On the night of November 8th, 2016, the Democratic Party of the United States of America suffered a surprise defeat that lost it the Presidency, as well as both chambers of Congress; the Senate and the House of Representatives. While the Republicans have been the dominant faction in both the Senate and the House, and therefore Congress, for the past couple of years, the 2016 elections were a chance for the party to regain control of all three segments of government; Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court, after the death of Justice Scalia in February, however; the Democratic Party failed to achieve any of these goals and has subsequently broken down into distinct political factions all claiming to be the potential future of the party. In such critical times for the Democrats, decisions being made over the next four years could quite possibly determine the future of the party’s success over the next few decades, as well as the future of the American left.
Perhaps the greatest threat to the future of the Democratic party is the group’s political direction; for the past few decades, the Democrats have taken a distinctly neo-liberal position, as evident in the Obama, Clinton and potential HRC administrations, however; much like neo-conservatism, the policies of such an ideology have become unpopular with the general public. Neo-liberalism is generally trade-focussed and, as Taylor C Boas and Jordan Gans-Morse state in their 2009 book, “Neoliberalism: From New Liberal Philosophy to Anti-Liberal Slogan”, the ideology creates policy based around “eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, and lowering trade barriers“. Neo-liberalism is also famous for its use of austerity as a means of controlling state deficit, leading to higher taxes with fewer or less expansive social welfare policies; these approaches, while generally quite effective in the short term, often lead to a demos that feel used and disenfranchised with the state and elected officials. With this in mind, it is unlikely we will see a successful neoliberal figure such as Bill Clinton or Barack Obama retake the presidency for at least a few terms, instead, the Democrats must look to alternatives to neo-liberalism from both the left and the centre of the political spectrum.
A leading figure from the 2016 Democratic primaries was junior Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders; Sanders was popular among young, generally middle class, voters for his stance on social issues, as well as his more ‘progressive’ attitude towards income and social inequality. While Sanders did not win the Democratic Primaries, ultimately losing to Hillary Clinton, Sanders remains popular with his crowd of core supporters, a movement that idolises the man as the future of progressive politics and also as someone who could have stopped the election of Donald Trump, if, of course, Sanders had won the Primaries. There is still controversy over leaked emails regarding an alleged campaign, from leading figures within the DNC, to make sure Sanders could not win the position of Democratic Nominee, instead, they appear to have been rooting for HRC, a more mainstream candidate with close ties to those working for the DNC and their company’s donors. Bernie Sanders’ positions on certain social and economic topics made him a controversial figure in the realms of mainstream American politics, however; his grassroots background and public campaign financing made him popular with a certain sect of the ‘left wing’. Sanders’ policies include fully socialised universal health care, tuition-free public universities, a secondary bill of rights, and a crackdown on assault weaponry, private prisons, tax loopholes, campaign financing, and Wall Street banks. In comparison to normal American politics, Sanders’ views are somewhat radical and would require significant amounts of legislative and regulatory change, hence why he is generally popular among young Democrats (see page 4), rather than those who are more familiar with the limits and capabilities of the system; older and middle-aged voters. This data would suggest that the politics of Bernie Sanders would prove to be a successful direction for the Democratic party to head in (as long as the trend for the Democratic party to become more youth-oriented continues), however; given the current split among the population of the United States, it would be worth considering perhaps a different route other than towards another divisive and profound candidate.
It is important to point out that this is not the first time in modern history where America has stood divided; in 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy took office after Dwight Eisenhower finished his second term; JFK was given the unenviable task of uniting a broken and bitterly divided country for the betterment of man, a cause he ultimately died in service of. Kennedy became the head of a country that had spent most of the decade prior in what is now known as ‘The Second Red Scare’, the social impact that five years of McCarthyism had created in the country. Alongside this, Kennedy also dealt with the first few years of the Civil Rights Movement in America, a group that has had the longest running effect of any recent political movement, as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. According to Gallup Polls (2013), JFK has been ranked the most popular US President of modern American history, above Eisenhower, Reagan, Obama, Clinton, Carter, and both Bushes (not necessarily in order). This is the sort of person the Democrats should be imitating, a populist political moderate who’s goals run parallel with the American dream of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; a man who recognises the problems the country faces, as well as the split in opinion, and realises the only way to fix these issues is to not only find common ground but to also create interest-driven compromise on social and fiscal issues. While this is all worth saying, talk is cheap, and actually finding a candidate who meets the right criteria can often prove to be difficult as we have discovered out in this election, however; there has been a candidate who meets almost all of these requirements, and his name is Jim Webb.
