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