Sunday, June 25, 2017

What's a Political Party to Do?

Being a conservative (albeit of a more traditional type than the crowd currently calling themselves conservatives who have acquired political power in this country), Ross Douthat tries to identify some "good ideas" somewhere in the Senate's health care bill. But ultimately he recognizes it for what it is "the act of a political party dedicated primarily to rescuing the rich from their tax rates, rather than stewarding the common good" (The NY Times, "From Worse to Bad on Health Care").

Admittedly, it is a party that for some seven years now has loudly committed itself to the goal of destroying President Obama's greatest accomplishment - the provision of health insurance for millions of previously uninsured Americans. Hence the CBO's prediction that the House's version of the  bill would result in some 23 million more uninsured. But however significant an accomplishment that would be in this morally bizarre universe, it is evidently still secondary to the party's all-important primary goal of cutting taxes for the super-rich. 

None of this comes as any surprise since redistributing wealth from the poor and the middle class to the very wealthy has consistently been the party's purpose - at least since the election of 1980, which first set the country on this amazingly self-destructive path. Nor does it surprise - since the super-rich are relatively few - that all this has happened thanks to the successful exploitation of a calamitous cultural clash that has divided our country into two totally antagonistic tribes, which no longer share common experiences and no longer have much desire to do so, so intensely have they been taught by their respective tribal leaders to despise each other.

Which is - or, rather, ought to be - one of the primary lessons from the Democratic debacle in Georgia. Of course, the Georgia 6th District (and the three other congressional districts where the Democrats lost special elections this year) are all reliably Republican districts, constituencies which have repeatedly (as recently as last November) easily elected Republican congressmen and in which normal Republican presidential candidates have traditionally done well. So it was always a long-shot effort for the Democrats, which may have been a distortion of energy and resources that could have been better focused elsewhere. That the Democrats did so much better in those special elections than in the past probably says something about the intensity of Democratic enthusiasm. But the fact that they lost anyway illuminates how ephemeral such enthusiasm really is and should instead focus a glaring spotlight on the Democrats' real disabilities. As Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) argued in the aftermath of the Georgia election, "I don't think people in the beltway are realizing just how toxic the Democratic Party brand is in so many parts of the country."

(Personally, I find toxicity an alarmingly undesirable analogy and think the word "toxic" much too overused. Nor have I ever been fond of or comfortable with using such clearly commercial concepts as "brand" and branding. That said, those are the words in current use, and there are more important issues at stake than quibbling about terminology.)

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat concluded the above cited article observing that "the Republican Party remains what it is, not what the country needs it to become."  But one reason for this state of affairs (as the Georgia special election illustrated) is that the Democratic Party likewise remains what it is, and not what the country needs it to become, if it is ever to be an effective counter to the Republicans.

Obviously one place to begin would be to downplay the centrality of cultural and identity politics and refocus the Democratic Party's "brand" back closer to where it used to be - when it still had something positive to say to the millions (many of them now Trump voters) who will likely lose health care coverage in order to rescue the rich from having to pay their fair share of taxes. If the Democrats cannot start relearning that language - a language they once spoke easily and naturally - then government of, by, and (above all) for the rich will remain our nation's future.

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