The Party Cannot Hold


Looking for some good reading as you await the Super Tuesday results? I highly recommend Michael Tomasky, The Party Cannot Hold. It is not what you might call optimistic:

The current divide is not about [the Vietnam War]. It is about capitalism—whether it can be reformed and remade to create the kind of broad prosperity the country once knew, but without the sexism and racism of the postwar period, as liberals hope; or whether corporate power is now so great that we are simply beyond that, as the younger socialists would argue, and more radical surgery is called for. Further, it’s about who holds power in the Democratic Party, and the real and perceived ways in which the Democrats of the last thirty years or so have failed to challenge that power. These questions are not easily resolved, so this internal conflict is likely to last for some time and grow very bitter indeed. If Sanders wins the nomination, he will presumably try to unify the party behind his movement—but many in the party establishment will be reluctant to join, and a substantial number of his most fervent supporters wouldn’t welcome them anyway. It does not seem to me too alarmist to wonder if the Democrats can survive all this; if 2020 will be to the Democrats as 1852 was to the Whigs—a schismatic turning point that proved that the divisions were beyond bridging. …

Outside of official Washington circles, the impatience, and the insurgency, were building [during the Obama years], especially among young people born since about the early 1990s. They had grown up under a capitalism very different from the one Baby Boomers experienced; they’d seen a rigged game all their adult lives—a weak job market and heavy college debt for them, more and more riches for the one percent, and no one seeming to do anything about it. …

To what extent was all this left-wing anger at mainstream Democrats justified? It’s a complicated question. The left was correct that Obama could have been far more aggressive on mortgage rescues and penalties imposed on the banks that brought on the financial crisis, as well as in its criticisms (which I joined) of Obama’s lamentable embrace of deficit reduction. It is also correct that Democrats have, since the 1990s, gotten themselves far too indebted to certain donor groups, notably Wall Street and the tech industry.

Yet the left, in its critiques, sometimes acts as if Republicans don’t exist and have no say in political outcomes. Leftists tend to interpret the policy failures of the Obama era as a function of his own lack of will, or his reliance on corporate interests, rather than what they more often were, in my view—a reflection of the facts that in the Senate, a unified and dug-in minority can thwart a majority, and even a majority can pass legislation only as progressive as the sixtieth senator will allow because of the super-majority voting rules. …

The Democrats have no unifying candidate. None of the mainstream candidates has made overtures to the Sanders left; in debates, they have mostly sought to assure the non-Sanders electorate that they think his brand of politics will reelect Trump. Sanders has likewise dug in, at least in the early going. When he called the former Clinton adviser James Carville a “political hack” in mid-February in response to Carville’s criticisms of him, he signaled to his followers that the Clinton crowd is still the enemy. Warren has attempted a unity pitch at different times, but, tellingly, no one among the elites was the least bit interested in hearing it.

Into this mess barged Michael Bloomberg with his billions. The left’s animus to Bloomberg is ferocious—over his wealth, his discriminatory stop-and-frisk policing policy as mayor, and his blatant attempt to purchase the nomination. One hardly needs to be a leftist to resent the idea that a sometime Republican who endorsed George W. Bush for president and Scott Brown for Senate over Warren in 2012 could buy the Democratic nomination.

It’s hard to write about this in the thick of the election, but, depending on how things turn out in the caucuses and election, and at the Milwaukee convention in July, the Democrats will ultimately confront four possible scenarios, each capable of leading to open civil war.

A Concluding Thought

I’ll let you explore the four scenarios for yourself, if you’re interested.

I’ll just say that I think Tomasky pretty clearly lays out the blind spots of each of the Democratic factions. (To like effect, see Paul Waldman, Sanders is a terribly risky nominee. But so is Biden. But if you do, do yourself a favor: be in the close vicinity of a bathroom, if you need to toss your cookies.)

My concluding thought is that, if you have a blind spot, the first step toward addressing that blind spot is to admit that the other side has a point. If Biden’s the one, then he really needs to emphasize the economic distress which affects so many of his potential voters, and to offer something more than tinkering at the margins.