Disarray has dogged the Democrats for decades
Give more attention to the appropriate headline of Diane Hessan’s Feb. 10 op-ed, which invokes Hunter S. Thompson’s coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign (“Fear and Loathing in the Democratic Party”). The post-New Deal coalition Democrats still lack a unifying message worthy of party cohesion and ballot casting. In both ’72 and 2020, we find a large field of candidates with unfocused opposition, a “Democratic disarray,” as Hessan puts it, or a “bogus alternative” to an authoritative incumbent, as Thompson wrote. They are cannibalizing themselves and ignoring an opportunity to capture the nation’s imagination and achieve sustainable political ascendancy.
Their moments of success in the last 50 years (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) have not provided a permanent antidote to the Democrats’ critical defect: Since self-destructing in 1968, the party cannot agree on an inspiring long-term vision. Instead, the Democrats remain divided, held together by their opposition to the Republicans.
Since 1980, the Republicans have controlled the country’s political narrative because they have a united vision, albeit one malleable to their needs, and laced with fear and false hope. Still, it gives them a loathsome advantage. The Democrats’ incompetence in countering it leaves me cynical as a voter. They need to tell an authentic story that energizes this country; otherwise, Thompson might have been correct to call the Democrats “more an Obstacle than a Vehicle” to “accomplishing anything genuinely new or different in American politics.”
Sanders’ N.H. ‘victory’ is anything but
Headlines say that Bernie Sanders won in New Hampshire. But on balance, he lost. He got many fewer votes than in 2016. He and Elizabeth Warren captured 35 percent of the total vote. The other candidates — moderates — received far more support in total. The moderates are in control.
If the five-way split continues on March 3’s Super Tuesday, then the convention may be split on the first ballot. Then Democratic senators will point out that Sanders has had barely any legislative impact in that chamber since he arrived there, and will say that he has no leadership ability and cannot be a presidential candidate for the party.
Will the convention then coalesce around Mike Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar?
It is getting exciting.
The ‘socialist’ label will stick to — and sink — a candidate
I read two letters in Thursday’s Globe about how we shouldn’t worry about the “socialism” label being placed on Bernie Sanders. One said that the GOP will label any Democratic candidate as a socialist anyway, even if that candidate isn’t one, and one blamed the pejorative quality of the label on right-wing propagandists and gave examples of the benefits of Scandinavian-style social democracy.
Both letters overlooked some important points. For as long as I can remember (I’m 67), many people, in an America where anti-intellectualism is esteemed, neither have known nor cared about the different gradations in socialist thought, from social democracy through democratic socialism, orthodox socialism, Communism, Maoism, Trotskyism, and so on. To these people, if a candidate is identified as a “socialist,” this means that the candidate wants to turn us into another Cuba or Venezuela. And the examples of well-functioning social democracies are dismissed as inconvenient, often with a response such as, “That’s fine for Scandinavia, but this is America.”
In the case of Sanders, we will hear endless iterations of “See — Sanders admits that he is a socialist”; for many people, that will be enough, by itself, to make them vote for Donald Trump.
If we are to defeat Trump in November, demands for political or financial purity in our candidates are luxuries we cannot afford. We can get behind Amy Klobuchar, for example, and get most of what we want. Or we can scorn compromise, moderation, and “big money,” and then sit back while a well-funded Trump sails to a reelection that will give him even fewer reasons to restrain himself.
Jonathan T. Melick
Socialism made simple
The various efforts at defending and clarifying the concept of socialism have been simplified to: “When you want to go for a drive, you don’t have to bring your own highway.”
Medicare for All should not be the 2020 rallying cry
Health care should be the Democrats’ greatest strength when it comes to electability. But if the Democratic nominee advocates mandatory Medicare for All, then health care will become a critical liability instead.
Medicare for All would allow Donald Trump to claim that only he would let Americans keep their health care, while Democrats would take it away. Both halves of that claim would be false, yet it would resonate strongly with swing state voters, and would give Trump another Electoral College victory.
Medicare for All is a worthy goal, but endorsing it in 2020 would lead to the opposite of what its supporters hope for. Instead of bringing about universal health care, it would eliminate the best chance to defeat Trump, and that would give him another term to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and bring back the days where only the privileged got health care coverage.