Before we start dreaming about 2020

Before we start dreaming about 2020

I'm writing this in response to many good, necessary conversations we've been having on this blog over the past few weeks on the way forward.

Some people—not necessarily on here, but definitely out in the zeitgeist—are already thinking about 2020 and the presidential election. You have the Bernie folks saying we have to appeal to the WWC and downplay the diversity of the Democratic coalition to win back the White House. Others are putting up dream lists of primary candidates. And it goes on, the horror of the possibilities on hand for the next four years making us want to skip ahead to our next bite at the apple.

To these fantasies I just have to say this: Stop it.

Yes, I know, Hillary Clinton is on her way to winning the popular vote by 3 million. That and 10 cents won't even get you a cup of coffee anywhere. If the Hail Mary of the vote auditing doesn't pan out—and really, with the way this year has gone I'm making no predictions one way or the other—the fact will remain that GOP voter suppression tactics worked, with able assists from foreign entities, cracking what we thought was our unassailable Blue Wall. Before 2020 there's 2018, and that's where we must focus our attention.

Here's the thing: the GOP has cleaned our clocks where it matters the most, on the local level. Without GOP legislatures and governors in what are supposedly blue states, we wouldn't have had the voter suppression laws which popped up like evil mushrooms in the wake of 2010. We also wouldn't have had the abominable gerrymanders which deliver the House and state legislatures to Republicans, even though Democrats win the raw vote. It's almost as if the GOP sussed out that the road to DC goes through state capitols, and set out to make sure as many of them were in their hands as possible. It's a truism which seems to have been lost on Democrats. 

(Of course, our disastrous 2010 had more causes. But that should have only made it more important to work to mitigate those factors.)

Imagine Wisconsin with a Democratic governor and legislature these past eight years rather than with what it has now. One can guess that the Wisconsin vote would have turned out differently without voter ID laws and voter roll purges.

Democrats, besotted with our successes under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in winning the White House, have forgotten that to be a truly national party we need to be competitive in, if not dominate, local politics. Democratic dominance of California shows what happens when we do: all statewide offices are in Democratic hands, the Party has a supermajority in the Legislature, thus blocking any GOP attempts at sabotage, our two senators are Democrats, and 75% of the California House delegation consists of Democrats. The Party has gone from 16 years of successive GOP governors in the 80s and 90s and seesawing control of the Legislature to a situation where the GOP has no viable path back to statewide influence. (It also helps that the California Democratic Party is a diverse coalition, so it is loathe to overreach in its legislation.)

The goal of the national party should be to replicate California's model in other states, even states which seem out of reach. Will Democrats regain control of, say, Mississippi in the foreseeable future? Of course not. But the point is to rebuild state and local parties to make them competitive, to serve as a check on rampant GOP prerogatives, to, when the shit hits the fan, give voters an option to try.

And about voters. Ah yes, the fickle, undependable voter. I've written before about my outright disgust that so many of those eligible to vote don't bother to do so. By their negligence, they are empowering people whom they then tell pollsters they are against. 

But the blame can't be placed solely on their shoulders. Some are apathetic. Some are busy just trying to keep a roof over their heads. The niceties of politics don't seem to have any meaning to their lives.

Whomever takes over the DNC has to make it a priority to do voter outreach and education. We have to bring those voters back into the political process, to show them that even though they think they are voiceless, when they speak mountains tremble. The GOP's strategy every election is to depress turnout. Why? Because they know that higher turnout tends towards Democratic victories. If the GOP spends so much time, effort, and money at preventing people from voting, shouldn't Democrats spend even more on turning out the vote? Get people IDs. Drive people to the polls. Find a solution to every obstacle Republicans throw up. They like to say that voting is a "privilege". No, it's not. It's the foundation of our Republic. It's the right without which all other rights vanish. Republicans won't trumpet the right to vote; Democrats have to make sure that voting is seen as a sacred exercise, as the surest way to attain the government you want and need.

So, think of 2020 as a far off mirage. We should be focusing on 2017 and 2018. Thirty governorships are up. Most of them are either being defended by GOP incumbents or being vacated by termed-out Republican governors. It would be nice if we could take back a healthy chunk of legislatures; that should a secondary goal. Making sure we have enough Democrats to sustain vetoes is more urgent. Why? Because of redistricting. Democratic governors can veto obscenely gerrymandered maps put forth by GOP legislatures. They can't undo all the harm, but can mitigate a good deal of it.

Governors, of course, are also where we draw our bench for federal office. Someone who has served as a governor is much more attractive for a Senate candidacy or for the White House. (Witness New Hampshire governor—now Senator—Maggie Hassan.) If we want 2020 to go our way, we need a pool from which we can draw. That begins in governors' mansions. 

The next four years promise to be horrific to one degree or another. But we can't run before we can walk. We can't be a party built just to contest for the White House. The GOP has spent decades building up their local satellites. We have to invest even more than them to make up for lost ground. Any Democratic strategy which ignores this is doomed to failure.

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