With the election over and Democrats now having lost their total control of the federal elected government, I look back at their accomplishments over the past two years, and I’m left wondering where was the long-term strategic planning? I’m not talking about the large bills and huge Democratic policy goals, but the small, nuts-and-bolts reforms that help tip the scales for Democrats over the long haul.
Democrats had not enjoyed complete control for almost two decades when they won the House, Senate and Presidency in 2008. I would think in that time they would have developed a huge laundry list of minor reforms and structural changes that would help increase the vote among their core constituencies. Yet, look back the past two years, little appears to have been done. It is as if the party is incapable of strategic thinking.
1. Increasing the size electorate
As we saw in the 2010 election, a big part of the problem for Democrats is the demographic makeup of those who vote in midterms. For example, young people strongly favor Democrats, but don’t turn out in large numbers. Where were things like the “Help College Students Vote Act” to encourage young people to vote in midterms?
Probably the best strategic thing for Democrats would be to follow other Democracies like Australia and adopt compulsory voting, since Democrats and Democratic ideas tend to poll much better among all Americans than the small subset that actually vote. While this might not be politically feasible, a whole host of measures to encourage voting would be. Democrats could have made election day a special federal holiday. They could have passed a bill fully covering the cost of precincts who set up early voting, or the federal government could cover the cost of postage on all vote-by-mail ballots to encourage more localities to adopt it.
A fairly uncontroversial set of strong reforms dedicated to increasing voter participation could easily have saved Democrats a handful of seats.
2. Enfranchising Washington DC through Statehood
Currently, there are roughly 600,000 Americans living in Washington, DC who are almost completely disenfranchised because they lack representation in the House and Senate. This is a tragedy of basic democracy and frankly racist, given that the city is primarily African American.
With hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised citizens voting almost always Democratic, it is unbelievable Democrats did not fix this problem by granting DC statehood when they took power. Instead, Democrats tried to give the district one voting member of the House in exchange for another member from Utah, which likely to be a Republican stronghold for years to come–and it all fell apart when the party let the NRA push them around. This disaster was a great example of the pre-compromising, lack of courage, zero long-term thinking, and missing loyalty to a reliable constituency that are the hallmarks of Democratic self-destruction.
Passing DC statehood might have caused some political blow back, but long term, it would clearly be worth any short term concerns. It would have given Democrats two near-guaranteed Senate seats and one House seat while ensuring at there would be at least one African American in the Senate. In addition to being an amazing strategic move, in general it would be the right thing to do, giving Democrats the moral high ground to defend it.
3. Increasing Union Membership
I don’t want to get into the politics of money, big business, labor and trade policy right now, but it is important to stress the fact that one of the things most likely to induce a blue-collar white voter to cast a ballot for a Democrat is membership in a union.
I can’t say what impact the passage of something like the Employee Free Choice Act would have had on the 2010 election, but the general failure to pass laws encouraging the growth of union membership is a massive, long-term political blunder for Democrats. Union members are one of Democrats’ most reliable constituencies, and unlike, say, African Americans, it is easy to put in place policies that will cause the size of this constituency to grow. If Democrats were too beholden to big business to pass labor law reform, at the very least they could have funded a new Worker’s Cooperative Administration to provide low-interest loans to new, start-up, labor-backed cooperatives.
Where is the big wish list of strategic reforms from Democrats?
Helping more (especially young) Americans vote, growing the ranks of unions, and enfranchising DC are just three of the biggest and most important strategic changes that I can’t believe Democrats did not pursue once in power. There are, of course, many similar reforms, large and small, Democrats should have had ready to go the second they took power. These ideas seem to have been missing, and so the last two years have been a remarkable opportunity completely blown.
I wonder if this most recent loss of power will finally cause Democrats to put together a long-term strategic plan and make a commitment to important reforms like DC statehood a prerequisite for any new recruits. It would be political malpractice if there wasn’t at least one person at the DNC whose full-time job is to come up with and advance this kind of long-term planning.