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The Democratic Party will recover if it chooses to

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 21, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

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By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

If Democrats want to reverse their massive losses, they must refocus their message and their efforts to organize.

Since 2010, the Democratic Party managed to lose approximately 1,000 legislative seats across the country. Republicans now control 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships and they are in complete control of 25 states. Many of those states — including North Carolina — have veto-proof Republican majorities, meaning even if there is a Democratic governor, the legislature can override the governor.

A good first step in the long and difficult process of regaining power is to expunge and replace the ineffectual leadership of the Democratic National Committee. The DNC is responsible for organizing and supporting the Democratic Party at all levels of government.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who began to serve as the DNC chairperson in 2011, stepped down in 2016 after leaked emails revealed coordinated efforts to assist Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries. The DNC chairperson is supposed to remain impartial during the primaries.

Schultz perfectly exemplifies the embarrassing level of detachment from the poor and working class Democrats have demonstrated over the last few decades.

She received contributions from payday lenders and defended the industry despite the fact lenders often target single mothers and minorities, trapping them in an endless cycle of debt. She opposed the legalization of medical marijuana, effectively denying sick and terminally ill people a form of relief. In an almost comical display of elitism, it was reported she tried to use her influence as chairperson to score seven tickets to “Hamilton,” the Broadway show, through the DNC finance director. Tickets cost around $200 each on the lower end and about $850 a pop for the best seats.

Schultz was then replaced in the interim by Donna Brazile. While Brazile was a political analyst for CNN, she shared debate questions with Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, giving Clinton an unfair advantage going into the debates. Once questioned about her unethical move, it was clear she was sorry for being caught, but not because she felt bad about her actions.

Schultz was ultimately unsuccessful as chair of the DNC since she neglected to properly fund down-ballot campaigns and therefore neglected the infrastructure of the party. But there is some hope. A few weeks ago, Brazile did what many establishment Democrats have avoided: admit failure. She made it clear, “We made some serious mistakes and some strategic errors.” She is right, and it is time to reset the DNC.

By the end of February, the next chairperson of the DNC will be elected. If the Democratic Party hopes to become revitalized, Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota is the candidate likely to make that a reality. He has emphasized a bottom-up approach rather than the top-down strategy Democrats have focused on over the last few years. His platform states, “We must energize Democratic activists across the country and give them the tools to build the party from the bottom up. Beyond a 50-state strategy, we need a 3,143-county strategy.” He understands the importance of organization at the local level; it is the keystone of political power.

Grassroots mobilization is absolutely required if Democrats, liberals, progressives and leftists hope to gain any leverage. Centrist Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Joe Manchin are not going to strengthen the party. They are the reason the Democratic Party is in the shape it is.

Instead, people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Keith Ellison and Sen. Bernie Sanders should be supported and their message amplified. Pay attention to their ideas because if there is a platform that will resonate with and inspire people, it is theirs.


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Clinton’s campaign should serve as a lesson to Democrats

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 7, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

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By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

Hillary Clinton lost the election through a series of strategic failures, uninspiring and hopeless messaging and an overall incompetent candidacy.

Clinton arrogantly neglected the industrial Midwest and assumed support for her was secured in those states. Michigan in particular has been placed under the microscope since then in order to better understand what happened, and it exemplifies how her campaign floundered on a larger scale across the country.

Virgie Rollins, a Democratic National Committee member on the ground in Michigan, told Politico she had “never seen a campaign like this.” She described to Politico how Clinton’s campaign failed to pay attention to the collapse she was watching unfold in slow-motion among women and African-American millennials. Rollins said her requests for organizational and monetary assistance from Clinton’s campaign were ignored.

The ineptitude is staggering: Clinton raised $350 million more than Donald Trump and still managed to drop the ball. Her campaign had 489 field offices nationwide; Obama’s campaign had 789 in 2012.

One-third of nearly 700 counties in the industrial Midwest that voted for Obama in both elections decided to support Trump this time around, according to the Washington Post. Out of 207 counties that voted for Obama in either 2008 or 2012, 194 sided with Trump.

Their decision to vote once again for the candidate promising hope and change should come as no surprise. What should be surprising is the astounding incompetence demonstrated by the Clinton campaign — the campaign that lost for the second time to a populist candidate. To be sure, progressive and right-wing populism are not the same, but populist rhetoric seemed to be the driving factor in getting voters out in an election that favored the anti-establishment candidate. Obama ran on hope and change and Trump promised his own brand of it. One would assume Clinton and her staffers might learn a thing or two over the course of eight years.

Instead of learning anything, Clinton portrayed herself as a pragmatist: a “progressive who likes to get things done.” She offered a message not of hope, but of settling for less. She promised potential voters universal health care would “never, ever come to pass.” As her challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigned on a minimum wage of $15 — as well as universal health care — Clinton apparently thought it wise to tone down the ambition: she suggested voters settle for $12.

