Forum

Election fallout: Dems need to refocus economic priorities, policies

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

After several delays of vote counting, lawsuits, threats of violence and disinformation, and protests, former Vice President Joe Biden is projected to be the next President of the United States. While President Trump has threatened to pursue legal cases, they hold no water and will only result in lost money for his campaign. Many Americans took to the streets to dance and celebrate as if a weight was lifted off their shoulders.

However, even as people celebrate, we have to remember that this was still a Pyrrhic victory. The election was not just a referendum on Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic; it was also a referendum on the Democratic leadership strategy. Though it worked out in the end, it’s very clear that Biden would have lost the election had the pandemic not have happened. Even with the pandemic, the credit for Biden’s victory lies with the thousands of local organizers who pulled together to run up the margins in key swing states.

Within hours of the election results being announced, the infighting among the party resumed immediately as centrists attacked the left and the left attacked centrists. In reality, both wings of the party have major lessons that need to be learned from this election if they want any hope of winning in the future.

The right wing has been weaponizing economic inequality for the last decade, turning a lot of rural, white working-class folk against each other and minority communities while they continue to loot them. Beyond this, there are many other working-class voters not in rural areas who feel alienated, particularly a lot of minority voters. This election shows that no matter how much the Democrats run up the margins, they can no longer claim to be the party of the working class unless they actively pursue and endorse the policies that lift them up.

Centrists need to understand these types of policies are popular, as shown by the success of many progressive ballot measures that passed. Florida voted for a $15 minimum wage, which needed over 60% of the votes to pass. Los Angeles passed Measure J, which will reallocate hundreds of millions of dollars away from criminal justice institutions to social programs. Arizona passed a measure that will add a 3.5% income tax on anyone earning over $250,000 to fund education.

In addition, centrist Democrats have a bad history of not being able to define themselves or control the narrative, and they often pander based on identity politics rather than real substance for the average voter to latch onto. This year alone, Biden spent a lot of time telling people he wasn’t a socialist, and the Democrats failed to capitalize on the major frustrations people have had because of the pandemic. As a result, they come off as a weak party incapable of properly branding themselves and marketing effective policies. No matter what they offer, it doesn’t matter if voters perceive them to be too weak to get it done.

For the left, there is almost an opposite issue. Though left-wing policies are gaining popularity, the actual messaging from the left alienates and scares a lot of voters. Defunding the police and dismantling capitalism are both absolutely necessary, but it has to be palatable for the average voter. It can be easy to blame media bias or centrist propaganda for making left-wing messaging seem scarier than it is, but it’s also foolish not to consider that a lot of Americans genuinely like the police and capitalism. Our messaging needs to be more appealing and focus solely on the policy and not the rhetoric. Katie Porter and Ayanna Pressley in particular are really excellent at this.

Any hope for the left to move the moderate wing of the party is naive at best. Republicans are going to continue their economic nationalist strategy, and the electoral college is not going to disappear for quite some time either. The moderates need to be pushed and held accountable, but in order for our agenda to pass, we can’t alienate the moderate crowd either.

Another final point I want to make is the centrists and the left are really bad at picking their battles. For example, the Trump-Russia scandal amounted to nothing, and the party wasted resources and political capital fighting something they had no chance of winning. When it comes to infighting, both wings of the party have continuously picked the wrong times to attack each other through this election cycle. Republicans are effective because even those who only get less than half of what they want will fall in line in order to get something done when push comes to shove, and Democrats are completely incapable of doing the same thing.

Despite all these criticisms, I still couldn’t help but feel relieved that Biden had won. My Indian family was proud to watch Kamala Harris speak after the announcement of her election. For the first time in a long time, many in the country felt slightly more optimistic about the direction we are headed in. This election needs to be a wake-up call for the Democrats. It will be necessary for them to play hardball and push a broad coalition of well-written policies that lift the working class up and provide justice for minority communities and immigrants. If they don’t, then expect a worse fascist to rise up by 2024.