Look, everyone's got problems and I sat on this response to a Quote Tweet I sent for a couple of days because I wanted to unpack it a bit and see if my assumptions were wrong. I think checking one's assumptions is always good a thing to do from time to time, because, well, I could be wrong. But here's the thing: I don't think I am in this case.
There's a lot of online discourse on Politics Twitter (PolTwitter, whatever you want to call it) that bemoans the state of the United States Senate. It sucks. It's unfair. It's (insert platitude) here. But here's the thing: with every complaint, the solution is simple: elect more Democrats.
First of all: the Republicans won the popular vote in 2004. Don't at me with bullshit about Diebold Machines in Ohio. That's Stop The Steal level nonsense at this point and love him or loathe him, Dubya broke 50%- the first GOP candidate to do so since Bush The Elder did in 1988.
Second of all: yes, it is the result of bad numbers. Let's take a trip down memory lane. Here's what the house looked like in 1986:
Here's what it looked like in 1996:
Here's what it looked like in 2006:
Here's what it looked like in 2018:
Are you noticing some patterns emerging in the House map? Because I sure am! Now, it's not an accurate analysis to be sure-- this is a blog post, not a polisci paper I'm going to submit for publication so I'm not going to go all the way down the rabbit hole, but surely the underlying problem over the past four decades or so should be pretty well illustrated here. There's less and less blue on the map and while I'm willing to dicker about gerrymandering and 'voter suppression' in some cases, what's the Democratic excuse for losing the Dakotas?
We can argue about the causes all day until we're blue in the face, but more blue spots on the map = more Democrats getting elected and by extension, more Democratic voters. You can't rule out ticket-splitting of course, but the crazy thing about sitting through my political psychology course was learning that if your parents voted Democrat, you were more likely to vote Democrat and the reverse was also true.* Folks willing to vote for Democrats usually lead to more votes for Democrats and so I think my general theory was right. Elect more Democrats everywhere and the electoral college disadvantage won't be that big of a problem for you.
It's also worth pointing out that as recently as 2012, Democrats had no problem with the electoral college at all. 2008 was a similar story!
2016 was the year the Establishment decided to ask: "what if we nominated two incredibly polarizing candidates that everyone hates and find out what happens?" I honestly think the electorate would have rather had a bad case of herpes than vote for either of those two candidates.
I get it: it's going to be hard and it might seem impossible and it might take Herculean amounts of time and money and effort and party building and changing your brand and convincing voters step by step and little by little that you're worth taking a chance on. It's going to be hard- but admitting that you have a branding problem is the biggest problem the Democratic Party has right now. If you don't believe me, look at the last election results from the UK which saw the Conservative Party make inroads into northern, working-class districts that hadn't voted Conservative ever. EVER.**
It's the challenge facing the center-left in a lot of places, but especially here. The creaking, decaying corpse of the New Deal is in its last death rattles. The ideas of a shiny, technocratic class of experts staffing the government and engineering a better life for the citizenry is hopelessly inadequate to the present moment and it's a huge problem because the Left, in general, wants the government to 'do things' and right now, other than cutting checks and moving piles of money around, it's remote, distant and doesn't do anything very well from where the voters sit-- and when it does do something 'well', it's usually a massive pain in the ass for the voters and they don't like it. The ideas about an Abundance Agenda floating around out there are great but pairing them with a foundational principle for EFFECTIVE (and more importantly, COST effective) government going forward might just be the ticket for Democrats moving forward.
It's a crazy notion, I know, but there's more at stake than the Presidency. If the Democrats can put enough butts in seats to control both houses of Congress, they can get a lot done. The Presidency, while nice, is limiting. All of Obama's executive orders were undone at the stroke of a pen and I'm sure Biden's will be too when the next Republican President assumes office. Do you want to know what's a pain in the ass to get rid of? Laws. (They're also a pain in the ass to get passed- but not impossible!) Laws are durable in a way executive orders are not-- and as much as I hate the Dobbs Decision because of the decade or so of chaos we're going to have to sit through now, the kernel of truth there is that as states start passing these trigger laws and the backlash begins, it's going to force the ugly sausage-making process of consensus building and compromise and, eventually, laws. Laws that are durable. Laws that politicians have to put in front of voters. Laws that protect and enshrine rights that can't be easily dismissed at the whims of the Courts.