Clinton has a history of coziness with banks and an incredibly hawkish record compared to other Democrats. In an attempt to combat Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, Clinton’s campaign reacted predictably: they began to use the phrase “America is already great.” None of this was inspiring.

One crucial takeaway from this election should be that people need something to vote for, not something to vote against. The average voter did not and will not base their vote on political calculation. The average voter does not participate in the same electoral stratagems campaign staffers and policy wonks do. It was up to Clinton and her campaign to reach the average voter, and they failed to do so. That she won the popular vote and still lost the election should speak to how terrible of an operation she and her campaign ran.

Clinton — and many of her staffers, voters and supporters — thought she was entitled to Obama’s voting blocs from 2008 and 2012 simply by virtue of her experience and existence. Their hubris proved to be a mistake.

The Democratic Party overall warrants critique and contempt for their impotence — particularly their failure to win legislative seats, ongoing since 2010 — but any and all scorn directed at Clinton and her campaign is absolutely deserved. The Clinton campaign is to blame for its loss, not the voters. It is the responsibility of a campaign to give the electorate a reason to vote for its candidate; votes are earned, not owed. It is vitally important for Democrats to recognize and embrace this now unless they want to lose again.


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Clinton’s presidency will not strengthen the Democratic Party

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published October 25, 2016. Digital scan of the issue here.

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By Cody Jones, News Staff Writer

Since securing the presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton has catered to wealthy, high-ranking Republicans unwilling to support Donald Trump. In one of the most polarizing elections in decades, Clinton’s uninspiring progressivism and her reluctance to unite a fractured Democratic Party will only deepen the party’s divide.

More than two dozen officials from George W. Bush’s administration endorse Clinton. A dozen officials from the administrations of George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan are throwing in their support. Her campaign chairman trumpeted the support of 40 more high-profile Republicans within the past month. She has sought the financial support of Mitt Romney’s donors.

This is more than symbolic gesturing. Republicans who are publicly denouncing Trump and supporting Clinton, particularly those who are doing so with their money, expect something in return. Money talks. They expect a seat at the table in Clinton’s administration. In an election where Clinton is struggling to energize the base of the Democratic Party, pandering to prominent Republicans is dangerous and shortsighted.

During the primaries, Clinton pushed an inspiring, hopeful message: single-payer health care will “Never, ever come to pass.” She is one of the most hawkish members of her party and will likely expand our military involvement abroad as commander in chief in the failed War on Terror. This is an effective way to further alienate the Democratic Party’s base and dampen its morale.

Compared to Obama in 2008 and 2012, Clinton is struggling with voters between the ages of 18 and 30. She is doing much better than Trump with that demographic, but the increasing cynicism among young voters is not going to be improved by Clinton’s decision to pander to many of those on the right who have systematically obstructed and halted progress.

In 2014, Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have increased the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. In 2015, Senate Republicans blocked proposals that would have increased it to $12 and would have allowed employees to earn up to seven paid sick days per year. This does not seem like a party interested in the well-being of the public.

A majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents think the minimum wage should be increased and the same is true of paid sick days. A gap exists between public opinion and public policy, between the typical voter and the politician representing that voter.

It would be unreasonable to expect the next president to refuse to work with Congress — work which will likely include legislative concessions simultaneously conciliatory and disappointing to both parties. That is a cornerstone of the political process. Clinton’s Republican endorsers and donors expect her to return the favor which is more worrying than ordinary compromise. If she does not follow through, they will try to ensure she is not reelected in 2020. If she does return the favor, her pragmatism may be viewed as capitulation instead of compromise and the polarization within the Democratic Party will continue.

Over the past couple of months, Clinton attempted to depict Trump as an outsider of the Republican Party, to suggest he is not representative of other Republican politicians. Now dozens of high-profile Republicans are backpedalling their support of Trump. Clinton, at least in part, allowed this to happen without consequence.

The Republicans who initially rejected Trump’s campaign, endorsed him as the nominee and then withdrew their endorsements after the release of a recording of his sexually explicit comments are now able to wash their hands of him, thanks to Clinton.

Imagine if she had spent the last several months tying the GOP to Trump instead of distancing the two. Democrats would have a better chance of winning congressional seats, thereby giving Congress a chance of legislating Clinton’s campaign promises, but that seems less likely now.

To be sure, a Trump presidency would be disastrous. His comprehension of domestic and foreign policy is lacking. He changes his political positions on a whim. His dog-whistle politics provided a lectern at which racists and sexists can amplify their voices. He does not belong in the White House, but he does represent an increasing level of dissatisfaction and frustration existing within the electorate. These feelings will not suddenly vanish if Trump is not elected.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign similarly represented a populist dissatisfaction and frustration on the other end of the political spectrum. The grievances expressed by his supporters are also here to stay.

Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan is meaningless. The divide between and within the two major political parties is increasing and if her tepid approach to this election is any indication of what her presidency will be like, we should expect to see a similar, if not more polarized, political climate in 2020.