The political blame game is in full swing across the country. What happened to Hillary? How was this sure win squandered? Was the FBI director to blame? From Michael Moore to John Stewart to Barack Obama, everyone is weighing in on the biggest question of the year: How did Democrats lose the 2016 presidential election? Of course, I have my own thoughts on who is to blame for this devastating loss, so why not toss those into the mix?
I don’t believe there is any “one thing” that can be blamed for Hillary’s loss on election day. Clinton and even some Republicans are claiming FBI Director Comey’s announcement of a reopened investigation into Hillary’s emails turned the tide, but I really don’t believe that. It didn’t help her, that’s for sure, but the vote count would have been too close for comfort either way. I think the mainstream corporate media played a roll in this debacle, giving Trump thousands of hours of free air time simply because he was an entertaining buffoon throughout what could have been a Cruz/Clinton snore fest. However, this is only a part of the story.
My feeling is that the true story goes back more than thirty years to the 1980s. It was during the Reagan era when the weather vane of political momentum was swinging strongly to the right and conservatives were enjoying their “Morning in America” with the Gipper at the helm. Democrats of the era began to panic. Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale came off as weak, wishy washy candidates compared to the simple-minded yet resolute Reagan, and Dems started rethinking the party’s overall message. Unfortunately for the party in the long run, they decided that if they couldn’t beat conservatives, they would join them, and the Democratic bus veered right, giving us the neoliberals of the last three decades.
Yes, we’ve had two Democratic presidents elected during that time, but from my perspective, Clinton and Obama are neoliberals who conned the left into believing they were far more liberal than they actually were, and that they governed much closer to the center. And Clinton was one of the founding members of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of centrist Democrats whose goal was to make the party more palatable to corporate America and fiscally conservative voters.
In its misguided attempt to try and beat Republicans at their own game, Democrats ran from the legacy of the New Deal, retreated from its traditionally strong support for farmers and rural America, pulled back support for unions, cracked down on welfare recipients, amped up the war on drugs, and adopted a distinctly more militarily aggressive approach to foreign affairs. In other words, they distanced themselves from the very ideals that truly distinguished them from Republicans.
The big problem with the Democrats strategy was that they forgot to consider why poor, rural and lower-middle class whites keep voting against their best interests and electing Republicans. Values. Republicans have two things going for them as a national party. One is the money they receive as unabashed government proxies for corporate America. They are the bought and sold minions of the military/industrial/media complex, shamelessly selling votes to the highest bidder. On the other side of the economic tracks, Republicans attract voters with their veil of values. Successful conservative politicians are those who are able to exploit the values of poor, less educated constituents and convince them that they are victims of the big, bad government who wants to take away their churches, guns and money.
The victimization of poor and poorly educated whites has proven tremendously successful, and it is what propelled Trump to the presidency (along with appeals to racism, sexism, etc.) Democrats had nothing to counter Trumps claims. Had they been championing the needs of the poor and unemployed over the past thirty years? Not really. Had they done anything to help revitalize small-town America with decent jobs? Uh, no. Democrats were too busy trying to be Republicans to care about people on the fringes of America’s cities or on welfare or in prison or living on the streets. We Democrats don’t do that New Deal stuff anymore. Then along came Bernie Sanders.
An old-school New Dealer with the unfortunate label Democratic Socialist, Sanders espoused many traditional Democratic positions and low and behold he began gaining support in his bid for the presidency. His views seemed fresh and hopeful to more idealistic younger voters, although they were historically what Democrats had stood for since FDR was in office. The Democratic Party, however, still under the control of neoliberals, saw Sanders as a threat, and even though poll after poll showed he had the best chance of beating Trump, they threw him under the bus and anointed Hillary their candidate.
The lesson is simple. If Democrats want to win in the future, they need to re-embrace the views espoused by Sanders and Warren and other truly progressive members that clearly distinguish them from Republicans. If the Party chooses candidates who can energize voters with hope and an optimistic vision for a better America, only then will Democrats find themselves on the winning side.