By Tom Lamia
What concerns me today is the failure of Democrats to organize effectively to win elections. Will Rogers had it right. When asked if he was a member of an organized political party, he replied, “No, I am a Democrat.”
Democrats are tired of the dysfunction within their party. Tired of corruption and manipulation within party organizations. Tired of the party’s ineffectualness in addressing or understanding the electoral failures of 2016. Tired of weakness in the battle with Republicans at every level of party politics. Tired of the slow ebb of Democratic office holders.
Some critics say that Democrats do not have a clear message, that efforts at a big-tent appeal have compromised principle. Others say that one size does not fit all in a country as diverse as ours. The first group wants litmus tests on key issues such as abortion, gender, racial and other forms of discrimination, immigration, gun control, and Medicare for all. The second group argues for the accommodation of differing views to reflect our geographic and cultural diversity. The march forward to victory in 2018 is full of energy, but has no direction, no leadership, and no enthusiasm.
The background for this is as clear here in Maine as it is in New York: the aftershock of a horrible, unexpected, and catastrophic presidential election loss in 2016. Further reflection indicates that the election failures of the Democrats go much deeper than presidential politics: It appears that the cupboard is bare at every level of government, a condition years in the making. All of us, everywhere, are seeing the reflection of this dire situation in the barrage of email fundraising appeals from a multitude of Democratic Party-affiliated organizations, all promising that our money is what is needed to turn this disaster around.
Oddly, there seems to be no coordination between the monetary demands and the message concerns. The appeals are from local, state, and national party organizations, from organizations backing causes and from individual candidates. These appeals do not state positions or even principles. There is no time or space for that. It is the ringing of the bell that makes the dog salivate. The bell is identity politics and the dog is us.
There are good and sufficient reasons for this in the changed nature of communications and the unleashing of money in political campaigns. However, that is not my concern here. My concern is that the Will Rogers story continues to ring true. Can Democrats help themselves, and all of us in the process, by banishing chaos and finding the order and unity needed to win in Maine, Iowa, Montana, and Georgia as well as in California and New York?
Acknowledging that not every issue is a national issue that requires a legislative or regulatory solution from Washington would be a start. I have a theory as to why Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine are independents. In New England, government begins at the local level, in Town Hall meetings. Not the contentious latter day ‘Town Halls’ that savage congressmen for failing their constituents, but gatherings of town residents to discuss and decide public issues: budgets, taxes, services, education, law enforcement, and the coordination of these responsibilities with larger jurisdictions. Sure, occasionally heat is generated, ignorance displayed, intimidation used, and mistakes made, but information is exchanged and solutions are arrived at through discussion. There are no party politics in a New England town meeting.
So, Democratic National Committee, West Village Democrats, Maine Democratic Party: Open your doors to new blood and new ideas. Your failures, in my humble judgment, are due to self-protection and self-regard. Make changes. What you have been doing is not working.