I get the feeling that it's not quite out of reach for the Democrats- with all this talk of an Abundance agenda, things like building more housing/YIMBY movement, ranked-choice voting, and things like that, there are a lot of interesting ideas floating around that could coalesce into the Next Big Thing for the Democratic Party (because the GOP has problems too)*** but if you figure out how to elect more Democrats all over the country, then the Senate ceases to be a problem. The House ceases to be a problem and although that doesn't solve the Electoral College problem for the Democrats if you want to get rid of the Electoral College, electing more Democrats, everywhere, would help you to do that.
(And before everyone sends me a million maps and goes "durrrrrr, Land doesn't vote, people do!" well, guess what? The people living in the single-member districts that elect people to Congress live there and they do vote and even if you want to scrap SMD and go to proportional representation or multi-member districts guess what you need to do? Amend a Constitution- whether a state one or a Federal one and to do that? You need to elect more Democrats everywhere.)
Any discourse that is not in the service of that goal is largely a waste of time and should be treated as such. I know it's Twitter and we shouldn't take it seriously because it's not in any way, shape, or form connected to reality as we know it but don't bitch at me about the Electoral College if you're not willing to do everything you can to elect a majority to abolish it. Don't bitch at me about the Senate if you're going to spend millions pissing at windmills to try and take out Mitch McConnell and not find, develop and support candidates that can actually win.
Especially don't waste your breath freaking out over the Forward Party.
Look, the system we have is going to favor a low number of parties. That's just the structure of it-- ranked-choice voting might help third-party representation here and there if it gets widespread adoption and I think we're still ways out from that. Barring a massive Constitutional renovation to encourage a multi-party system (which I don't think we'll get)- I think we're stuck with two parties for sure, but there should be room for a third party-- like the NDP in Canada or the Lib Dems over in the UK that can occupy a space, even if it doesn't do much.
Just having that party- even if it's smaller and doesn't actually do much of anything would be a potential game-changer for American politics. Because then the Big Two would always face the possibility- however tantalizing- that they could both be on the outside looking in and might actually be motivated to deliver on some promises to voters. It'd be a pressure valve, an escape hatch for voters, and right now... it doesn't exist.
God Bless the Greens and the Libertarians, but no. Gary Johnson might have had a shot, but he was obviously not ready for prime time. The Greens... well, I live in an agricultural state with horrible water quality, dubious farming practices that benefit big business, and the Greens can't even be arsed to run a candidate for Governor here- and the Libertarians in-state are at least consistent with that.
The Forward Party has a dubious website
that's short on details. (But looks nice and has plenty of shiny design and buzzwords.) They're launching in an election year and I have heard of no candidates that are running for office this year. I don't know what they've got in terms of policy other than ranked-choice voting and open primaries I haven't heard. In short, they seem to have aspirations of being a Free Soil Party
of the 21st Century- as soon as their issues pose a threat to the Established Parties, they'll either be triangulated out of existence or merely absorbed into one of the two big parties. Free Soil, Free Speech, Forward!
Until the Forward Party actually shows me something, I'm going to assume it's going to have as much impact as a fart in a hurricane and be about as useful.
*My Parents are first-generation immigrants. My Dad marched in anti-Nuke campaigns in the 80s and was apparently quite vocal about supporting strikers with my Granny when he was young. My Mom grew up in the working class north, her mom was a Tory Councillor in Leeds and she voted Communist in her first election. My Dad is now a hardcore Republican and my Mom is an independent voter who hates both parties. Make it make sense, Political Psychology Professor!
**In retrospect, NAFTA was a bad idea. It began the divorce of the Democratic Party from it's working-class base and they haven't figured out how to get those voters back yet. Technocratic, white collar, upper crust types are nice, but they're not going to give you a governing 'New Deal' kind of majority for a generation. You need something else and it's quite the square to circle and they're only just now fumbling around with how to do it. The Labour Party in the UK is in a similar shape, but it's not as irretrievable... I don't think.
***GOP problems are a whole 'nother post, but in short: tax cuts will not solve every problem you have, in fact, they might make them worse. At a certain point, if you're going to claim you're the party of families/life/children/married people, you're going to have to prove it and deliver the goods to make the lives of families/children/married people easier. (Mittens seems to have realized this, hopefully, the rest of his party will follow suit.) If you're going to be the party of the working class, you're going to need to figure out how to deliver for the working class. If you can figure out any of the above problems, you'll be fine-- but again... opportunity is knocking and while the Democrats are a traffic accident on a good day, the GOP are Van Gogh-level masters of cutting their own nose off just to spite their collective face.
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