The DNC needs to change

September 11, 2020

When a group’s leaders no longer represent its members, how long does it take before that group collapses? This question has lingered in my mind ever since the Democratic National Convention (DNC) sent out mixed messages a few weeks ago. Inspiring messages from the young leader of the party’s progressive wing, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), were allotted just a minute and a half, clearly intended to appeal to further-left constituents, enthusiastic supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders and those who may be more apathetic towards electoral politics. But AOC was clearly just a palate cleanser after the DNC had earlier featured several prominent Republican leaders, including 2016 Republican presidential challenger and former governor of Ohio, John Kasich. No one could expect the union-busting, anti-choice, anti-carbon regulation, pro-for-profit prison, pro-American interventionism career Republican to support ideas such as the Green New Deal, but, on the very day of his four-minute DNC speech, he publicly criticized Representative Ocasio-Cortez: In an interview, the former governor said that the congresswoman did not represent the Democratic Party and was a left-wing extremist, advancing a common talking point of President Donald Trump and the American right. 

Despite their severe differences, both Kasich and AOC were given first-day speaking slots. On an immediate level, this makes sense for Democratic leaders who are seeking to appeal to the moderate Republican, but it also reflects a fundamental divergence within the party that predicts future conflict. These harshly differing views simply cannot coexist within one party without the stimulus of Trump pushing them together. So, while pundits continue to talk about the collapse of the traditional Republican coalition, it is time to recognize that the future of the Democratic Party is also in question. Will they move left to support the ever-growing number of progressive voters, or continue to be dragged further and further right in the name of promoting the “lesser of two evils?” 

Progressive powerhouses of the media, such as Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Sanders, are a small minority in terms of political representation. Few elected officials at the federal level measure up to their left-wing stances, even while their ideas are largely embraced by the voters. For example, a poll by HarrisX, a slightly right-leaning polling firm, found that nearly 70 percent of voters admitted they support Medicare for all, yet the DNC’s platform committee quietly voted this year to take that idea off their official policy positions, and Biden said in an interview that he would not sign that legislation if it came across his desk as president. A Pew study suggests that two-thirds of Americans support legalization of marijuana—an idea that Biden is unwilling to hear out and that he has pushed against his entire career. It is no surprise that the man who bragged about effectively writing the 1994 Crime Bill would be against reversing on one of its core tenets. While a PerryUndem poll from June shows that 76 percent of Americans support at least a partial defunding of the police, in the same month, Biden proposed a $300 million expansion to help police departments nationally institute reforms. Mainstream Democratic contenders face uphill challenges in the future, as they often defy the youth vote that’s increasingly gaining political capital. Once Trump is out of office, and as the GOP begins to either slip or compromise, young leftist voters will have less and less of a reason to stay on board with a party that is fundamentally opposed to them. 

The cognitive dissonance between Democratic voters’ ideas and ballots does not end with how they respond to idea polls. Biden’s rocky legacy, especially on crime, and often questionable policy positions has created a notable gap in voter enthusiasm between him and Trump. An ABC poll of registered voters conducted in August shows that, among Biden’s supporters, only 48 percent feel enthusiastic about voting for him come November, compared to a whopping 65 percent of Trump’s. In March, during the raging primary, that number was significantly lower: At the time, only 28 percent of Biden supporters said they were enthusiastic about him. A huge portion of these supporters are previous supporters of Sanders, or perhaps of the other candidates, who were forced off of their preferred choice after Sanders withdrew. These numbers are not the numbers of a man of the people, with widespread support and policies represented by his base. These numbers reflect the ideas that can kill the Democratic Party. Old, lifelong politicians who made their career on mandatory minimums and criminalizing marijuana do not garner the support that is needed to beat a cult of personality like Trump. While our current commander-in-chief may be divisive enough for Democrats to rally support around one candidate, as more intelligent and subtle far-right candidates are pushed, this will damage the sustainability of the Democratic Party. Come 2024, the GOP will likely be running a more competent candidate with the same authoritarian positions, and a Democratic candidate who can barely unite his own base against Donald Trump is not strong enough to survive. 

The DNC has two viable options if they want to survive. If they want to continue attempting to win over the mythical moderate Republican, then a return to the days of mandatory minimums and foreign interventionism will likely detract from Trump’s support. However, if they want to be the party of the future, then candidates like Biden must become vestiges of an old system, and a new system, based around ideas such as the Green New Deal, the legalization of marijuana and universal health coverage, must be created.

Many polls, including the ABC poll cited earlier in this article, show Biden with a moderate lead over Trump. The current Biden lead in the polls can create a false sense of security about the future for Democrats. During World War II, the United States and Soviet Union, despite having fundamentally different visions about the economic and political systems of the future, became allies in what many people consider the greatest alliance in world history. However, as soon as Hitler was defeated, the basic differences in ideas led to a quick rupture that sparked the Cold War. Democrats face a similar situation. The left and right have entered a marriage of convenience to defeat Trump, but even a landslide victory cannot hide the serious divisions within that effort. A victory come November may be cause for some celebration, but it cannot propel the party into the future. A Biden campaign donor event from June has the candidate assuring his audience that, under his administration, “no one’s standard of living will change, nothing will fundamentally change.” But change is what Americans are looking for now more than ever. 

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