The state of the Democratic Party since the election seems to be one of unease. That may be putting it too kindly, though. Some of the fights that started during the primary are still smoldering, and some seem hotter than ever.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing. (I expect I will be in the minority holding this view.)
After a disastrous loss, casting blame is to be expected, and soul-searching is critical. What we have now is a continuation of what happened in the primary. It’s an attempt to answer a fundamental question – what kind of party should the Democratic Party be? I’ve missed not being able to have these debates here at BMG in recent weeks.
As the inauguration approaches it has become increasingly popular for pundits and various partisans to label those engaging in this kind of “infighting” as “part of the problem” or “why we lost” or any number of other epithets. I think they are wrong. These debates are healthy.
It also seems that those who most fervently want to move on from these debates are often the same people who most aggressively blame third party causes (Comey, Russia, even Bernie Sanders) for Clinton’s loss. They may cite Clinton’s popular vote victory as a sign that everything is alright, while conveniently forgetting that the Democrats control no branches of federal government and are even more decimated in most states. Something is seriously wrong, and it wasn’t just losing the 2016 Presidential race.
There are many hollow overtures about the need to “come together,” but I think those overtures are just that, hollow. The problem is that we don’t know what we’re supposed to be coming together to do. We know we need to fight Trump and the Republicans, but what should that fight look like and what kind of opposition party will the Democratic Party be?
Should it look like Hillary Clinton’s response to Trump’s victory or Elizabeth Warren’s? Will the party be largely aligned with corporate interests with a liberal slant on most social issues or will it be a truly progressive party with American families and the environment as the main focus? Will it be an unquestioning supporter of Israel’s actions and support a bill designed to condemn a Democratic President’s actions? Will it fight Trump with a better vision for the country or with “Make America Sick Again”? Will it align more with Chuck Schumer or with Bernie Sanders? Will we try to work with Republicans or try to undermine them at every turn? Will the resistance be real and organized or will it be fact-checking articles and responses to tweets?
Arguments about whether Bernie would have won won’t get us anywhere, but trying to stamp out debate within the party also won’t get us anywhere. In fact, it will probably get us to running with the same program in four years and in eight years (and maybe longer).
Today we see reports of what Clinton’s administration likely would have been. In an alternate reality it may have been different, but nothing on this list looks out of place. This list represents one vision of the Democratic Party.
I have concerns about many (including the billionaire in the Labor slot), but the fact that Sheryl Sandberg was anywhere near a shortlist for a cabinet position is deeply concerning, and I think important to consider when thinking about the direction of the party. Sheryl Sandberg’s career has three main acts – being Larry Summers’ Chief of Staff during the time he was instrumental in setting up the deregulated system for the 2008 crash, leading efforts at Google to bring us Adwords, and turning Facebook from a pure social network into an algorithm-based ad platform (I think we’ve learned pretty well how absolutely destructive that development has been). She’s no doubt incredibly smart and competent and I applaud her support of social causes and fighting for women and girls, but the core thrust of her career is little different than what one might find from a Goldman Sachs managing director. What is good for the world is certainly not the animating purpose.
Sandberg’s inclusion in any list for a cabinet position I think illustrates a pathology that has taken hold in elite circles – that smart, high-achieving rich people are best, regardless of the work they’ve done. This is especially important to confront now as we need to defeat Trump. Again, what kind of party will we be?
I think we need strong leaders with strong moral compasses who are willing to fight. What it comes down to for me is that being right is more important than being smart. Of course the best are both right and very smart, and there are many people like that, but will we choose to have them lead this party?
I think we still need to have this debate.