To paraphrase from a song popular after the Great War “Sixty-Five million Americans can’t be wrong.” That’s how many United States voters cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate for President on November 8, 2016. She won the vote but not the election. And since then the pundits and consultants and those with their own political agenda have waxed eloquent in their attempts to determine what is wrong with the Democratic Party. As Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out only in America would those who won two and one half million more votes than their opponent ask what they are doing wrong?
Let’s reduce this election to the simple fact t that just as in 1888 the Electoral College system resulted in the election of the candidate who received fewer votes from the people for President. Donald Trump thus joins that illustrious list of President's chosen not by the people but by the system devised in 1787: Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison and George W. Bush (although most historians would agree that the first and last of those were actually chosen by actions outside the electoral college.)
The message of the Democratic Party, the most progressive platform in a century was not rejected by the American people -- it was in fact endorsed.
The messenger of the Democratic Party, with all her misperceived warts, was not rejected by the American people - but by a system devised when it seemed difficult to imagine a national electorate. And so the Republican Party already in control of the House of Representatives due to congressional and state legislative gerrymandering of districts, and the Senate due to the malapportionment of that body now controls the national governing institutions. The Democratic Party remains with only one indicia of influence -- the support of the majority of the American people.
Will 2016 be 1828 or 1932 and usher in decades of party dominance of the American political scene. Or will it be 1928, 1964, 1972 lopsided victories were followed by the opposition returning to power in the next election?
As a Democratic Party activist I recognize that there are things my party needs to do. Things they should have done had they won but most likely in that case wouldn’t have. The party needs to return to its historic roots. It has spent the past fifty years fighting, successfully, to extend civil rights to those so long denied - African Americas, women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, native Americans, and Latinos. But while doing that it appeared to forget the needs of those who made it possible for the Democrats to accomplish this historic inclusion of all in the American way of life - the white working class, the Euro-American ethnic groups, the Catholic sons and daughters of immigrants and the evangelical Christians of rural America.
The traditional Democratic principle of economic justice for all and opposition to the uber-rich combined with the struggle for social equality would have kept that coalition intact and in fact could have expanded it. But in the 1990's led by the Clinton inspired democratic leadership council the party moved its economic positions to the center and embraced globalization trade agreements that lifted other societies up and a detente and bonding with the magnates of wall street. This new relationship led int he last year of the Clinton administration to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act a New Deal measure that even Reagan and Gingrich couldn’t repeal.
And, when the bubble burst, the American people responded to the crash of 2008 with the election of Barack Obama whom they expected to be another FDR. Instead they found themselves with a 90's Democrat - liberal on social issues and centrist on dealings with the powers of Wall Street: sort of a combination of Jimmy Carter and Grover Cleveland. His signature accomplishment domestically was the Affordable Care Act which brought health insurance to many millions who had not had it but never resonated as a benefit for all those who already had.
Winning the next national election and remaining relevant to American democracy requires that the world’s oldest political party take some actions:
1) Adopt fifty state strategies asking why we lost where we did and what we have to do to win there. No one size fits all manual that instructs political neophytes how to run a campaign but tried and true tactics that meet the conditions in each state (and within the state, e.g. Pennsylvania, 67 county strategies not a failed 15 county strategy).
2).Advocate for and fight for the progressive platform of 2016 recognizing the party’s historic commitment to economic justice for all as embodied in the platform of 1896 and FDR’s four freedoms and second bill of rights.
3) Replace my generation of baby boomers from leadership positions at every level and replace them with fighters in their fifties and forties and open the doors of the party to those under forty to be full participants not merely sometime votes.
4)Using every means possible struggle to expand the franchise with early voting and same day registration; fight to change the anti-people aspects of the American political structure - the electoral college and district gerrymandering.
5) Expose the outside forces such as the FBI and the dictator of Russia who interfered in the election and to some extent determined its outcome. And remind Americans again and again that It Shouldn’t Happen Here.
Finally Democrats should remember the injunction of Andrew Jackson that “One man with courage makes a majority” and realize that sixty-five million Americans with courage can make a nation.
3 December 2016.