This year is a mid-term election year, when we are going to be electing members of the House of Representatives, a number of Senators, state legislators, and many governors. There’s a lot of chatter in the press and on liberal blogs about a “Blue wave” in this year. I sincerely hope that does happen, and I have some thoughts – and warnings – about it.
First, remember that all politics are local. That holds true for national offices just as much as it does the state and local ones. Despite all the complaints about “The Party” and the DNC, the core reality is that candidates are selected by their local parties and primary voters. That means that the candidate whose platform sets your heart on fire in your area might stand little to no chance in mine. Issues that are of vast importance to you may not matter in the least to me, or I might even oppose you on them. As an example, I was recently polled about state politics. Two-thirds of the questions related to New York City, while the remainder were about state level politicians. I was asked about NYC transportation and traffic issues, how I thought the Mayor was doing, and so on. Academically, I understand that those questions were of great importance to people living in the city, but I live in the Adirondacks. I don’t care about them because they have no impact on my life.
Second, as a function of the first, not every Democrat running is going to be a “true progressive” or a “real liberal,” and that’s OK. They need to be “as liberal as can win,” not “as liberal as can be.” In observing politics obsessively for the past decade, what I’ve noted is that the candidates who made the liberal blogs hearts flutter and attracted adulation from various far left groups … lost, unless they were running in a Democratic stronghold. “Exciting the base” is great in theory, but it doesn’t get you elected unless Democrats are over 50% of the voters. Even then, the base in one district may not be as “progressive” as the base in another, since each district and state has their own definition of that. In an election, it’s not just the Democratic base (the people who reliably show up and vote for the party’s candidate) that determine the outcome, it’s also the “swing” voters along with a few Republicans who aren’t enamored of where their party is heading.
Third, when November rolls around, it’s time to fall in line and vote. I am well aware of all the factional battles in the party, and I have seen any number of purist blogs, media coverage, and opinion pieces advocating for their agenda. But if there is any point which should be dropped, it is that “there is no difference between the parties.” If anyone hasn’t learned differently over the past year, they’re beyond hope. Think about every issue that is near and dear to progressives. Women’s rights, voting rights, reproductive rights, LGBT rights. Climate change, renewable energy, and environmental protection. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food security programs. That’s the short list, and while there’s always going to be arguments over which ones get priority or how and how fast they’ll be implemented, Democrats are not taking a wrecking ball to them, Republicans are. As long as they continue to hold Congress and the White House, they’ll keep doing just that. Staying home complaining that your definition of perfection isn’t being met by a candidate just means all those progressive things you say you like will keep disappearing.
Fourth and finally, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Consider the last “Blue wave” in 2006. Democrats took back the House and Senate, and in 2008 the White House. Although the purists complained (constantly), a lot of progressive things happened. We took the first steps toward universal health coverage. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. Two liberal judges were appointed to the Supreme Court. Climate change was being addressed, environmental protections were added, and women’s rights were being addressed. But because too many regarded it as “not good enough” or “locked in,” they sat at home and let the Republicans back into power, and as a consequence, control redistricting in many states, leading to the much-maligned gerrymandering that locked in the Republican’s advantage. The energy being shown now cannot end after November, or even after 2020. To fix the damage done, it’s going to take a long time. Not two years, not four years, but at least a decade or more.
The good news is that a lot of people are finally waking up, and realizing what’s at stake. None of what we want, what we wish for will come quickly or easily, but this year should be just the beginning.