The Democratic Party's identity crisis

9 Jul 2018



“Well, I’m female and progressive, and the rest so what’s your problem?”. That was House Democrat’s Nancy Pelosi, the face and voice of the blue wave effort across America, responding to the massive upset that had taken place in the New York primaries. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had just ousted one of the most influential Democratic incumbents in Washington. A 56 year old white guy defeated by a young, energetic woman, who just two years previously had been a waitress and a bartender, and was in her words not “supposed to run for office.”


The night had been a huge success for the more liberal wing of the party, with politicians like Ben Jealous in Maryland and Jared Polis in Colorado successfully winning their primary challenges, it truly felt like the tectonic plates of American politics had seismically shifted. However, what too most seemed like an Earthquake, Mrs Pelosi brushed this off as a minor tremor. It had barely knocked any of the expensive ornaments the Sachs brothers had bought them after all. To the Democrats, this victory seems to mean nothing, the Democrats seem to be in denial not only about the direction of their own party, but of the country as well.


In order to understand this, it would be wise to break down Nancy Pelosi’s statement, first, her comment about her gender. The Democratic Party have become the party of social minorities. Any group that has been downtrodden by the American social structure finds an alliance with the Democrats, and as a result women play a key part in this. Indeed Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote in the 2016 General Election, garnered a 13% victory among women, more than the 11% victory Trump had among the, notably smaller, male demographic. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was all about inspiring women, to show them what they could. Even commentators like Sarah Hartshorne wrote in early 2015 that “Clinton has been inspiring me for years. Even when I’ve disagreed with her, I’ve respected her.” So, Clinton allies like Pelosi should be proud, that this young 28 year old woman was inspired to stand up for what she believed in, however, Pelosi didn’t endorse this rising star, she stuck to her guns, backing her ol’ pal Joe Crowley. Why would the leader of the party that champions the social minority, back a party member who, I’m sure we can safely say, is not in that constituency?


If we look at the fact the average age of the Democratic leadership is 64 years old, this provides some answers. Current Democratic leadership is not equipped to represent the younger, upcoming generation of young women and minorities, or even young white men. The Democrats are a party led by the old guard, by the grandparents who need to phone up their grandkids to ask what #tbt means. The current leadership literally is a throwback Thursday, if Thursday happened sometime in the 1980s, which is when most of the Democrats key under 30s demographic was born. This current leadership fundamentally does not share the same identity, the same perspective and same dislike of adults attempting to be ‘woke’ that their younger voters have. This incompatibility is hurting the Democrat’s ability to retain its core vote. Don’t believe me? Obama, the perceived youthful new face of the Democrats won the 18-29 demographic by 23%, whereas Clinton, an older candidate, only won it by 19%, a shift that can only get worse if the Democrats don’t make serious changes before it is too late.

This leads onto the second issue, and the second half of Pelosi’s statement, that she is a progressive. You see, the Democrats problem with identity, doesn’t stop at identity politics (playing to specific groups based on how they identity) but expands to their ability to identify politics. The current Democratic leadership doesn’t seem to understand what Progressivism in America is. Progressivism is about ‘big government’, valuing the official institutions, whereas liberalism tends to wish to use taxpayer money to better society. These ideas may seem very similar, and sometimes they overlap, however, if we look at a policy supported by liberal Pelosi and progressive Ocasio-Cortez, the difference will become crystal clear.


Pelosi favours the Affordable Healthcare Act, or legislation that works in a similar way, which makes “changes to the tax code intended to increase health insurance coverage, reduce health care costs, and finance health care reform”, while not overly increasing existing Government infrastructure. Using taxpayer’s money to improve healthcare, interesting, sounds an awful lot like liberalism. What about Ocasio-Cortez? Well, her preference is for a Medicare-for-all expansion, which can mean several things, however historically, and given her ’far left’ credentials, most likely means single payer health care, something that sounds awfully progressive, doesn’t it? So, if Pelosi is in favour of liberalism, and Ocasio-Cortez is in favour of progressivism, why is Pelosi trying to style herself as a progressive? The simple answer is: because it’s popular. 59% of Americans support such a proposal, so, of course Pelosi want’s to try and hoodwink the American people in order to get into power. However, it should be worth noting that American’s support the policies of progressivisms, few actually believe themselves to be progressives.  


What does this actually mean for the Democrats? It means that while the current leadership under Pelosi remains in power, they are almost certainly going to lose the next general election. If the Democratic Party cannot feel the ground shifting under their feet within their own party, then how can the possibly hope to reach out to the ever turbulent general public. Democrats need to be genuinely representative of the people they represent. That means being demographically and politically representative of their own base, or else they will cease to function as an effective political force. If the Democrats cannot cement their own identity, then it will be decided for them, and given their party imagery, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being the ass of American politics.

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