Three Reasons Democrats Need a Positive Vision
In a recent NYT Magazine article, “The New Party of No,” Charles Homans describes the rise of the Trump resistance and its impact on the Democratic Party. Like the Tea Party and Occupy, the grassroots resistance movement has no formal hierarchy. As Homans describes things, however, it has essentially coopted the Democratic Party—making it, as Homans’ title suggests, the new party of “no.”
Perhaps the closest thing the resistance movement has to an organizing framework is captured by the Indivisible Guide, a how-to-manual designed to help activists stop Trump’s agenda. The authors expressly promote the tactics that the Tea Party used to frustrate President Obama’s agenda. The Guide is a valuable resource and progressives should read it. But I take exception to one major point: the part about being the party of “no.”
The Indivisible Guide states that the Tea Party’s “focus on defense rather than policy development allowed the movement to avoid fracturing.“ As Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin explained to Homans, a key strength of the Tea Party was that its members “understood that ‘No’ was a complete sentence.”
I get it. And as a progressive, it’s hard not to get fired up reading the Indivisible Guide. Developing and building consensus for specific policy proposals, in contrast, is hard work. Nevertheless, there are at least three reasons progressives inside and outside of the Democratic Party must develop and promote a positive, policy-driven vision.
First, if you want to solve big problems like health care, poverty, education, and climate change, you need real policies. The time to develop and articulate policies is while you are out of power. Once in power, you need to focus on implementation.
“No” might be all that the Tea Party needs to articulate because it generally has an anti-government agenda. Frankly, “no” may be as far as they can take a policy discussion before the “Get your government hands off my Medicare!” crowd starts to think a little too hard for comfort.
More is required of progressives. We need to debate health insurance mandates versus a single payer system. We need a robust discussion of the difference between a carbon tax and a carbon cap. (Hint: A cap is infinitely superior.) And if we allow these kinds of healthy debates to pull us apart or weaken our resolve to stop Trump, then shame on us.
Second, meaningful social progress requires developing a broad, bipartisan consensus. Again, the Tea Party may have an advantage in that obstruction is an end in itself for anti-government types and a vociferous minority can obstruct. They did not need to win people over. Did you ever watch a Tea Party protest and think, “Well, that’s an insightful argument I ought to consider”? Did the Tea Party’s message of obstructionism persuade a broad swath of Americans to support their cause? Did they change hearts and minds? No. No. And no.
As I’ve explored on this blog before, big social progress generally requires meaningful bipartisan agreement. We’ll see if Obamacare survives as the exception to prove the rule but this governing-with-51% mentality has got to go. Democrats should not merely be thinking about wrestling back control of the House and Senate. Democrats ought to be thinking about winning big majorities. Big enough that with the cooperation of some moderate Republicans (there are a few), they can override a presidential veto.
How are we going to address climate change without a broad bipartisan consensus? Get your heads out of the sand, folks. Not only do we need a game changing national policy, we need an international treaty—that requires the approval of two-thirds of the Senate. Do you think we are going to win over a big chunk of traditionally Republican voters without a positive vision?
Third, look at what the Tea Party begat: President Trump. Is that a path the Democratic Party wants to follow? Do we really want to create a policy void and just see who steps in? I’m not naming names but the Republicans don’t exactly have a monopoly on crazy.
Resisting Trump’s agenda is necessary but not sufficient. If we imitate the Tea Party in all respects then we walk right into the trap they have set. We risk reducing ourselves to the smallness of spiteful Trump.
We are better than that. Let’s get back to big ideas. Let’s get back to “Yes, we can.” Only louder this time.