How the Democrats blew it and how to not blow it next time

I’m over the initial shock of the election, although it follows me into unwelcome places, like my dreams. The election seemed pretty easy to call in advance. Pollsters were in agreement. Everything had been sliced and diced. Although a two-term president is rarely succeeded by someone from his own party, it sure looked like with the worst Republican candidate ever things were going to break for Team Blue.

Obviously it didn’t, leaving pretty much everyone except Michael Moore and Scott Adams with egg on their faces. Heck, even the Trump campaign was planning for defeat. You could see in Trump’s “victory” speech that he was a bit shell-shocked by the whole thing; it’s almost liked he hoped to lose. Trump’s visit to the White House yesterday was also surreal. He had a stunned-bunny sort of look, like this is the last sort of job he wanted. And it’s worth noting that while Trump trounced Clinton in the Electoral College vote, Clinton still won the popular vote. She joins Al Gore and Samuel J. Tilden in the exclusive club of candidates who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote (and who had not been president already.) By any standard, Trump’s election is not the will of the people.

In retrospect pollsters failed because no one had come up with a way to model the racist vote. Racists generally won’t self identify themselves but based on the results the unidentified racists were about 5% of voters, all voting for Trump. And the reason they couldn’t be identified before was that Trump was our first modern openly racist candidate, well, at least since George Wallace in 1968.

So it’s important to understand that even with the wind at their backs Democrats had the odds stacked against them. Generally presidents don’t quite deliver the change envisioned, even if they are well liked, so voters will be inclined to try the other party. And Trump was all about change. But he also had people enthusiastic about him. Enthusiastic people vote. While there certainly were Democrats enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, most of us were half-hearted supporters. Those who show up to vote with the most passion get their candidate elected.

It’s not that Democrats didn’t have a change candidate. Bernie Sanders was that candidate. He had amazing crossover appeal. During the Democratic primaries, Sanders generally won the rust belt swing states that normally vote Democratic but were picked off by Trump. It’s impossible to know that if Bernie had been the party’s nominee whether he would have done better than Clinton, but my guess is he would have. At least some of Clinton’s firewall states would have fulfilled their function and that may have been the edge that was needed.

So it’s worth recalling just how Clinton got the nomination in the first place. It’s not that she didn’t do a lot to earn the nomination. But she was the Democratic establishment’s choice. Clinton spent years cultivating these relationships and of course she also had Bill to help her as well. It was obvious that DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz had her finger on the scales for Hillary. But even if she hadn’t, long before Bernie had even entertained the idea of running for president, Hillary had an in with the various Democratic state party establishment. She had banked most of the party’s superdelegates. If every eight years is going to be a change election, it’s counterproductive for a party to have a system in place that discourages change candidates. The Republican Party did not, and it worked in their favor in this election.

So the lesson for Democrats should be clear: get rid of the party’s superdelegate system. To his credit Sanders brought this to the attention to the party after his nomination was out of the question, and sort of won. Superdelegates don’t go away but they will be reduced by two-thirds. This will make it easier for candidates like him to get a foothold in the future, increasing the odds that the eventual party nominee will be a rank and file pick, rather than the establishment’s. It’s a pretty good bet that rank and file will be closer to understanding who can actually win an election than the party’s elite as they won’t be living their lives in the insular political bubble that the party’s elite do.

But can real party change happen? Getting rid of most of these superdelegates helps. It would be better to get rid of all of them. What’s critical for 2018 though is to find a new party chairman that gets this. Howard Dean, who became the DNC chair after the 2004 election is willing to give it another try. His 50-state strategy was very successful. It allowed Democrats to regain control of the House and the Senate just two years later. We need Dean or someone who believes the same things. We don’t need Wasserman-Shultz or Donna Brazile again as both have proven ineffectual.

We also need to say goodbye to the Clintons. Both came with baggage and it dragged down the ticket, even if some of their issues were more smoke than fire. (Hillary’s emails, for example, was mostly a big nothing burger.) They represent the “new Democrat” that Bill Clinton invented in 1992. That business-friendly, Republican-lite branding no longer works and does not distinguish the Democratic Party. Both Bill and Hillary need to exit stage right. The party needs to hear from a variety of voices, hopefully mostly new voices to see what resonates within the party of today. The party is morphing too, but feels moribund. It’s a party that is increasingly diverse and multicultural. But it should not be the party of non-whites. It should appeal to those Trump voters who were sucked in by Trump’s popular and economic message. Whites still form the majority of voters in this country. Elections cannot be won without significant number of crossover white voters. For whatever reason, except for younger white voters, whites and white women in particular failed to deliver for Democrats in this election.

If you want people to vote for you, give them some compelling reasons to vote for you. Democrats failed here, choosing an establishment candidate with baggage and high unfavorables over a change candidate. Voters need to feel like the candidate is someone that gets their concerns, and has a track record of fighting for their issues. It’s hard to relate to a candidate who is a millionaire and gives $250,000 speeches to Wall Street firms. You need someone authentic with fire in their belly instead, someone a lot like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

The only good news for Democrats is that Trump is likely to quickly implode. He brings a lot of baggage to his presidency including a lot of civil suits and possible criminal charges for having sex with a minor. If he chooses to do those things he says he will do, he will piss off his voters who buy his brand but not most of his policies, like throwing undocumented immigrants out of the country. The Democratic Party need not be down for long. But if it is to recover quickly, it must do so with agility and intelligence. It needs to morph into a populist party again.

Review: Fahrenheit 9/11

Michael Moore is a documentary filmmaker with an unapologetic liberal bias. He has created memorable and quirky documentary films including Roger and Me, which I’ve seen. That film explored the negative impact the auto industry had on his hometown of Flint, Michigan. (This happens to be where my wife grew up.) Moore has also tackled more controversial topics such as his movie Bowling for Columbine. That movie focused on the shootings by two students at Columbine High School in Colorado and how he believed it was precipitated by the easy availability of firearms in this country.

