Not Deferential Enough: Why the Democrats lost the election

Posted Saturday, November 12, 2016 in Opinion

Not Deferential Enough: Why the Democrats lost the election

by Gina Hamilton

In the interests of full disclosure, I'm a Democrat. In the interests of further full disclosure, I am a progressive Democrat who supported Bernie Sanders during the primary. But I voted for Hillary Clinton during the general election, as did most of my progressive friends, and now the time has come, now that the shock is past, and the tears have dried, to sit down as a party and figure out what the hell went wrong.

How could any person with a tenth of the experience and qualifications that Clinton had lose to someone like Donald Trump? How did that happen? In my personal view, there were several issues that somehow didn't get polled for and weren't noticed -- or were noticed and were simply ignored by the party regulars.

1. We have to look at who we are as a nation, warts and all. In the editorial we published the night of the election, we acknowledged the horrific nature of our national character and soul. This is unfortunately all too real; despite an aura of hope and change that accompanied the Obama election, racism played a significant role in his lack of support during his presidency in Congress. Sexism no doubt played a role in the failure of Clinton to garner enough support to achieve the votes necessary to win the election.

We have a president-elect who, despite regular Republicans falling by the wayside, was buoyed by the basest elements in the party, those whom Clinton called the "basket of deplorables" -- racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamophobes. This is the reality of modern-day America, and these base elements rear their heads every time there is a major upheaval in society. This time, the change is caused by globalization and economic inequality, with a frightened, older white Christian group of mostly males worried that their status and very way of life is being challenged by a younger group of people of color, women, immigrants, and people of other creeds, or of no creed at all. If Obama was elected by hope, Trump was elected by fear.

Some of this fear will dissipate as the aging white population is supplanted by the younger population of color, but it will get worse before it gets better. Trump's promise of isolationist economic, military, and social practices appealed to this group, and Democrats ignore it at their peril.

2. We have to pop the bubble. It is all too easy to hear only that which you want to hear, and be led to believe that everyone else thinks the same way. Gone are the days when people read a common newspaper, or listened to a common radio station for news, or watched Uncle Walter on television as a nation. Our media often reflects the biases of the people who watch, read, or listen to it, not the objective reality of any given situation.  So when Hillary Clinton came to believe she was winning the election, and the polls bore that out, the reality was something else, and the people in the other bubble believed the opposite. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine might have an effect on this bubble mentality, but to really eliminate it, we need to teach young people how to do real critical thinking, not just look at Fox and MSNBC and decide the truth is somewhere in the middle.

3. Clinton ignored the Democratic base.  Believing that she had a better shot with disaffected Republicans and Independents, Hillary Clinton ignored her base. Choosing Tim Kaine as a VP nominee rather than someone like Dennis Kucinich, Cory Booker, or Julian Castro was a disastrous mistake. Not encouraging Sanders to take a much more active part in her campaign was a mistake. Keeping DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on board in any capacity was a mistake. Not taking a stand on the Dakota pipeline was a mistake. Many Sanders supporters voted for Clinton anyway, but the energy of the Sanders campaign was gone. That didn't have to happen; Clinton wasn't pivoting to the right in any meaningful policy way, so ignoring the progressive base was an error that probably cost her the election.

4. Clinton was a seriously flawed candidate. It wasn't just the emails, although they had legs that no Clinton supporter really wanted to acknowledge, and simply ignored inside the bubble. Clinton had very high unfavorable ratings from the very beginning, compared to Sanders. Clinton did a poor job of bringing out her superlative background in women's and children's issues, often overshadowed by her actions and words about her husband's many mistresses.  Someone once said that a woman needs to be twice as good to be considered a man's equal. Clinton was far more than twice as good as Trump, easily, but her good qualities were constantly cast into shade by the sense that the Clintons were secretive, sneaky, and considered themselves above the law. These things were well-known when she was running for the nomination, but ignored, in part, because the DNC really wanted Clinton, not Sanders, and she herself believed that she was due the nomination -- and the presidency.

5. The change election. Clinton's team failed to recognize what sort of an election cycle this was. It was a change election; although Obama had high favorable ratings, the rust belt and the heartland were still hurting badly from the recession.  The improvements hadn't happened evenly, and those who were hurting wanted someone to blame. Rather than blame a likeable president, they blamed the Democratic party, somewhat unfairly. A good percentage of the people who voted for Trump said that he would change things in Washington. It remains to be seen whether that will even be possible; however, Hillary Clinton was running as the consummate Washington insider, and that was a significant blow to her campaign.

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