Opinion | Democrats need to take firmer action


Photo courtesy of Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman attends a flag order he issued for two Pennsylvania state police troopers killed in the line of duty on March 21.

By Eddie Ryan, Senior Columnist

Almost immediately following President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 general election, it became clear that relief was a premature sensation. The narrative so many had worked so diligently to instill — that 2020 was a last-stand moment to defeat Trumpism and save democracy — gave a soft hiss and sagged to the floor.

Within days of the election, I can remember reading a piece in The Atlantic, warning of the very real danger of a “competent” version of Trump: a new leader who could harness Trump’s appeal with far more savvy and far less idiocy.

That piece and all that followed before Biden’s inauguration — most memorably the Jan. 6 capitol insurrection — boded quite poorly. The picture of America’s present electoral reality was visible even then. The “last stand for democracy” push turned out not to be a one-time deal; every election in the foreseeable future will carry the same weight.

The 2022 midterms are no exception. With figures like Liz Cheney — decent but severely overpraised — increasingly out of the picture, the Republican Party is squarely in Trump’s grip.

Legions of local, state and national candidates have taken up Trump’s babbling cry of election fraud. Men like Dr. Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker have clumsily attempted to emulate Trump’s celebrity-politician model. On the whole, the party relies on an apparently intoxicating mix of conspiracy, incoherence and bigotry — rarely policy — to attract voters.

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    This formula will win them the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate. Sitting presidents can always expect some midterm losses in one or both chambers of Congress, but a Republican Senate would be particularly disastrous. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have tried valiantly to make it one since 2020. If their dream manifests, not even a well-timed budget reconciliation will save Biden’s agenda.

    Without the legislature, Biden would have to rely almost entirely on the executive decree. He has a mandate to secure reproductive rights, combat climate change, restore voting rights and improve racial and gender equity. Something tells me that’s a bit much to ask of such a narrow-scope policy tool.

    An unproductive second half of Biden’s term caused by Republican obstruction in the Senate would also hurt Democrats in 2024, potentially reopening the doors of the White House to another tinpot dictator — quite possibly Trump himself. The corrupt elements many new voters thought they were casting out in 2020 may define this decade of American politics.

    The future hinges on a few key Senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada. Incumbents Raphael Warnock and Catherine Cortez Masto fight challengers who fit the aforementioned Republican mold. In Pennsylvania, Dr. Oz faces progressive Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

    Holding all else constant, Democrats need two of these races to keep the Senate. Pennsylvania may prove most decisive.

    Fetterman has some of the fresh appeal Democrats struggle to conjure. Though not a uniform progressive, he’s close enough, and his casual dress and demeanor counter the elitist image Democrats can’t shake. Though the Dr. Oz campaign’s determination to prey on Fetterman’s health issues may hurt the lieutenant governor — not much of a bedside manner, eh? — the Democratic party needs more candidates like him.

    In fact, Democratic messaging is one problem liberals can control. And it certainly is a problem.

    It’s hard to maintain popularity when your enemies and their supporters have abandoned reason almost entirely. But it’s also pretty difficult to view the Democratic Party as a victim.

    Democrats have relied too heavily on empty unity talk and simplistic narratives in their response to Trump’s presidency, with CNN as the standard bearer of this vernacular.

    The party itself isn’t very unified, for which progressives are often blamed. Old guard Dems have routinely spat on new, left-leaning leaders only to watch these upstarts shape Biden’s entire domestic agenda.

    The Democrats need younger, more dynamic leaders to excite — or at least retain — their base and draw independents. Older party elites embracing progressivism and relinquishing some of their tightly-held authority would be a good start toward this end.

    This is not to call progressives faultless. Take the recently withdrawn letter to Biden regarding Ukraine — for Christ’s sake, know a foreign policy landmine when you see one!

    More generally, progressive newcomers must be open to learning from party veterans without sacrificing their zeal. But it’s mostly on those vets to cultivate, not alienate, young leaders to contend with the new generation of equally zealous far-right candidates.

    That said, Democrats’ biggest problem may be that voters simply don’t realize they’re benefiting from Democratic policies.

    The New York Times’ David Leonhardt has often made this point in connection with the concept of the “submerged state.” There’s often so much bureaucracy in policy implementation that voters can’t detect benefits or trace them back to lawmakers. To a majority of Americans, Democratic economic policy plans already sell; now, Dems must improve at articulating this connection.

    This is the party’s imperative regardless of midterm outcomes. Let’s hope they heed it.


    Eddie is a senior in LAS.

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