By a lot of accounts, the Democratic Party has become increasingly divided over the last year or two. This has been highlighted, underscored and circled in red pen by the way the presidential primary is going for Democrats so far, but there’s at least some evidence to suggest this has been going on for a while. The Atlantic pointed two years ago to economic inequality and what to do about it as the central point at which the Democratic party is divided. They backed this up with the now familiar bullet points of millenials moving the electorate to the left and the electoral victories of Democrats like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Bill de Blasio in New York as signalling a return to liberalism. In doing so, they identify millenials as really, really young New Deal liberals and older more “establishment” Democrats as centrists who are centrists specifically because they want to win elections.
More then just in the general sense, the Democrats have allowed themselves to become divided on specific issues as well. They’re divided on the Syrian refugee issue. They’re divided on the historic nuclear deal the president made with Iran (for the record it astounds me how anyone could oppose that deal, but that’s a matter for a different post). They were divided over whether Joe Biden should run for president (as if a candidate needed the electorate’s permission to enter a race). They’re deeply divided over whether to take an interventionist or isolationist approach to fighting terror in the Middle East.
There’s an argument out there that division among a political party is a good thing, that it allows for open and honest discussion about the direction a political party should take, the ideology it should embrace and the degree to which it should embrace that ideology, etc. And there’s an argument out there that this is a good time (relatively speaking) for the Democrats to be divided because the Republicans are divided, too. I mean come on. Just look at all the Republicans running for president, right?
But the huge and telling difference that can’t be repeated enough is that Republicans aren’t actually divided on being Republicans. They might disagree on who they want to lead the party, but they don’t disagree that they’re a part of the party and that it’s a good thing for them if the party wins elections. That is why no matter how much Republicans may denounce Donald Trump, they have publicly gone on record stating they will support the nominee whoever it happens to be. That might be a level of cognitive dissonance that’s hard for most people to understand, but the logic behind it is incredibly simple. Political parties exist to win elections. Standing behind your party’s candidate during an election is the best way to ensure that candidate wins. If enough candidates win, the political party has a major seat at the table when it comes to running the actual country. The GOP has drifted way to the right recently, and it will likely eventually drift back towards the center, but regardless its major figures will continue to fully support the candidates the party nominates for office.
It is simply not that way for Democrats, or for the left in general, especially in recent history. The infamous PUMAs of 2008 were ready to bring down the Democratic Party because Barack Obama became the eventual nominee for president and the Hillary camp for whatever reason simply would not concede. Many of them accused party leadership of rigging the nomination process in favor of Obama. At the time of this writing there’s an active Bernie or Bust pledge where Sanders supports swear they won’t vote for anyone but the Vermont Senator under any circumstances, even if that means employing a write-in vote. Many of them have accused party leadership of rigging the nomination process in favor of Mrs. Clinton.
You may notice a pattern there, but it doesn’t just exist in the US. In the UK, the Labour party went through a similar, albeit at the time much more pronounced, divide over ideology between left, center-left and centrist factions. It became so bad some of them splintered off and formed their own political party (which has since vanished) and Labour was crushed in 1983 when it remained divided right through the election itself. The same thing happened in 2015; Labour’s focus on ideology and ambivalence about actually winning cost it an election it should have won.
Returning to the US, what’s surprising is that there isn’t much structurally speaking within the political parties themselves to explain the different ways Republicans and Democrats view the roles of their parties. Republicans see the Republican Party as an organization dedicated to winning elections so they can control the political agenda and the levers of power needed to execute that agenda. Democrats view their party as a standing representative of the collective principles of those members, and elections as constant tests of those principles. Going by that definition, no wonder Democrats don’t care as much about their party; it’s because they don’t care as much about winning elections. They care about abstract stances on political issues instead.
Well my opinion is, and there’s no nice way to say this, that’s a really fucking stupid way of looking at politics, and it’s going to lead to nothing except the prolonged suffering and oppression of the disenfranchised and marginalized groups most Democrats claim to represent. This isn’t just a flippant accusation; there are progressive Democrats actually saying letting Republicans win and Americans suffer is some necessary cathartic moment that will “wake up” the country. These are progressives, claiming to fight for the oppressed of this country, wanting those oppressed people to suffer at the hands of a right-wing administration because they apparently need to learn some kind of lesson.
Let me be crystal clear: that’s straight-up deluded, and proof positive that calling yourself a progressive and adopting radical positions simply for the sake of being radical doesn’t make you any smarter, any more prescient, any more “awake” then anyone else in this country. And if you’re willing to throw an election because you think doing so will lead to mass suffering, and that mass suffering is required in order for the country to adopt your positions, it’s your positions that are wrong, not the country’s.
It’s fine to be divided, but you should be divided on tactics and strategy, not on whether or not winning is necessary. Newsflash to Democrats: Winning is important. Your collective belief it isn’t is one of the primary reasons you are where you are right now and why the US is being mismanaged by the league of drunken uncles that calls itself the Republican party. The people you claim to represent are counting on you not just to speak for them but to actually win. Maybe try focusing more energy there, and less on whether your constituents need to suffer to understand your increasingly deluded mentality.