A letter to the Democrats of Iowa,
Friends, I write this letter as a fellow Democrat. I write this as a member of a county central committee and an alternate at a district central committee. I write this as someone who at one point had been fed up with the Democratic Party and went away for a few years. I write this as someone who has come back to the Party, and desires to see this Party find its way, if that is possible.
“Unity” is the cry. You hear it all over. “If we don’t unite, we’ll never win in Iowa again.” It’s a good notion. But what does it mean to be united, and what will it take to actually get us there? A major problem facing our party is that there is not a shared idea of what it looks like to unite. For some, unity means falling in line. For others, that idea of unity is not only shortsighted, but dangerous. How should unity look in the Iowa Democratic Party?
First, let us address a major misunderstanding of what it means to be a Party in the United States’ system of government. We may look at political parties as teams: monolithic ideology groups fighting for the views of one side of a binary. This would work if our system was similar to those of the multi-party systems of most of the world. In those systems, groups of like-minded individuals can band together to form a party that will win seats to legislatures and assemblies. Here, in the United States, we do things differently. Our major political parties are not like parties in other nations, rather they are akin to the coalitions formed by multiple parties in those other nations that work together to increase the political power of the group.
Coalitions do not operate the same as parties. In a party, you tend to have an ideological core around which the whole group is organized. Leaders tend to be those who have demonstrated they are champions for those principles and goals shared by the whole party. They can generally feel confident that when they speak on behalf of the party, they speak for the whole group. Meanwhile, coalitions are built around the need to work together so that each group can best seek their own goals while pursuing shared goals. In coalitions, the action of the whole requires negotiation and compromises. A balance must be kept between the desires of each member group to see their goals achieved, and the need for solidarity between the groups. If one group tries to force the other groups in a coalition to fall in line with their personal goals, rather than negotiating the relationship between themselves and the other groups, the coalition falls apart.
We are witnessing a failure, within our own Party, of recognizing that this is a coalition. Our party is composed of Classical liberals, Left-Capitalists (sometimes referred to as Neo-Liberals), Environmental Liberals, Democratic Socialists, Left-Libertarians, and a variety of other groups, each with their own goals. Each with their own idea of what it means to be “Progressive”. We stand at a point where there is a strong disagreement between these various parties within our own Party. Classic Liberals and Left-Capitalists have been the strong backbone of the Party for several decades. Democratic Socialists and Left Libertarians are growing in their power and this is causing friction.
If we as a Party want to maintain our coalition, rather than fracture into smaller groups, things need to change. For those among the groups growing in influence, it is unacceptable to be told to fall in line. If you want their continued vote, they must be partners in the coalition. When concerns by some members of a coalition continued to be met with calls to fall in line, or simply ignored, those members of the coalition will not feel like partners, and soon will go their own way. It is time for the Iowa Democratic Party to recognize the need to listen to all members of their coalition, not just the groups that have lead in the past, if we want to fix the problems that confront us today. That means none of us get everything we want. It also means the hard work of negotiating with each other for things that are important to our groups, and to be honest about where we will and will not budge. Sometimes things will still come down to a contentious vote, sometimes things will not be “as we’ve always done it”, it will happen. But if things do not change, if one side is left feeling like the other does not want to treat them as full partners, this coalition will break down. The choice is ours to make.