Frank Bruni is right to be worried about the future of the Democratic Party. After suffering a series of stinging defeats during the Obama years, it reacted to the Trump victory with a wail of uncontrolled anguish.
It did not regroup and reorganize, the better to reformulate its message. It chose therapy over political action. Someone must have told it that it needed some emotional catharsis so it set out to utter a howl of outrage.
What might have been an important political moment, the Women’s March was compromised by foul mouthed celebrities like Madonna and Ashley Judd. Now the organizers will also be defending the choice of a bigoted Linda Sarsour as a leading voice at the Washington rally. Sarsour, a proponent of Shariah Law, a defender of the Saudi treatment of women has called for the mutilation of women who oppose Islam.
Bruni is too modest to bring up such issues, but he offers the salient point:
Have Democrats learned and implemented all the right lessons from Trump’s victory and from the party’s brutal fade during Barack Obama’s presidency? As the race for the D.N.C. chairmanship lurches toward its conclusion later this month and as Democratic lawmakers sweat the smartest strategy against Trump, I wonder. I worry.
Yelling has an impact, but it takes you only so far if you don’t choose your battles, marshal your fiercest energy for ones that can yield concrete results, and buckle down to the nitty-gritty of electing legislators who can actually vote against Trump’s worst initiatives in numbers that exceed those of his abettors.
Too much emotion drowns out rational thought:
Trump provokes ire by the minute, but the response needs to be fashioned by the day or even week, lest everything blur. Resistance is a dish best served with discernment. Too much salt and you can’t taste the food itself.
Democrats are obsessed with signaling their hatred of Trump. They are competing to see who can fill the airwaves with the most vitriol and vituperation. And yet, does this display accomplish anything more than to persuade the general public that you are more concerned with showing who can shriek loudest? Thus, you are not ready to govern.
Bruni does not mention it, so I will, but the Democratic Party is also running aground over its infatuation with identity politics. A leading candidate for Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Keith Ellison associated in the past with Rev. Louis Farrakhan. Lifelong Democrat Alan Dershowitz has declared that if the party makes Ellison its chairman he will leave it.
And let’s not forget the foul-mouthed head of the Idaho Democratic Party, Sally Boynton Brown who shouted that she wanted to shut down white people, to call out their privilege and to shut them up.
Now, that is a tantalizing message, designed to attract voters to the cause. Running campaigns against white people and white privilege—hallmarks of the Obama years—has not and will not work. It was one reason why the Democratic Party lost and has been driven to despair.
Bruni has no sympathy for those Democrats who are gnashing their teeth over the election outcome. True enough, Trump only won by a handful of votes in a few states, but, Hillary would not only have needed to win Wisconsin and Michigan; she would have had to win Pennsylvania or Florida too.
Bruni notes that it should not have been that close. And besides, Trump was probably the Republicans’ weakest candidate:
But it’s all of the above, because someone as preposterous as Trump should have been too far behind to benefit from tiny margins and lucky breaks. And operational failures alone can’t explain the Democratic disadvantages in the Senate, House, governor’s offices and statehouses.
As though to prove Bruni’s point, Senate Democrats and their fellow travelers decided to go to the mat to fight over Betsy DeVos. It made them look like marionettes whose strings were being pulled by the teacher’s unions.
After failing to block her in the Senate, Democratic loyalists blocked her entrance into a Washington middle school—allowing everyone to compare them to a former Democratic governor named George Wallace.
Betsy DeVos has already been confirmed, heaven help us; I’m not sure what good protesters did by blocking her entry into a Washington public school on Friday. It was cathartic, theatrical and less important than blocking any unwise legislation hatched at her bidding. Save the fire for that.
While fighting so hard against Betsy DeVos, someone should have noticed that the American public school system is a shambles, that American schoolchildren are falling behind their peers around the world and that defending the status quo is grossly irresponsible. Really, how much worse can it get?
Even Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine, a leading Trump detractor, explains that the fight against DeVos was not worth having. He emphasizes that the Secretary of Education has very little power over what happens in public schools. Thus, even if DeVos wanted to damage them she could not.
Chait offers his perspective:
Democrats have wildly oversold the damage DeVos could wreak in office. She “would single-handedly decimate our public education system if she were confirmed,” exclaimed Senator Charles Schumer, in an example of the kind of apocalyptic hyperbole Republicans routinely threw around against Barack Obama’s agenda in 2009. DeVos could not decimate the public-education system even if she tried. Her department doesn’t have that kind of power. The federal government contributes less than 9 percent of all spending on education. DeVos has advocated a $20 billion-a-year private-voucher subsidy system, but Republicans are unlikely to finance a costly new scheme like that — they prefer tax cuts — and even if they did, it would still be a drop in the national education bucket. Education is overwhelmingly controlled and financed at the state and local level.
The fear that has gripped many liberals, of an overweening Department of Education laying waste to established public schools across the land, is not a realistic account of how education policy actually plays out. In actuality, education politics tend to cut across party lines. Republicans usually favor local control and oppose reforms that threaten the property-based system favored by affluent suburban parents, who don’t want to risk losing exclusive access to the school district they bought their way into.
Why take such a strong stand against Betsy DeVos? One can only surmise that the Democrats are disorganized, lacking a coherent message. In the Senate they are merely obstructing for the sake of obstructing, a sign of impotence, not of strength. They even imagine that it's therapeutic. And they are still beholden to their special interests, the teachers’ unions and other assorted factions.