Squelching Dissent in the Democratic Party

Αssociated press

FILE - Former Democratic Presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Monday, July 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

An unexpected surprise of the 2018 elections was the number of women and progressives who won office. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) recently adopted a policy that indicates how much the Democratic establishment fears this grass roots resurgence in its own ranks.

Rather than embracing or negotiating with internal critics, the DCCC has chosen a highly undemocratic and unethical pathway. This response reverts to the administrative manipulations used by Hillary Clinton to thwart the presidential bid of Bernie Sanders.

Newcomers usually have limited resources and lack knowledge of how to get new voters registered or assure known supporters get to the polls. Without the assistance and advice of professionals with experience in organizing a congressional campaign, it is quite difficult for challengers to get the visibility needed to defeat incumbents. To discourage challengers to the status quo, the new DCCC policy states that the Democratic party “will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting member of the House Democratic Caucus.”

The gist of this threat is that anyone who assists primary challengers to a Democratic incumbent will lose all business contacts with the national party, an organization that spends millions of dollars in its national campaigns. Those affected are political strategists, advertising consultants, and technological experts.

Left unclear is how this policy affects the host of people who provide services regarding food, housing, transportation, specialized equipment, security, office managers, and the like.

The DCC’s myopic defense of incumbents and distrust of the Democratic base are echoes of critical errors made in 2016. In that election the DCCC was a creature of Hillary Clinton. Ignoring internal unrest within her party, Clinton opted to run a campaign with limited personal appearances that were mainly concentrated on winning a few swing states. The support in Democratic strongholds and by women was taken for granted.

As election day neared, Clinton’s campaign organizations in Michigan and Wisconsin informed her she was in danger of losing two states that had been won in the primaries by Bernie Sanders. Her campaign workers thought she needed to hold a major event in their state to address working class issues. Clinton refused to heed the advice of her rank-and-file workers, trusting national pollsters who assured her of victory.  She would lose both states by small margins. Winning either would have put her in the White House.

Clinton’s errors are relevant in that she undervalued the importance of local issues like lead in drinking water and was fearful of sounding too radical. Not campaigning seriously in all states and not appearing at Democratic strongholds was the strategy that had already cost Democrats the control of Congress. In 2016. it would result in the election of Donald Trump and two Trump appointments to the Supreme Court.

The DCCC’s discomfort with the newly elected progressives, especially a handful of social democrats, is based on the fear the newcomers will make the party appear to be advocating unrealistic goals. The Democratic establishment is particularly terrified that it will be labeled as “socialist” which will supposedly drive away voters. Instead of working out a realizable program with party dissenters who are mainly women, students, younger African Americans, and disgruntled white workers, the DCCC decided to concentrate on trying to keep more rebels from having a chance to win office.

Underlining the DCCC action is that the Democratic leadership sees victory in 2020 stemming from dislike of President Trump. Many voters who sat out the last election or voted for Trump to achieve change now feel the Republicans have not met their needs. The DCCC believes Joe Biden or a candidate like him would appeal to such voters, and it is prepared to use its administrative clout to have its way.

Defenders of the policy emphasize that the current Democratic mix of electees is the most diverse in history. The new policy “protects” this reality. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the most famous of the Democratic insurgents, has responded she doesn’t want to be “protected” as she considers it essential to have her actions judged by her constituency. She further notes that the new policy would have made her own victory over a prominent incumbent impossible.

Newly elected Congressman Ro Khanna (CA) objected more directly, describing the DCCC policy as “a slap in the face of Democratic voters.”

Artificially protecting incumbents has the long-term effect of creating an electoral oligarchy prone to inaction and increasingly unresponsive to the views of its constituents. This systematic rebuking of alternative candidates also affects moderates who want to unseat radical incumbents. Another distortion can occur in safe Democratic districts that have many candidates.  In this past election, by winning 30% of the vote in a crowded primary, a candidate obtained office and is now “protected” from challengers.

Had Donald Trump initiated a policy like the DCCC’s in the Republican Party, you can be sure MSNBC, and others would have chastised him as a dictatorial authoritarian. The new DCCC policy does not have the bells and whistles that accompanied the Mueller probe or the sexual charges related to Joe Biden. Longer-term, however, it will produce a static Democratic party that stymies internal dissent. If elected to power, such a party is likely to govern in the same manner.