Erich Reimer | A party gone astray
Guest Column | The Democratic Party needs to go back to its ‘big tent’ coalition roots
September 25, 2012, 1:16 am·
The Democratic Party of FDR, Truman, LBJ and Clinton no longer exists. Instead, the Democratic Party has devolved to the party of McGovern, Dukakis and Elizabeth Warren.
At this year’s Republican National Convention, former Representative and former Democrat Artur Davis urged members of his former party and independents to “listen closely to the Democratic Party that will gather in Charlotte and ask yourself if you ever hear your voice in the clamor. Ask yourself if these Democrats still speak for you.”
In 2008, I served on the national high school leadership team of Students for Barack Obama. Two years later, I worked at the Democratic National Committee’s political department, directly advising national party leaders on youth outreach strategy.
I’ve seen hundreds of political campaigns, seen how the party operates on every level in nearly every region of the country and witnessed firsthand the collapse of the moderate and conservative branches of the Democratic Party. I love my party too much to remain silent any longer — that’s why I feel the need to now speak out now.
Throughout its history, the Democratic Party has been the “big tent” that embraced a spectrum of communities ranging from big business to farmers, from minorities to the working class and from intellectuals to the religious.
This wide-ranging coalition has been the key to the Democratic Party’s success throughout history — just look at the great victories across every demographic won by FDR, Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
But this year, the Democratic Party has lost its way. An ideologically progressive agenda has replaced the diversity of viewpoints that previously reflected the party’s composition and style for so many years.
Welfare reform and fiscal responsibility — views that were once considered mainstream in the Democratic Party a few years ago — are now decried as “right-wing.” The question of how this came to be can be debated endlessly and should be left to historians. But the truth is, this is the present reality of the party.
One need not go far to find evidence. At this year’s DNC, delegates viciously booed the insertion of “God” into the Democratic Party’s platform, even though it is a longstanding tradition. The party has also launch multiple tirades against corporations like Bain Capital that go as far as to denounce all levels of the private sector. Members have also gone on to publicly encourage the Occupy movement. This problem has escalated to the point that the likes of Bill Clinton and Cory Booker have come out in an attempt to restrain the rhetoric.
During the 111th Congress, the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative and center-right Democrats, had 54 members in the House of Representatives. Now, during the 112th Congress, it has only 26 members.
The New Democrat Coalition, a group of firm moderates and those on the center-left, had 69 House members during the 111th Congress. During the 112th, they had just 41. If these numbers do not paint a stark enough picture, take note of this: the Democratic Leadership Council — once the standard-bearer of the centrist Democratic Party of Bill Clinton — shut its doors in 2011 after over 25 years of existence.
We saw this first-hand in Pennsylvania in April when two moderate Democratic congressmen, Reps. Jason Altmire and Tim Holden, lost their primaries to progressive opponents.
Now, this isn’t to say that the Republican Party is the new big-tent party. The Republicans have become even more radicalized, as the Tea Party has destroyed moderate Republicans in an unrelenting purge.
As such, our country has left only two radical parties — one on the far right and one on the far left — leaving the largest percentage of self-identified independents in history and one of the most gridlocked and polarized governments our country has ever seen.
I’m still a Democrat, as I’ve always been. I believe the Democratic Party will eventually come back to its senses and I eagerly await that day. To my fellow Democrats — including the millions of disheartened moderate and conservative members — stay involved and stay with the party. Because when the party returns to its centrist foundations, we’ll need you to rebuild and strengthen it.
Erich Reimer is a College senior from Albany, N.Y. His email addres is firstname.lastname@example.org