In Fahrenheit 9/11 Moore clearly goes for the jugular: the Bush Administration itself. The focus of the movie is Bush’s response to the attacks on 9/11 but it is a general indictment of Bush and everything associated with Bush. This movie is very controversial and there are right wing groups trying to keep it from even being shown. So I was surprised to find myself yesterday with a ticket (courtesy of my friend Renee) to the 7:40 PM show at the Cinema Arts Theater in Fairfax, Virginia. Needless to say all the tickets were sold out. Had not Renee bought them earlier in the week I likely wouldn’t have seen the film until much later.

There were two aspects to the movie. The first was the movie itself. The second was the controversy swirling around the movie. The owner of the theater put up a large sign next to the ticket booth justifying showing the film. The sign noted that the theater had also showed Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ despite objections from some on the left side of the spectrum at the time. The owner was more than a bit nervous about showing the film. Before the movie he went up and down the aisles asking questions from us. I doubt there was a Republican in the house. We were ready for the film and we were prepared to applaud.

But how was it as a movie? This is after all a movie that already won the Palme d’Or (best in show) award at France’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival just last month! Given such kudos my expectations were pretty high. I was somewhat disappointed but not too surprised that it did not live up to my expectations.

Yes, I had big problems with the movie. First of all let me assure you that I am no George W. Bush fan. I am actively working to get him out of office. And I subscribe to Michael Moore’s thesis, which is well articulated in the film, that the media in this country had a largely uncritical bias toward Bush and his war. Still Moore often plays fast and loose with the facts. He jumps to conclusions not necessarily warranted by the facts.

What Fahrenheit 9/11 really is is an emotional parry from this country’s left wing to the Bush Administration in general, and to the way they botched up our response to 9/11 and the Iraq War in particular. It tries very hard to succeed in connecting the dots between a close relationship between the Bush family and Saudi oil interests. And I actually did learn some new things I did not expect from the movie. This is very unusual for me because I am a political junkie. To find events in the movie that didn’t even get reported on DailyKos or Atrios is pretty amazing. I have to complement Moore for his research. Still in playing connect the dots in many cases instead of drawing straight lines between the dots, Moore is really drawing dotted lines. He spends a lot of time making inferences that are not really justified by the available facts.

The film itself tries to be organized but only partially succeeds. Like Moore it often rambles back and forth from point to point. One moment we are in Iraq, the next we are in Flint, Michigan. It’s unclear where the film is going and when it will end. It feels a bit long at about two hours. And most amazingly enough it leaves out large areas of the story that should be told to a general audience. In place of these crucial events we get disturbing but very effective close-ups of a mother who lost her son in Iraq, or of our troops conducting midnight raids on an Iraqi family’s house. What crucial events are missing? Well, for one the lack of connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, which is hinted at, is never explored in any depth.

Instead the film often rushes to be sophomoric where it could have been soared. We all know on some level that our leaders are human beings with human failings. Moore goes out of his way to make everyone in the Bush Administration look like jerks. In the process he really just lowers our opinion of him. We get lots of pictures of Bush prior to going on the air getting his hair retouched. We see many shots with Bush looking like a lost little lamb. We even see Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz licking a comb to retouch his hair and similar nauseating events. We also get a very grainy shot of a beheading in Saudi Arabia. We see war footage from Iraq including those horrible images of the charred bodies of our contractors dangling from bridges in Falluja. There are numerous pictures of victims of the war in pieces or with parts of their bodies missing. The R rating was I think well deserved. War is not a clean business.

The movie is perhaps a bit unfocused because it felt rushed to the screen. Incidents like the kidnapping of Thomas Hamill (not my brother!) are discussed. The film is also annoying because it integrates so much video footage with filmed interviews. Much of the film is consequently jerky and grainy.

Where the film succeeds though is on an emotional level. If you toss out its problems with connecting the dots and see it as a crass appeal to our emotions it succeeds quite well. Sometimes it does so brilliantly. The events of 9/11 themselves are largely heard, not seen. We hear sounds of the airliners crashing into the Twin Towers against a black screen. Eventually the black fades to the looks of horror in people’s eyes as they watch people fall to their death.

Thinking about it last night, this is the sort of movie Matt Drudge’s evil twin would make. Although I can appreciate Michael Moore and his style, he is hardly unbiased. He frequently substitutes innuendo and snide remarks for facts and logic. No person who calls himself or herself a liberal should accept this film uncritically. To do so in my mind puts them in the same category as those neo-conservatives who perpetrated Bush and his mistakes on this country.

Moore may be biased but the poignant moments scattered in the film are real enough. And you have to love those signature Michael Moore scenes. One happens when he is in an ice cream truck running around Capitol Hill. He is inside the truck on the loud speaker reciting the details of the Patriot Act to Congress, which had never bothered to read it. I also enjoyed his on the street interviews with congressmen he manages to accost. He gives them brochures for the armed forces so they will send their kids to fight in Iraq. (Only one member of congress has a son or daughter serving in Iraq.) During these parts of the movies you can’t help but laugh and forgive a lot of his other mistakes.

Is the movie worth seeing? Overall I’d say yes. Will it change minds? My guess is it probably won’t change many since the country is already very polarized. For weeks the crowds seeing it will be highly partisan. But perhaps it will be seen by more independents when it is released on DVD (hopefully long before the election). Then it might have impact that translates into votes. And while I am annoyed by Moore’s leaps of logic I find it hard to be too upset. There are plenty of beyond dispute facts in the movie that need all the publicity they can get.