The vision thing

In all likelihood, given a lunatic in the White House and Republicans abandoning their historic principles in service to their leader, Democrats will score significant gains eight weeks from now. What’s far from clear is what that will mean. Everyone seems to know what a Republican victory means. But the lack of a Democratic vision means the public will vote against Trumpian power, not for Democratic goals. For months, various figures and sections of the party have called for a Democratic version of the 1994 Republican “Contract on America” that gave the GOP major congressional gains. “The message is being worked on,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley said in July. “We’re doing everything we can to simplify it, but at the same time provide the meat behind it as well.”

Then Crowley was defeated in his primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat with a clear and well-defined message. Could there have been a neater demonstration of the party’s problems?

There was a time when no one needed to “work on” the party’s message. It was instinctive, part of Democratic DNA, and it included the economic populism Trump promised but failed to deliver. Indeed, the party was defined by economic populism under Roosevelt and Truman. Our news section today deals with the silence of politicians on the failure of 401(k)s. Threatened worker pensions—a classic Democratic issue.

But that was before the party learned to compete for big corporate money and watered down its message to get that money. In subsequent elections, with the party image blurred, Democrats won only when Republicans screwed up, and without a core message, it was always a temporary win. Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris recently pointed out that in the last 35 years, the Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency for only four years total—two years after the Clinton win, two after the Obama win. Then, in both cases, the Democratic gains started eroding. “Where there is no vision,” Proverbs 29:18 tells us, “the people perish.”

Well, not really. They stop voting Democratic.

It might be thought that the Democrats learned something from the events of the 2016 election. Instead, they are still fighting that last war, with Clinton backers spending ridiculous amounts of time trying to punish Bernie Sanders and his supporters. Meanwhile, the election draws nearer with no agreement on what a Democratic win would mean.

For instance, would it mean—as it did during the Clinton and Obama administrations—that the gap between rich and poor would continue to widen? Would the party plight its troth to corporate money or the working poor? Nevada knows about that. The Democrats went to the Tesla special session of the Nevada Legislature saying, as their speaker put it, that “we don’t have a checkbook such as Texas has,” and then voted unanimously for the biggest state corporate welfare package in U.S. history.

For another instance, would it mean Democrats would again go to Congress promising a health care plan and then produce a health insurance plan?

No doubt the Democrats will score wins. Will they then be able to sustain that mandate, or will it be gone with the wind as in earlier years? Where there is no vision …