Saturday, December 12, 2020

#347 / Comments On The Democratic Civil War

Michelle Goldberg, who writes for The New York Times, has some advice for the Democratic Party, as conveyed in the headline of Goldberg's November 18, 2020 newspaper column

Leftists and Moderates, Stop Fighting.
 You Need One Another.

Goldberg calls the phenomenon she discusses a "Democratic Civil War." As an example of what she is talking about, she specifically references recent exchanges between Connor Lamb (pictured to the left, above) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (pictured to the right). Lamb is a Democratic Member of Congress from Pennsylvania, just reelected. Ocasio-Cortez is a Democratic Member of Congress from New York. She was just reelected, too. 

After the election, according to news reports, Lamb "slammed" Ocasio-Cortez for "not being a team player," and Ocasio-Cortez faulted Lamb for what she thought was a rather uninspired and lackluster campaign. The Atlantic weighed in on this conflict in an article by Elaine Godfrey that carried the headline, "The Democratic Truce Is Over."

Here is how Goldberg described the situation in her column:

Today’s Democrats ... are currently locked in an internecine battle between progressives and moderates. It’s a frustrating and destructive fight because both sides are partly right.
It’s the job of the activist left to push political limits, staking out positions that sound radical today but could, with enough work, seem like common sense in the future. But in the short term, an assertive left that garners national attention can threaten the political survival of Democrats who answer to a more conservative electorate.
In a postelection interview with The Times’s Astead Herndon, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed frustration with those who are blaming leftists for Democrats’ down-ballot losses. “Progressive policies do not hurt candidates,” she insisted, noting swing-district Democrats who had co-sponsored Medicare for All legislation and the Green New Deal and had kept their seats.
But most candidates who endorsed those initiatives were in safer districts than those who didn’t. When moderate Democrats like Conor Lamb and Abigail Spanberger say that left-wing slogans are poisonous in their communities, people who don’t live in those communities should take them seriously.
Moderates need radicals to expand their scope for action. Radicals need moderates to wield power in a giant heterogenous country with sclerotic institutions and deep wells of reaction. Neither camp could have defeated Donald Trump on its own. It’s frustrating now, as it was heartbreaking in 2004, that revanchist Republicans retain such a hold on America. But that’s all the more reason for Democrats to stop their counterproductive sniping and work together to beat them.
Goldberg's observation that Democrats should "work together" is certainly appropriate. "Internecine" battles always weaken the group in which they occur. In fact, as the built-in Google Dictionary puts it, the word "internecine" is an adjective that is applied to anything that is "destructive to both sides in a conflict."

If it's a "lose-lose" argument, why don't both sides just cut it out?

Well, Democrats might well join Goldberg in hoping they will, but let me suggest a factor that is not much noted in our national political discussions. I have actually mentioned this before, in my blog posting on November 19, 2020. The factor I am talking about is the decline of a genuine federalism, which is the basis upon which our particular form of democratic self-government is supposed to operate.

We do live in "a giant heterogenous country," as Goldberg says, and our Constitution, acknowledging this, deemphasizes the "national" government, and emphasizes the primacy of our "state" governments. We are, after all, the United "States" of America, with our national government specifically identified as a government of "limited" powers. It is our different state governments that are supposed to do most of the "governing." 

Why should Lamb and Ocasio-Cortez fight? He is from one place. She is from another. They're different places, and they have different constituencies. It is presumptious for Ocasio-Cortez to tell Lamb what sort of a campaign he should have run (he did get reelected, after all), and it is presumptious of Lamb to suggest that Ocasio-Cortez' advocacy, employing arguments that are winning arguments in her district, should have been modified to be pleasing to voters in Lamb's district, where Ocasio-Cortez wasn't running.

In a truly federal system, each individual congressional campaign would be separate. There wouldn't be any need for Lamb and Ocasio-Cortez to snipe at each other. Once elected, the different flavors of "Democrats," elected from all across the nation - which is, truly, a giant and "heterogenous" nation - would then work in Congress on policy issues and try to come to a politically effective resolution. Please note, "Republicans" could even take part in those negotiations and discussions. Working out differences - and thus illuminating those differences - would occur within the halls of Congress, not so much in the various campaigns, which all would be different, and reflect local conditions. That may not be the way it is now, but that is the way it used to be.

Today, our Members of Congress no longer run solely in their own districts, with campaigns aimed to succeed in those districts. All Democrats, and this includes the entire spectrum, from Ocasio-Cortez to Lamb, are actually running "nationally."

This last election was an election in which "Democrats" were trying to make a national appeal to all voters, everywhere, as Democrats. Democratic Party candidates from every state in the nation were seeking money and assistance from all across the country. National media illuminated the issues on a national basis. Of course, the Republican Party was doing the same thing as the Democrats. Our politics, in other words, has become "nationalized," and if there is going to be a "national" Democratic Party that operates a "nationalized" campaign, as opposed to individual candidates who run campaigns aimed at their individual districts, and whose campaigns are based on local issues, there really will be no way to avoid the problems documented by Goldberg and Godfrey. 

When you think about it, the kind of national politics that has been emerging in the United States reflects a "parliamentary" approach. In a parlimentary system, what is most important is the candidate's "party," not the individual candidate. Parlimentary systems operate from the "top down," not from the "bottom up," which is how our system of federalism is intended to operate. 

Which system is better? There are some advantages to each. One way or another, though, we need to find a way to end the "Civil War," and until and unless we actually change the system that is reflected in our Constitution, I think I'm inclined to stick with federalism, and with that timeless advice from Tip O'Neill

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