Democrats: Nominating Kamala Harris in 2020? Or Chasing The White Working Class?

Simply put, I’d advise to argue for either is a foolhardy exercise.

On a near daily basis since 2016, we’ve heard networks like CNN or MSNBC talk about the failure and necessity for Democrats to court voters in the white working class. It would appear Chuck Schumer missed the mark when he predicted that each blue collar Democrat who turned their back on the party would be replaced by a white collar conservative, itching to ditch Trump. Oops.

Liberal talking heads have become blatantly clueless about the true state of the Left, and they’re learning all the wrong lessons from 2016. No Democrats, we shouldn’t be trying to the earn more votes from just the white working class—we should be trying to earn more votes from all of The Working Class.

I met a Democrat at a state meeting the other day, who very smugly asserted that we must move to the right or we’ll keep losing elections. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this in Democratic circles. This is a reflection of the national strategy to flip seats in red states around the country. They believe a tug rightward is just the method we need to win over the—you guessed it—white working class.

What does it really mean when certain Democrats and liberal pundits single out that particular group when talking about a game plan? I’m sure some folks would spin it to say that we’re already fighting hard for Americans of color and members of the LGBTQ communities so we must now expand our tent. Plain and simple, what they’re really saying is: “We’ve already got minority votes in the bag.”

I’m going to take it upon myself to point out the obvious: If you speak to the needs of The Working Class as a whole, blue collar white folks are also going to benefit. I’d sarcastically call that revolutionary thinking, except it seems progressives are viewed as radicals when we point this out. Our calls for single payer health care, tuition-free college, energy transformation, and a number of other progressive policies are pretty much ripped from a Bernie Sanders speech. This is the same Bernie Sanders who openly owned being a democratic socialist and still managed to win hearts and minds with many of the same blue-collar Democrats Schumer and his ilk placed their bets against last year. 

The funniest part about this dynamic is that Sanders was, and continues to be, smeared as the prophet of the Bernie Bro; a term designed to conjure the image of a misogynistic twenty-something white dude who wears his baseball hat backwards and a tank top that says “Quinoa Saves”. Just to keep track, the Democratic establishment wants to win the white working class, just not that tiny sliver of the white working class. A tiny sliver they’ll manipulate to represent a massive range of progressives from all walks of life, effectively ignoring all of them.

Do you see why there’s a problem with the folks we’ve got running this party? They’ll sit in institutions of privilege and power while singing ballads to the white working class, then proceed to label Sanders supporters as a group of crazed alt-left bigots. This will lead me to my later point tying this to the fever pitch surrounding Kamala Harris later, but first let’s talk about why we’re tacking alt- onto things in political discourse. 

At the same time many Third Way Democrats espouse the need to move right to win, they’ll try to earn brownie points as protectors from the alt-right. There’s a lot of discussion on what the alt-right represents, depending on who you ask. What I suspect it means to Neoliberals is the boundary line from which they’ll move right no further. In essence, their parades of bipartisanship and courtship of the white working class will take them as far right as they need to go to win—until they reach the alt-right. And why are they starting to call progressives the alt-left? Simple: that same formula applies too. Except that the line they won’t cross from their left is standard fare for the working class of every developed nation on Earth save for ours. These are the same people who shame Megan Kelly for giving Alex Jones a platform, while granting legitimacy to Republicans by sharing their hawkishness on the budget and foreign policy.

So let’s talk about the ins and outs of the paradox we find ourselves in. 

-Bernie Sanders takes nearly 45% of the Democratic primary, (most of which was a diverse segment of the working class) against seemingly insurmountable hostility from the Democratic Party structure, Correct the Record, the media, etc.

-Many of the states Bernie won were neglected in the general election campaign, and went to the much darker anti-establishment character in Trump. Democrats are largely chalking up those voters’ discontent to them being unwitting victims of Vladimir Putin, instead of what they really were: neglected and discontent. 

-Most Democrats in power continue to ignore progressives, most of whom are working class from every end of the spectrum, opting to consult their wealthy (mostly white) donors on how far right they should move. 

Now, I admittedly don’t know much about Kamala Harris and I’m not really going to go perusing her record just yet. Here’s something that needs to be recognized by folks on both perspectives on her presidential future: She hasn’t declared yet.

I understand that power donors behind the scenes think they’ve found their candidate in Harris. I’ll concede that it bears troubling similarity to the “inevitability factor” that may have simultaneously won Clinton the nomination and cost her the election. Either way, 2020 is a very long time from now and we’ve got a mid-term to fight for. It’s probably one of the most consequential mid-term elections in modern history.

Still, the forming of alliances so soon has become too contentious to ignore. It’s evidence that the schism that grew in the 2016 primary is only intensifying. How could it not? Look at any heated exchange about the subject and the dynamics are pretty much the same as before. Center-left Democrats rage against the Bernie Bros who have returned to kill the chances of their next chosen candidate. Gasp! If only they had the white working class to come to their rescue!

Now sure, to combat the Bernie-Bro narrative, it would be easy to cite progressive leaders like Cornel West, Nina Turner, Tulsi Gabbard, Linda Sarsour, and a number of other Bernie surrogates progressives have come to rally around. But that would still leave out the countless progressives from under-privileged backgrounds who may not be famous or hold office, but who still fight every single day for the policies that progressives of every identity believe in.

If a number of progressives are skeptical of Kamala Harris, it’s not effort well spent to shame them for being so. The Democratic powers-that-be must instead strive to find out why the concept of her nomination is being met with resistance. If I had to guess, it could be Harris’s remarks that we must refrain from a policy litmus test on the left. That statement is easily interpreted as “Stop having standards, and you won’t be so disappointed when we keep moving to the right.” That statement is even more absurd in its premise because lawmakers, including Kamala Harris, negotiate on legislation using their own litmus tests every single day. Look at the justification used to kill California’s single payer bill in the senate. Listen to the reasons most influential Democrats in Colorado spoke against the ballot initiative for Colorado Care. It goes something like this, “While I’m supportive, this just wasn’t written well and needs to be fully thought out before I can support it.” Newsflash: That’s a litmus test.

So here’s how this all ties together. If progressives continue to be erroneously labeled as sexists or racists when they question Kamala Harris’s record on policy while being floated as a presidential candidate by the elite, and if progressive critics of color are sidelined by the white Bernie-Bro narrative, then here’s the message it’ll send: The Democratic Party will have no problem moving further left on social issues, as long as their move to the right on economic issues is unobstructed.

That’s the message the party has already cultivated. That’s at the very root of the schism on the left. And it’s absolutely the strategy the leadership must abandon. Yes, we should be left on social issues (and that means chucking the DCCC chair who hinted at supporting pro-life Democrats to win red seats); but if we are to energize the full breadth of the working class, we have to move left economically. It’s the only way we’ll win back the disillusioned, the desperate, and the despondent (you know, the people this party used to represent). Chiefly, because it’s the only strategy that’ll actually yield results.

Unaffiliated and independent voter pools are growing more rapidly as Republicans botch their majority, and Democrats botch taking that majority back. It’s time that open-minded Democrats near the center consider compromising with progressives instead of centrist Republicans. It’s time that the Democratic Party drop their contradictory obsession with either excluding or courting members of the white working class and instead negotiate aggressively for policies that improve all our lives. If we could make that shift, Kamala Harris and any other candidate would either rise or fall in 2020 based on their policies, and the Democratic Party’s redemption would be realized. 

The Democratic Party’s new slogan shouldn’t be some formless nonsense about getting a better deal. It should be “Moving Left, So None Are Left Behind.”

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