. Additionally, Republicans deliver tax breaks to those same extremely wealthy business owners on top of their increased profits from worker exploitation and pushing the costs of environmental damage onto the taxpayers. This deficit in structural fundraising has left Democratic candidates having to build their own personal brand rather than relying on a unified Democratic Party to win elections.

Democrats Need to Move Left

President Obama’s election unleashed a wave of Republican propaganda that was continuously spouted on AM radio, Fox news, and social media. The attacks were on Democrats as a whole and went largely unanswered by the Democratic Party. But that’s not the only reason that voters have a hard time voting straight ticket. The Democratic Party has fallen victim to letting the other side define us. Our elected officials can no longer afford to compromise on their Democratic values when there is no benefit to the public.  Take the ACA, or Obamacare as those on the right like to call it, President Obama compromised with Republicans and ended up passing a health care bill with a clumsy and unpopular payment system that makes healthcare available to all, but is burdensome for Americans to pay for and enroll. Had he taken advantage of the Democratic majorities in Congress and pushed for a more progressive insurance system, the current administration would be fearful of tampering with such a vital program.

The combination of being out-funded and outmaneuvered politically has critically weakened the Democratic Party nationally. The Republicans currently control the Presidency, both houses of Congress, 32 out 50 state legislatures and 33 governorships. So how does a Party with a popular platform comeback from such a resounding defeat?  The answer is not to become more centrist because there is no center to go to. The Republican Party has gone off the rails with the election of Donald J. Trump, and the country will follow if we don’t fight back with a coherent message to the American people.

America Agrees with Us

We are the big tent Party, and we won the popular vote. We have passionate members of all creeds, colors, and ethnicities. The Democratic Party reflects the real United States which is still proud to be called a melting pot. We believe that our diversity makes our country stronger and unique. We are not an ethnically homogeneous country and never have been. That reality makes it easier for corrupt ideologues to exploit the concept of “otherness” to impede progressive ideas and policies from moving forward. Democrats need to call out the dog-whistle rhetoric for what it is and push for more progressive and proven economic policies, like raising the minimum wage.

Our history is complicated, but our country was founded on classically liberal principals like equality and justice for all. However, the Constitution is not a magical document. We need to fight back against attacks on our free press, attacks on the separation of church and state, and we need to fight back against economic oppression that is happening to all working people. It’s easy to call the supporters of Donald Trump xenophobic or even racists and to be sure some are, but the majority of the people who voted for Donald Trump wanted change. They’re tired of the outsourcing taking their jobs and not getting ahead financially.  They voted for Donald Trump for the change they wanted from President Obama. They want our policies without the Congressional obstruction. (As an example, and an aside, let’s not forget that we will have another Republican appointed Supreme Court justice that should have been President Obama’s nominee.)

We Need to Be Vocal Supporters of the Democratic Party Not Just Our Policies

Democrats are vocal supporters of our platform policies, but we need to tie the policy to the Democratic Party. We need our Democratic elected officials to be loud and lead the charge against the regressive and economically backward policies that will be coming out of Congress. The Democratic Party nationally needs to use the outrage and enthusiasm of our members to build sustainable grassroots movements to elect Democrats and overcome our fundraising gap in the short-term. We need our members to volunteer and help get the message out to their neighbors and voters who no longer subscribe to local newspapers. We need Democrats to win at all levels to fight the policies coming out of Washington, and if we lose the fight on a bill, we need to make sure the public knows that the Democrats were fighting against it. We need to contact our legislators to make them block bills or face defeat at the polls when they are up for reelection. We need to make sure that Governor Wolf, the last Democratic Governor in the rust belt, gets reelected next year to protect our veto power in Harrisburg. And we need our local Democratic legislators to fight to end gerrymandering and implement campaign finance reform to end the no limit finance laws in Pennsylvania. We don’t need to tilt the maps or the bank accounts in our favor. When the playing field is fair, we win.

It’s going to be a long four years, and there will be many battles fought and lost, but we need to be steadfast and dedicated. We are on the verge of a stronger and more progressive Democratic Party, and when we rebuild our Party we will elect a new Democratic President, and we will make America greater than it has been.

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