Thursday, March 23, 2017

What's the Difference Between Democrats and Republicans?

Professor Danley’s excellent column about the parochialism of the Democratic Party struck home when I heard a passing remark by a high-ranking state party leader lamenting the fact that the various grass roots activities like Action Together are not coalescing around the party infrastructure.

Therein lies the difference between the two parties.

When the Tea Party movement formed, its extreme philosophy was embraced by most “establishment” Republicans. Those entrenched GOP leaders like Eric Cantor who did not buy the Tea Party’s line in its entirety are gone now – voted out of office not by the establishment, but by the insurgents. All of this culminated with the “election” of Donald Trump – reviled by the insiders, but embraced by the outsiders.

Democrats, on the other hand, pretend to be listening but are actually tone deaf. I have nothing against Phil Murphy. He’d be a better governor than any of the GOP contenders. But is that the best we can do? Put another Goldman Sachs executive in Drumthwacket so soon after the Corzine debacle?

CarlLewis' NJ Senate Run Announcement - 2011
Both parties have relied on two criteria that enhance electability but don’t do much for governance. First – does the candidate bring money to the campaign? If so, we end up with people like Phil Murphy and Tom MacArthur. If a candidate can’t bring money, can he or she bring fame? Witness the Democrats’ abortive attempt to elect Olympian Carl Lewis to the state senate, and the Republicans’ elevation of football player Jon Runyan to Congress. (To his credit, Runyan realized he was over his head after two terms and dropped out for a more comfortable retirement.)

So where do the Democrats go from here? Do they hold groups like Action Together at arm’s length to be used but not embraced? Or do they treat them as equals – where the party understands the nuts and bolts of elections and the insurgents drive the agenda – a la the Tea Party movement? Only the latter approach is a recipe for success.  

It won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen in a single election cycle. But it’s important that the party establishment welcome these “insurgents” into their fold and listen to them. Action Together and similar organizations must infiltrate the Democratic Party by joining their county committees, either by appointment to vacant positions, or getting on board in the 2018 committee election cycle. They need to become the “insiders” where they can, and they need to push back on the entrenched establishment when they see business as usual.

It’s unfortunate that our political structure is established around a two-party system. That only encourages actions that place party loyalty over principles. But given that this will not change, unless the Democrats treat Action Together and similar groups as equals, or even as their bosses, the party of FDR is doomed to live and die on the back benches of power.

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