[Marxism] Spurred by Midterm Losses, Liberal and Moderate Democrats Square Off Over Strategy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 14 13:25:26 MST 2014

(Of course, once Hilary Clinton is the nominee in 2016, Warren and 
Trumka will fall into line.)

NY Times, Nov. 14 2014
Spurred by Midterm Losses, Liberal and Moderate Democrats Square Off 
Over Strategy

WASHINGTON — The Democrats’ widespread losses last week have revived a 
debate inside the party about its fundamental identity, a long-running 
feud between center and left that has taken on new urgency in the 
aftermath of a disastrous election and in a time of deeply felt economic 

The discussion is taking place in post-election meetings, conference 
calls and dueling memos from liberals and moderates. But it will soon 
grow louder, shaping the actions of congressional Democrats in President 
Obama’s final two years and, more notably, defining the party’s 
presidential primary in 2016.

“The debate will ultimately play out in a battle for the soul of the 
Clinton campaign,” said Matt Bennett, a senior official at Third Way, 
the centrist political group.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, should she run, will face tension between the 
business-friendly wing of the party that was ascendant in the economic 
boom during her husband’s administration and the populism of Senator 
Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, that has gained currency of 

“I want her to run on a raising wages agenda and not cater to Wall 
Street but to everyday people,” Richard Trumka, president of the 
AFL-CIO, said of his expectations for Mrs. Clinton.

Straddling the two blocs could prove difficult. Progressives have been 
emboldened to criticize party leaders after the Republican rout, 
particularly given a lack of a coherent Democratic message to address 
the problem of stagnant wages.

Sifting through returns showing that lower-income voters either 
supported Republicans or did not vote, liberals argue that without a 
more robust message about economic fairness, the party will continue to 
suffer among working class voters, particularly in the South and Midwest.

Mr. Obama’s wide popularity among activists and his attempt to transcend 
the traditional moderate-versus-liberal divide have largely papered over 
Democratic divisions on economic policy for the last six years. The 
party was also brought together by passage the health care law, a goal 
of Democratic presidents since Harry Truman. But with Mr. Obama’s 
popularity flagging, and an economic recovery largely benefiting the 
affluent, Democrats are clashing anew.

Unlike the 1980s, when heavy losses prompted moderates to plead with the 
party to move away from liberal interest groups and toward to the 
middle, it is now progressives who are the most outspoken.

And they are seizing on the election results to reorient the party. “Too 
many Democrats are too close to Wall Street, too many Democrats support 
trade agreements that outsource jobs and too many Democrats are too 
willing to cut Social Security — and that’s why we lose elections,” said 
Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio.

Mr. Brown said he had talked to over 60 Ohio Democratic leaders and 
activists since they got trounced in every statewide election and saw 
their state chairman quit. “The message I heard from all of them was: 
the Democratic Party should fight for the little guy.”

To help provide a bridge to liberals, Senate Democrats on Thursday named 
Ms. Warren as part of their leadership.

While overwhelmingly in sync on the substance of cultural issues, some 
of the populists believe Democrats placed too much emphasis on such 
matters and not enough on economic fairness, depressing voter turnout.

"Gay marriage, abortion and birth control are important,” said Terry 
O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union. “But people 
join our organization for their livelihood, and that’s what our people 
vote on: their economic self-interest. I do think the party needs to 
re-examine what it stands for and get back to bread-and-butter issues.”

Labor is having its own struggles, with membership declining and 
Republican-controlled states moving to limit union power. Democrats lost 
crucial races in part because of their candidates’ struggles in 
traditional union enclaves like eastern Iowa, suburban Detroit and parts 
of Wisconsin.

For example, in losing to the Republican they perhaps most wanted to 
beat, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, unions saw their members’ turnout 
slip. After making up 32 percent of all voters in the 2012 recall 
attempt against Mr. Walker, union households made up just 21 percent of 
the Wisconsin electorate last week.

Part of that drop is a result of Mr. Walker’s pushing through changes to 
collective bargaining law that thinned the ranks of his state’s union 
members. But what exasperates some labor leaders is that Mary Burke, the 
Democrat who tried to unset Mr. Walker, would not even commit to undoing 
the changes that have crippled unions.

Echoing many liberals, Steve Rosenthal, a longtime Democratic strategist 
with ties to labor, said progressive organizations and unions should 
become more engaged in primaries and push candidates to stand for their 
agenda just as the right tries to make Republican candidates hew to 
conservative orthodoxy.

“I think it’s critical for folks on the left to do more of the same,” 
Mr. Rosenthal said

There were a handful of bright spots in an otherwise dismal year for 
Democrats, and progressives are holding up as models the success of 
three Senate candidates who ran as populists: Senator Al Franken of 
Minnesota, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Senator-elect Gary Peters 
of Michigan.

Mr. Merkley won by 19 percentage points with a campaign centered on the 
loss of well-paying jobs, the spiraling cost of college tuition and his 
opposition to trade deals that he said send jobs overseas. While 
Democrats nationally were losing whites without a college degree by 30 
percentage points, Mr. Merkley narrowly carried that bloc of voters.

“We didn’t lose them here in Oregon because we talked about what they 
care about,” Mr. Merkley said.

But some center-left Democrats believe that this is the exception and 
that the party should give up on winning a majority of such voters.

“Slowly and steadily since 1968, culture has trumped economics with 
voting and the white working class,” said Kenneth Baer, a former Obama 
administration official who has written a book on modern liberalism. 
“It’s become the great white whale for a shipful of Democratic 
strategists. Obama proved that while we cannot get wiped out with that 
demographic, the future of the coalition is among growing parts of the 
electorate which are neither white nor working class.”

The question of which voters to pursue captures the party’s broader 
debate about its agenda. Centrist Democrats have chalked up the party’s 
losses to an insufficient performance among moderate and middle-class 

“We talk about policies helping the middle-class, but the ones we 
promote the most are ones that don’t speak to the middle-class, like 
raising the minimum wage,” said Al From, who founded the moderate 
Democratic Leadership Council in the 1980s to counter the party’s move 
to the left and helped propel Bill Clinton to the White House in 1992.

Many liberals believe the disconnect between the politics of the party’s 
grass-roots and the message they hear from Democratic administrations 
has left blue-collar voters unenthused. “We do not have to struggle for 
an agenda that connects with working-class voters,” said Representative 
Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut. “We have an agenda that does 
that, but it does not get vocalized at the top.”

Yet many progressives concur that simply pushing an increase in the 
minimum wage is an inadequate solution. Liberals want tougher 
restrictions on banks, more generous federal student loan aid, enhanced 
collective bargaining rights and a reassessment of the country’s trade 

Mr. Obama has made clear he intends to work with congressional 
Republicans to push for fewer restrictions on trade. Some union leaders 
said they intended to fight those efforts, and would be looking for an 
ally in Mrs. Clinton.

“The next six months we’re going to be relentless on trade,” vowed Larry 
Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. “I hope she 
comes to our side on this fight. The president is not starting out there.”

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