What Does the Democratic Party Stand for? Entirely Facetious Question. Now

Emmet Rensin wrote an analysis of the DNC in 2016 called: What Does the Democratic Party Stand for? Good question. Below is my reaction to it.

Let’s me first say, since that’s custom and it seems to be a people skill, that his article is nice, and an attempt at analysis of Democratic viewpoints. RENSIN’s even right in some ways. The problem is of course, he’s wrong in more. Rensins core critique is that there’s no unity. Desparate to not make the same mistake as Democrats or shudder Clinton, RENSINs core question is:  “What, at core, is the Democratic message coming out of this convention?”

What is so odd about Rensins critique?  It might be the way how he describes viewpoints which are similar, as different. Rensin quotes several delegates who answered his unifying theme, I’ve quoted them verbatim.

  • “Justice for all”
  • “A party of inclusion that addresses the issues that families are struggling with”
  •  “equality and opportunity for all, a fight for the middle class.”
  • “What I’ve heard over and over is a party that brings us together, that doesn’t divide us, that’s a forward looking party of inclusion”

These are in fact, pretty similar viewpoints, which all come down to equality, fair play, level playing field which are all, not coincidentally, synonyms.

Then comes the first iffy moment:

RENSIN: “These answers were not all issued with confidence. The delegates I spoke to paused, backed up, rephrased.”

I mean, wow! Thinking people who actually take the time to thoughtfully phrase what’s on their mind and aren’t doing the mindless sloganeering of the other side. Thoughtfullness, not-jumping to conclusions …  these are odd things to criticize. Sure, you can describe that as a lack of confidence, but since all this doubting STILL comes down to the same damn thing, I will go with thoughtfullness.

Not having a program set in stone, in minute detail … it’s pretty much what lefties are all about. That goose stepping, it’s what Republicans do.

And trying, for once, to appeal to emotion, a general virtue … instead of rattling off laundry lists … seems like a good and welcome change. Part of the reason Obama beat Clinton was because of precisely that. He had simple words, she was busy going from point one to point umpteeth. All that emotional appealing to decency worked wonders for Republicans, and often disingenuously so, why can’t Democrats try that for once?

Yes so Obama spoke about BlackLivesMatter AND about Clintons decency (“goodness”), so what? Again, why should these two not go together? That’s not even odd, it’s downright weird.

Where Rensin decends into the truly bizarre is when he decries completely boilerplate liberal positions on guns, climate change and health care as incompatible with each other:

“What program, what vision of the United States, can possibly contain all of that? What do the Democrats stand for?”

One wonders if this isn’t an Onion article after all. (edit: perhaps I missed the irony)

Then there’s Rensin “trick” of sorts, to quote a lot of Sanders people. Now, let’s dispel with the notion, for once and for all, that Sanders and Clinton are YUUUGE substantive adversaries, when they voted together on 90-95% of issues in the Senate. But using Sanders supporters allows him to pretend there is bigger disunity than there actually is, which is a little weird considering the big concessions Sanders got from Clinton. Sanders moved Clinton to the left even before the nomination began, and he moved her even further to the left at the end.

Writes RENSIN: “Over the past few days in Philadelphia, the Democratic Party attempted to promise everything.” 

I mean, OH MY GOD  this is an absolute first for any party convention ever in the history of the world! Seeking UNITY. Oh my God what WILL they think of next, it’s the end of the world!

Yes, I jest, but I hope you catch my drift: This is all the usual suspects but Rensin pretends this is all earth shattering stuff.

Then, to make the case that Clintons views and the party platform is all over the place (he makes diversity sound like a sin), Rensin says that Clintons friends view her differently (“a champion of women and children’)  than her enemies (“called black teenagers ‘super-predators’ ”). Baffling stuff, I’m sure.

He describes the Democratic message in ‘essence’ as “We will give you what you need to tell the story you want about America” which is a super polite way of saying “Clinton will say anything in order to get elected”.  Which is odd because I didn’t hear her say that she will hand out guns to whomever, or give tax cuts to billionaires. Anyway,  Rensin follows this up by mocking Clintons attempt to restore her image as “sentimental”.  (EDIT Given her status as the-most-lied-about politician in history, restoring her image seems smart.) Also, “sentimental”? Whiffs of misogyny, right there.

