By Eva McBride More than once in the comments on a Facebook post, I’ve seen Democrats talk bitterly about how the working class abandoned the Democrats. I say flip that and reverse it and you have one of our core issues heading into 2018 elections. Working class voters lost their faith in Democrats because they felt abandoned by a party that seems increasingly guided by corporate interests. It’s hard not to get disillusioned if you’re a voter and you have heard Democratic candidates promise to fight for you only to see them back down on worker’s rights, health care, tax cuts for the wealthy and other issues affecting the working class. It’s hard to be a representative when you want to do lots of things for your constituents but the pressure to bring in money all the time seems unavoidable. That puts them in a terrible position as well. Have Democrats learned their lesson or will some continue to blame the voters for not voting for the candidates they choose?
For example, I was disappointed that Cory Booker took money from Pharmaceutical companies and then found a reason to vote against an amendment to a bill that would lower outrageous prescription drug prices. That amendment would have benefitted so many of his constituents and his vote doesn’t seem to make sense until you factor in the influence of corporate money. I heard excuses like “he voted that way to ensure US residents got safe drugs” but that seems ridiculous when drug manufacturers sell these same exact drugs in other countries for much lower prices. I also know that Cory Booker accepted campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies. Between 2010 and 2016 these Democratic Senators who all voted against lowering prescription drug prices were some of the top Senate recipients of good size donations from pharmaceutical companies. In that time period Senator Booker received $267,338, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) received $254,649, Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) received $250,730 and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) received $222,000. Most people I know could never afford to make donations like that to any campaign. They would never have that much influence over a Senator. It’s hard to defend Senator Booker to voters when you see this kind of trend. How can this not be something that all Democratic legislators would sponsor?
If Democrats became determined to follow through with their promises without letting corporate influence get in the way it could revitalize the party base. I know Democrats who fear this kind of change because they are clinging to the idea that we have to raise as much money as Republicans if we’re going to beat them. If we do this at the expense of voter trust, however, we lose more people than we gain. How many votes have we lost with this tactic? Does it make sense to double down and continue on this path as we head into 2018? I think the 2016 election was glaring evidence that their methods were flawed or they have lost the ability to help us. Many Democrats stayed home instead of going to the polls in 2016. Can this apathy and disinterest be completely blamed on voters or does the party need to recognize they had and have a part in making voters feel as if they have no real choices? The DNC’s own research tells us that voters in key states switched to Trump after going for Obama in previous years. One single corporation or wealthy person who donates up to their limit can bring in a lot of money but they can’t guarantee votes. With super PACS becoming the trend and Citizens United in effect the problem continues to get worse. I’m afraid we’re seeing the results of choosing corporate interests over voters. The money cannot replace voter trust.
Many Progressives and Independent voters are disgusted about the way the DNC under the leadership of Debbie Wasserman Schultz handled the 2016 primary. A class action lawsuit is underway for fraud by Bernie Sanders donors. The DNC has a heck of an image problem and in some polls, their approval rating is lower than Trump’s. How do we fight Republicans if we can’t keep our side of the street clean? Almost half of registered voters are Independents now and they have no such thing as party loyalty. They won’t be coerced into voting for Democratic candidates if they don’t like them. If they don’t trust a candidate they often vote for the other guy or they don’t vote. I think focusing on issues first over party loyalty is the way a lot of voters are making decisions now. Even once loyal Democrats refuse to continue to “vote blue no matter who.”
It’s clear that Democrats need to come through for the little guy to gain their trust and their votes back. Trust is going to have to come first before we can get the votes. This may mean forgoing the big donors who could cause a conflict of interest with the needs of their constituents. I think candidates can do much more with fewer resources if voters see them rejecting outside influences and begin to have faith again. More people will be inspired to volunteer if they have faith in their representation. Spending less money is an option when people trust you and they don’t have to be manipulated into to voting for a candidate.
The party establishment continues to push back against these changes and the pressure is immense. They would like us to move forward, stop talking about it and keep the focus on raising money. Do we allow neoliberals to continue to take the party on this same money dominated course that lost us so much in 2016 and previous elections? In my opinion, they had their chance to lead us in a good direction but they chose to try to become more like Republicans. They still seem to think that raising more money than the other party is the key. I think emphasizing how we are different from Republicans is the key. Making good on most of our promises would be a really good start. Asking candidates to stick to the party platform as much as they can shouldn’t be too much to ask. When candidates are elected they can focus on being representatives of their constituents and not have to try to serve two masters or worry as much about the next campaign coffer. If establishment Dems try to normalize the corruption or force unity on us we need to continue to push for real reform even if the changes make them uncomfortable. Progressives are taking a stand all over and it’s good to see. To some it looks like an annoying conflict that won’t go away but I don’t think that is going to happen without reform. Stay calm and rational when discussing these things but stay stubborn about these issues, my friends. The party will continue to disintegrate if we don’t.