“If [Democrats] … realize their responsibilities; forget former defeats and divisions and think only of the future—of the chance to make their party once more what it was formed to be, has been, and can be made, the great party of progress, the party of democracy; … they can start a new wave of genuine and orderly progress which will uplift the people … to a higher place than has ever yet been reached.”
This quote is from an Atlantic article published in 1908 and, yet despite the differences in the conditions between then and now it still rings true. It is the constant cycle Democrats seem to find themselves in: debating where the future direction of the party is headed. This utter confusion seems especially prevalent after astonishing upsets in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Expectations on the left ran high this cycle with projections estimating as many as thirteen Senate seats turning blue. Nevertheless, without even knowing the results of the Senate runoffs in Georgia, the Democrats have lost nine seats in the House and only gained one net seat in the Senate.
What is it about this party that has made it so unattractive to voters? Despite the wide variety of atrocities committed by President Trump during his term, the 2020 election was closer than many expected; President-elect Biden barely pulling off the win. It would seem that Democrats have not only lost touch with the people, but that in the era of “fearing the radical left”, they are quickly losing more than just elections. The traditional spirit of the party itself has become lost as well. It has been ripped apart by all sides of the spectrum, whether conservative, moderate, or Progressives. Democrats are notaren’t doing enough to show voters what they represent; perhaps in this chaotic two-party system, they don’t quite understand what they represent either.
In a recent interview, Conor Lamb, a House moderate and winner of a close race in Pennsylvania, credits “completely unrealistic” policies that end “in broken promises” as the reason Democrats lost so many House seats. Lamb goes on to mention that despite respect for progressives, the policies they propose are “unworkable and extremely unpopular.” The fact is, most Americans hold moderate views, and the level of national attention that far-left progressives receive hurts the Democratic Party. We saw this in this year’s Presidential debates, when President Trump vilified former-Vice President Biden, a centrist, anodyne politician, by attaching him to the far-left’s agenda. This association with controversial topics, such as defunding the police—a widely misconstrued policy—caused many Democrats to lose votes. The biggest problem is not even the idea of defunding itself, but rather that Democrats cannotcan’t seem to unify around any common stance on these issues. The majority of Democratic elected officials, even Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have come out against defunding the police (whether this is due to a counter-productive two-party system is a topic for another time). However, a complete lack of clear and consistent action within the Democratic Party’s messaging on controversial issues causes widespread voter confusion.
Democrats simply do not know how to make themselves consistently appealing to voters. Hopefully, in this non-election year Democrats will take the opportunity to clarify their positioning and find a compromise on many of their currently conflicting stances for the sake of our country’s future. In a time when the country remains so evenly split across the aisle, the left, as a practical matter, cannot afford to be polarizing within its own party.
In addition to policy unity, another crucial consideration for the Democrats to garner election success depends on their ability to utilize the new media opportunities provided by the internet and social mediasites. While the internet, for some, has led to great new political fundraising achievements, the Democrats have nothaven’t quite figured out how to use new technology to persuade voters with unified messaging. The internet allows candidates the ability to directly reach their constituents and if used correctly can completely change the course of elections. As exemplified with the 2020 failure of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s bid for president, after spending $700 million on advertising and only winning American Samoa in the primaries, media matters.
The glimmer of hope in the Democratic Party to provide America with a safer, more unified, and prosperous future is fading, but it is too early to disregard. We have come to a crossroads very different and more epoch-making from the ones we faced in 1908. Our rapidly evolving, technologically demanding, and mass-communicative world means we must reinvigorate the party or be pushed aside. It is wise to remember that over 100,000,000 Americans of voting age will be under the age of 38 in 2024, and they get much more of their news from digital media than older generations.The overall losses of this cycle must galvanize us into action to discover new ways of connecting with voters, whether it be policy clarification, deploying the media, or developing new tactics altogether. The future of America rests on what the Democrats do now. Will we face the responsibility head-on or crumble under the pressure?