Clinton tried to repair the trust issues that she was and is unfairly smeared with. Largely created by a male liberal media who didn’t like that she was private … after being dragged through the mud by the rightwing press.

Next is a dispassionate, or cold, description of what is going on: Yes the Obama years brought ACA, SSM, end of DADT  but also drones and stagnant wages. The intellectual dishonesty comes when Rensin fails to praise Democrats for their incredible achievements under Obama, but even more so for when he does not blame the bad stuff on the unprecedented obstructionist Republicans who pretty much caused all the domestic ills by voting against gun control, the closing of Gitmo and the infrastructure bill.

The biggest flaw of Rensins article is when he says: “But in Philadelphia, this flexibility felt stretched to its limits, giving way to contradictions of vision that make it difficult to determine what to trust, what to believe will be taken seriously, what will be betrayed.”

And he ‘feels’ this without any decent argument of why he ‘feels’ this. He doesn’t rightly say where exactly, visions are diametrically opposed. Name dropping Panetta and Warren might seem enough to him, but it’s intellectual laziness. Even if: he doesn’t give good reason why the Panetta and the Warren wing will not reach a workable compromise.

Lupkes is then used to set up a straw man. Rensin distorts “nobody left behind” which to me and many people means that the poorest of the poor get a base level of income, opportunities, schooling, health care access …. into “not everyone can get what they want”.

Another distortion: Trumps gets depicted as the non-Reagan, which to me highlighted Trumps darkness versus Reagans optimism. Say what you will, Reagan could sell a car. It would be entirely the wrong car, but sell it he did. But to Rensin, Reagans most important feature was Reagans criminal ignoring of AIDS. Did Rensin allude to Clintons gaffe when Nancy died? Perhaps.

Time and again, Rensins tries to find contradictions that weren’t really there, or that came down to an impossible purity test. That was very Bernie Bro-ish.

Rensin rightly states that the party is casting the widest net possible, and then superfluously points out that this is not without its dangers. Again: Wow!

Then he asserts this: “The possibility remains that Trump will win the election, that he will win precisely because it is difficult to know what the Democratic Party stands for”

No. Trump can win, but NOT because of THAT reason. Very few people on the left will think: Oh Clinton might do TPP, let’s vote for Trump or stay home, because most of us are adults who realizes that A: Clinton is indeed a progressive and B: With Clinton they get 95% of what they want and with Trump perhaps 5%, if that. Trump might win because of Voter ID, which no-one talks about.

Now, Rensin does a good job of giving us Nathan J. Robinsons viewpoint “If people are blaming immigrants for their problems, the correct strategic response is to build a platform that shows people what the actual source of their problems is, and proposes a means of solving them” This is correct. This is what British Remainers didn’t do enough. But Clinton does too do that, with ….  loads of help from Sanders. She does point to wealth and income inequality, which might seem old hat to the rightwing, but remains the biggest cause of most problems. The actual source of peoples problems, politically speaking, is a gerrymandered House, that gives Republicans a majority of seats with a minority of votes. This was caused by not voting in 2010 and 2014, and still Democrats are not really doing a lot about that, hopefully a new DNC chair will do that.

And sure, Trump voters have no difficulty saying what THEIR platform is. Neither have Democrats: The usual stuff plus NeverTrump and NeverRepublicans.

And the analysis that Reagan won because of false confidence is flawed: Reagan won because of the economy and because the ayatollahs pulled a fast one and wanted to punish Carter. They were right, because they profited later via Iran-Contra.

“There is a danger that such a party, even with the best of intentions, will tilt toward the interests of the powerful. They always do”

This is flawed. Why does it ALWAYS do that? Just asserting it, doesn’t make it so.

“while others on the other side of the world are incinerated in the name of American freedom. Because it’s good enough”

Totally unfair. And, since we’re talking platforms, decidedly not in there. EDIT: I get the point Rensin is making, he thinks it’s bad that we have some stuff here at home, while many people in the Third world are suffering, sometimes because of that. I agree, that is a bad thing. But I don’t think that Clinton and Sanders are intentionally doing that. Governing is choosing. Life is making choices. And we can choose to be cynical about it, or we can try to think of ways to improve the lives of everyone around the world. Weakening the chances of a Democratic Senate by scaring Sanders supporters away from the polls is NOT the way to do that.


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