Party of Woe
Election 2020: One half of the Democratic Party showed up. The other half “watched.” The election results explain everything. Where political organizing mattered, votes in support of Democratic candidates for change delivered victories. Where races were spun through political consultants’ playbooks and party machinery, Democratic Party candidates lost or won unconvincingly (1).
The Democratic Party is the party of woe. If you want to tout the “big tent” metaphor to explain the party of Roosevelt, Truman and LBJ, you are living a history writ three generations ago. The New Deal has evolved into the Fair Deal which evolved into the Great Society. Today, Democrats claim that they are the party of the Middle Class which began disappearing in the nineteen seventies.
The “new party” of Clinton, Obama and Joe Biden is a big tent riven with dashed hope and exhaustion.
The inspirational voices of the Democratic Party are not party stalwarts but rather resemble party saviors: Stacey Abrams at the polls and county/state election boards, Bernie Sanders on the health/ climate/economics issue campaign stump, Elizabeth Warren reading Eleanor Roosevelt to a clueless Senate.
The party has witnessed with pallor the political center shifting so far to the right that one feels like we are occupied not with political discourse but with cliff hanging.
In a way part of the blame for this shift to the right is shared with a Republican Party that refuses to govern and exits few future deliberations so that lobbyists and donors can write the laws and work the rooms.
But the other part, the woeful part, is the Democratic Party’s domain after two generations of accommodation and complicity.
Witness Black Lives Matter stand in for “All Lives Matter,” whites and blacks grieving over a plethora of black executions. Witness a youth anti-gun movement hatched at Marjorie Stoneham Middle School stand in for an adult claim for public safety, now marooned in Congressional Committee haggling. Witness a sensible climate policy movement hanging on whether fracking is an economic cause, indeed a “debate” issue — not climate change — argued during the Presidential candidate media gab fest.
Our political discourse has been short circuited. As the yawing income disparity and economic injustice is bestowed on the next generation and the next, “youth” has been short circuited:
“Every ordinary person around my age has a secret self from before the crash (2008), one who dared to dream of more than a life of necessities reclassified as luxuries…because the struggle to hang on to what you have is so great that it hurts your heart to hope for more. You can’t afford the literal cost and you can’t afford the psychic cost.” (2)
The accommodation part of bearing woe is not obscured from public view. One finds it in arcane “gentlemen’s agreements” hatched in Congressional Halls and backwards leaning institutions. Like the filibuster. Like the Electoral College. Like 9 Supreme Court justices.
The complicity part of bearing woe is obscured, buried beneath a pseudo-rationalism that prioritizes “getting things done.” This pseudo-rationalism inserts expiration dates into federal acts in order to get the legislation passed. This pseudo-rationalism weeds out language however accurate that may offend and threaten litigation. This pseudo-rationalism panders “not now” to an anxious leaning plebiscite.
To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, the Democratic Party on the eve of the 46th Presidential Inauguration finds itself like Stein’s native Oakland, bereft of her family home, a political party of “no ‘there’ there:”
The party of woe. The party of abandonment.
1- Gina Bellafante, “Liberal New Yorkers Threw Money at Doomed Candidates all over the U.S.,” Big City (column), NYTimes, Sunday, November 16, 2020
2- Sarah Kendzior, “Hiding in Plain Sight: the Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America.” (Flatiron Books, 2020), p. 134