During an interview on Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) discussed the current state of the Democratic Party, at which point Sanders said the following:
The current model of the Democratic party obviously is not working. Republicans control the House, the Senate, they control the White House, they control two-thirds of the governors’ offices.
He also went on to say Democrats need to work harder to appeal to independents.
And he’s right, the current model of the Democratic Party isn’t working. That said, Sanders’ model, at least not what I’ve seen of it thus far, isn’t going to fix it either.
Before some people get worked all up into a frenzy because I’m daring to say something critical of Sanders, when I say his model isn’t working either, I’m not talking about his ideas, I’m talking about how he goes about things.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Democratic Party is also one of its strengths: its diversity.
While the GOP is mostly comprised of older, rural/country white Christian voters, people who vote for Democrats are much more diverse. This diversity, while a strength, can also be a weakness. It means Democrats must appeal to a much wider-ranging type of voter than the “God, guns, and country” propaganda you see pushed by nearly every Republican in this country.
One of the man issues I’ve had with Sanders and his “strategy” for improving the Democratic Party is that he spends most of his time talking down about it. Instead of talking about all the good things Democrats have pushed for and/or accomplished, he spends most of his time talking about the party in a negative sense.
This is the same “strategy” (though not nearly on the same ridiculous level) you see from the Green Party. A joke I’ve often used to describe the Green Party is that it’s a group of people who help elect ultra-conservative Republicans by spending most of their time whining about progressive Democrats not being liberal enough.
Long before the “feel the Bern” craze took off, I feared what Sanders’ rise among the left would cause. I was afraid he’d work the far-left up into such a frenzy by promising things I knew weren’t completely realistic (at least not based on the realities of how our government works) that they’d begin turning on Democrats who didn’t pass their often unrealistic test for what it means to be a “real progressive.”
And, unfortunately, I was right.
I’ve always viewed Sanders as more of a fighter than a leader. He’s a great senator and an amazing advocate for the poor and middle class, but I think he lacks the ability to think effectively or strategically.
Think of him like a baseball player with incredible power who all the fans love. Sure, he might have 40 home runs and the ability to knock the ball 450 feet at any given moment — but he’s also batting .168, while leading the major league in strike outs.
Why? Because he’s always trying to go for the home run as opposed to trying to get a higher percentage base hit, setting his team up for a better chance at winning.
Without a doubt, Sanders has some amazing ideas and I agree with the sentiment in most of them. That said, his all-or-nothing approach isn’t going to get us anywhere. Not only because it’s incredibly difficult to get legislation passed in today’s political environment, but because humans are often fearful and resistant of big change.
Which brings me back to his statement about appealing to independents more. On that, Sanders is absolutely right.
The issue is, to appeal to more independents, Democrats can’t push forward with an “all-or-nothing” liberal approach like Sanders and many of his supporters frequently take with so many issues.
As a progressive, I pride myself on believing in facts before ideology. I don’t view compromise as a dirty word and I recognize that a liberal in Los Angeles isn’t likely going to be the same as a liberal in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Even as a progressive who’s lived in Texas my entire life, I frequently butt heads with the further left aspects of my own “side” because I don’t subscribe to everything that they do. In my years following politics, one thing I realized really quickly is that a radical is a radical, no matter which “side” they’re on.
Yes, many of Sanders’ ideas could appeal to independent voters, but many don’t. Sanders isn’t helped by the fact that many of his most devout supporters can, at times, often act as hostile and aggressive as many of the Trump supporters I’ve witnessed.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look.
Without a doubt the Democratic Party can learn a lot from Sanders. His ability to inspire people to come out and support him is something the party desperately lacks. During his campaign, he sparked a grassroots movement unlike almost anything I’ve seen in politics before. And, yes, he did better with some independent voters than Clinton did (though he mostly performed better with younger independents, not older voters).
However, he also alienated moderate Democrats by pushing this idea that if you’re not as “progressive” as he is, then you’re not really a progressive.
After all, isn’t that what many of his supporters felt about Clinton? That she wasn’t “progressive enough,” despite being ranked the 11th most liberal senator when she served? It wasn’t that she wasn’t progressive (she actually is much more progressive than most on the left give her credit for), it’s just that she wasn’t as progressive as he was. Therefore, in the minds of many of his supporters, she was no better than a Republican.
As a Clinton supporter, and I know I’m not alone, I constantly faced backlash among the Sanders faithful because I dared to have a different opinion about who I wanted to be our next president than they did. I was called a “fake progressive” or a “Republican” more times than I can remember.
Tell me, how is that type of attitude going to appeal to moderate and independent voters? If your most vocal supporters are alienating progressive Democrats with their hostility and ideological purity, how are they supposed to appeal to true independents and moderate Republicans?
The fact is, while Bernie did better than anyone thought he would, the 2016 primary wasn’t really that close. Without a doubt he performed phenomenal among younger voters, yet he performed relatively poorly among moderate Democrats and minorities.
What Democrats need to do is stop making social issues their primary calling card. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that the party fights feverishly to make this country much more accepting of minorities, the LGBT community, and immigrants — but I feel the party fails miserably at selling itself as a party that appeals to all working class Americans and fights for policies that would help 98% of the country.
There are millions of moderate, non-batcrap crazy conservatives in the Midwest and rural areas of the country who don’t feel as if the Democratic Party does anything to fight for them.
Is that true? Of course not — but in politics, perception is reality. Trust me, as someone who lives in Texas, surrounded by conservatives, one of the most common issues I come up against are people who feel Democrats are more concerned with being politically correct than they are creating jobs or improving the lives of every day Americans.
Democrats need to work on their message as much as they do optics, and I believe Sanders can play a vital role in helping make the party better. However, I don’t think he can do that as an “outsider” who spends a lot of his time criticizing the party, turning the far-left against it, and creating this atmosphere that the only way to be a “real progressive” is by meeting some ridiculous litmus test for what it means to be one.
Everyone on the left needs to understand that there are far-left liberals and moderate progressives, mostly fighting for the same things. While we might disagree on some issues, at our core, we’re all fighting for the same cause — to make this country better and keep Republicans from destroying it.
But make no mistake about it, Republicans will keep gerrymandered control over this country as long as progressives spend a lot of their time fighting among one another instead of working together. We can’t appeal to true independents, or even moderate Republicans, until we open our minds to sitting down with them, listening to their problems and complaints, and finding a way to bridge the gap between their ideologies and ours.
We need to understand that most of us have the exact same goals. While we may differ in how we think those goals can be achieved, I do believe that if we’d sit down and talk with one another, instead of at each other, there’s almost nothing Republicans could do to stop us.