To attract independents, parties must have a message

As an independent, I vote for the person, not the party.

I’m part of the majority. I am an independent voter. 

Not a Democrat, and no longer a Republican (which I was until the party drove out those of us who were socially liberal and fiscally conservative years ago).

An independent.

Today, 42 percent claim to be independent. 29 percent say they are Democrats, and 27 percent are Republicans.

As an independent, I vote for the person, not the party. Washington today demonstrates what is wrong with voting party lines.

I am not a fan of the president. I do not like the way the House and the Senate have surrendered their constitutional responsibilities. And I am concerned about the direction of the Supreme Court with decisions like Citizens United.

With the polls showing a Democratic wave in the midterm elections, I should be happy. I am not.

The reason: Democrats may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Despite the polls (which were dead wrong in 2016), Democrats seem increasingly fragmented, feckless and incapable of engaging in political hand-to-hand combat (except among themselves).

Years ago, political candidates were chosen by power brokers in smoke-filled rooms. No one should lament the passage of that time. 

The change to a more open political system was long overdue; the levers of power should never reside in the hands of a few.

Yet, as is often the case when change occurs, we have moved too far in the opposite direction.

We can see the effect of that process locally.

In the 19th Congressional District, south of Schenectady, four candidates, including Schenectady-born Antonio Delgado, are vying for the right to take on Republican Congressman John Faso. 

In the 21st Congressional District, north of Schenectady, the field of opponents trying to unseat Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is larger.

With Union alumnus Dylan Ratigan having entered the fray, it has grown to seven.

Nationally, we see the fracturing in the Democratic Party with congressmen in Illinois and Massachusetts being primaried by more liberal candidates.

In California, Senator Diane Feinstein is also being challenged from the left.

Competition is great; I have always welcomed it.

I hope, though, Democratic primary battles will neither bloody the victor nor prevent supporters of losing candidates from uniting in the general election. (In 2016, we saw what happened when Clinton and Sanders backers failed to come together.)

Democrats (liberal and “lunch pail” centrists) must get their act together.

Without jettisoning the democratic process (inherently undemocratic in New York, which does not have open primaries), they need to control it better. 

If the selection of messengers is difficult, finding a message appears to be even more so.

“Make America Fair Again” would work for me. (In the process of being fair again, let’s also bring back civility and morality.)

If people of color, women, and the young turn out in force, as they did in last fall’s Alabama and Virginia elections, the messenger and the message might not matter. Running against the president could be enough. 

I doubt it, though. And right now, the Democrats are losing the message battle.

They simply do not have one.

Republicans can point to Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court appointment and the confirmation of 58 conservative judges, deregulation of banks, weakening environmental protections, tax “reform,” and tariffs (none of which I support). And the Democrats? What do they stand for?

The Democrats’ attack, for instance, on the tax bill was political malpractice. Yes, 83 percent of the benefits of the legislation will go to the richest 1 percent in this country (to date they have benefitted from $170 billion in stock buybacks). And yes, the gap between the rich and everyone else will continue to grow.

But workers have received $6 billion in bonuses. And, for example, people making $40,000 will receive a $2,000 tax reduction. 

Democrats need to recognize benefits will accrue to taxpayers, while pointing out the unfair manner the reductions are being distributed.
Just don’t call those benefits “crumbs.”

Importantly, Democrats shouldn’t forget the United States is a middle-of-the-road country. While the middle is moving to the right, we are still a centrist nation. 

If one wants proof, look at the 1972 presidential election. Richard Nixon overwhelmed liberal Sen. George McGovern (McGovern won Massachusetts and the District of Columbia; Nixon took 49 states). Since then, we have become more conservative.

Sanders supporters need to be aware of these realities. If they force the Democratic Party to move too far to the left, Blue Dog Democrats, long a staple of the party, may flee. They did, in part, in 2016. 

Years ago, while I was working on a gubernatorial campaign, a colleague of mine announced she didn’t care if the race was lost. All she wanted was our candidate never to compromise.

But politics is not a purity litmus test. Politics is the art of compromise, of finding solutions that appeal to a majority of the population. 

Political purity may feel good. Feeling good is not enough, though.

If Democrats don’t find a way to appeal to those on the left and the center, if they force out people whose views do not align on all issues (as the Republican Party did with people like me), they may well snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — unless, of course, enough people of color, women, and the young decide to vote.

Democrats shouldn’t take that chance.

Dr. Roger H. Hull of Schenectady served as president of Union College and chancellor of Union University from 1990-2005. He is currently president of the Help Yourself Foundation, a Schenectady-based nonprofit educational organization.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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