Jim Webb is the former marine, Republican-turned-Democrat and ex-Senator of Virginia; with a career spanning nearly 40 years, Webb has earned a reputation for finding himself between a rock and hard place when it comes to the subject of which political party he has chosen to represent; having worked under the Reagen administration during the 80s, Webb has also worked as a Democrat during his tenure as Senator but never truly appeared to be at home in either parties, however; due to his moderate yet populist positions on social and fiscal issues, he has gained the respect of a sizable portion of voters in both parties, as well as independents and third parties, a quality that cannot be applied to many partisan politicians. As a decorated war veteran who completed two tours of Vietnam, Webb is unsurprisingly well favoured by other veterans, and due to his marriage with Hong Le Webb, a Vietnamese-American lawyer, he scores well with most sides involved in a war that, now over 40 years finished, still has sore wounds to this day. On the political front, Jim Webb is easily more qualified than most current politicians and, as mentioned previously, has a common ground between the Democrats, GOP, and Libertarian parties on a wide range of issues. In terms of policy, Webb supports abortion and Stem Cell research, criminal justice reform, potentially legalising all prohibited drugs including marijuana, rebuilding the public school system, nuclear energy and ‘all of the above’ policies, retaining a strong military while also being generally anti-interventionist, and removing money from politics; Webb is openly against most gun control besides background checks (unlike most of his Democratic counterparts), the Affordable Care Act in its current form (arguing that it should have “been more narrowly focussed“), and intervening in foreign affairs unless the lives of Americans are at risk. Economically, Webb is generally against the outsourcing of jobs, and therefore cannot realistically be called a globalist (an assertion that is backed up by his quote, “No country is a country without defining its borders“), Webb is also in favour of increasing the capital gains tax, but not on regular pay. With policies and personal attributes such as these, it is unsurprising that such a man is popular with a large potential voter base, but necessarily with the parties themselves.
In recent years, the Democratic party has seen a shift towards identity politics and collectivism, something that the Republicans can also be accused of, but due to the nature of the Democratic party, one would imagine such policies would be antithetical to their core principles. A culture of justified discrimination and the soft bigotry of low expectations has grown throughout the party, and 2016 has been a prime of example of a rejection of these policies by the majority of Americans, however; the Democrats do not appear to have realised this yet. The common narrative regarding Trump’s win is that of racism; the belief that Trump’s win was down to his previous comments regarding Mexican illegal immigrants and Muslims, and not because of his promises to return the outsourced jobs back to America or his ability to talk and somewhat (at least on the surface) sympathise with the working class. The American left has yet to realise that their culture of outrage and bigotry towards the white, working class men ultimately leads to this large demographic voting against them and everything they stand for. The results of the 2016 election can also be predicted in the candidate’s campaign slogans; Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ is an order, a command for you to go out there and improve the country and lives of the people who live in it, whereas Clinton’s ‘Stronger Together’ rally was all but forgotten and replaced with the catchphrase of ‘I’m with her’; a line that is far too focussed on self-righteousness and the gender of the candidate in question, rather than the majority of populace, America, or the politics of Clinton herself. This behaviour is obviously to the detriment of the party, and moving forwards, is something they would realistically want to get rid of and replace with a more pluralistic, less bigoted message of actual tolerance; tolerance of not only race, gender and sexuality (something they have almost perfected unless when directed at white men), but also of ideas and politics, capturing what is so important about the Constitution and Bill of Rights; freedom.
To conclude, I would like to stress the importance of this decision, this choice the DNC has to make; it is a fantastic opportunity to redefine themselves and move away from neo-liberal elitism and towards something more grassroots. Ultimately the choice is up to them and I am pessimistic they will decide to go with a JFK-like unifier, instead, I have a feeling they will attempt to keep running with neo-liberalism until it is self-evident the movement is dead, at which point they will begin to use Sanderesque tactics and principles alongside a more controllable, more mainstream, less populist candidate; perhaps someone younger, more female, and more Hispanic. Even though this is the most likely scenario, I will still argue that there is a chance, an opportunity, for the Democratic party to take the moral high ground and end the divisiveness that partisan politics has been cultivating for the past three decades. At this stage it is impossible to tell which faction will win control of the party, however; one can only hope they make the right decision before the future of the Democratic party is doomed to become one of defeat and bitterness at the hands of the Republicans.