Jules Witcover, journalist and author of several works on presidential campaigns and political figures, wrote a book about the Democratic Party titled “Party of the People: A History of the Democrats.” Published in 2003, shortly post-9/11 yet before the Great Recession, his closing chapters reflect a Democratic Party heading into uncertain times without a consensus on the best way to move forward. The party’s left, which had undergone its “wilderness years” since the 1980s, was just beginning to show signs of a resurgence…unfortunately, without one of its leading lights as Senator Paul Wellstone perished in an airplane crash shortly before Election Day 2002.
The Democratic Leadership Council/New Democratic Network-style Ds held a tenuous grip on the leadership of the party, albeit one weakened by the not-unrelated failures of the Clinton Administration and the Gore campaign. Even the “insurgent” voice of 2004, Howard Dean, wasn’t particularly progressive; and the eventual nominee of that cycle, John Kerry, was largely viewed as an Establishment figure. Neoliberalism, the idea that “swallowed the world” according to Stephen Metcalf, remained the dominant worldview, with President Barack Obama winning election and re-election in the midst of what was fundamentally a relatively conservative regime sequence, with a somewhat greater warrant of authority for bold(er) government action following the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008. Unfortunately, in yet another close and bitterly fought election similar to 2000, the Democratic presidential nominee of 2016 was unable to succeed a then-relatively popular Democratic incumbent.
So here we stand in 2020 with an impeached, highly polarizing, and dangerous Republican incumbent. Yet there are elements within the Party who have decided that the best alternative for the Democratic Party is the nomination of a billionaire former Republican with a history of racist rhetoric and policies. If Mayor Bloomberg were to be the standard-bearer of our party, are we not yielding the moral high ground? How can we effectively contrast our party’s values by running an oligarch against theirs? How can we defeat not only Trump but Trump-ism with a Democratic nominee who is running as a technocrat who would merely govern better than the current Administration (a low threshold by any account)? Bloomberg’s campaign is not values-driven, it does not offer up a competing vision as much as it is seeks to accommodate the political environment fostered by Trump and his ilk.
What good is a Democratic Party that it sets its sights so low as to consider the nomination of Mike Bloomberg as a rational, much less a winning response to the continuing threat posed by the Trump Administration?
Suffice to say, I am disappointed by the thought process (??) of certain current and former local Democratic “leaders” who have chosen, for whatever reason, to stand with the Bloomberg campaign. Lest I be accused of vague-ness by 1,000 cuts, let me be clear: I am referring to former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and current State Senator Katie Fry Hester.
I don’t know what they think they are getting out of their support for such a figure. I do know that if they wanted a Republican-Light, someone who would be unable to run a strong differentiating campaign against Trump, they could not have made a better choice than backing the former NYC Mayor.
Which gets us back to first principles and the original question, what good is a Democratic Party? What is the public good we hope to advance…at the national, state, and local levels? And what are the obligations of our leaders within the “party of the people?” Whose interests must they serve?
These are important questions for 2020 and beyond.