A couple days ago, Cynthia Dill, a well-to-do Cape Elizabeth resident and former state senator, published a rather horrendous editorial in the Portland Press Herald, arguing that “Democrats need to cull the fringe – starting with Bernie Bros.”
For the most part, her rant is a snotty rag of entitled condescension, but at the core of her piece is essentially a call to action for the new leaders of the Democratic Party to show the party’s more progressive members to the door.
The time, she says, is right. All of these populist pitchforks and torches have wrought nothing but chaos. Thank God the DNC has elected another Washington establishment insider to be their chair. It’s high time for the Democrats to kick out the trouble makers and get back to business as usual.
The root of the problem, she says, is that most odious and infamous of contemporary progressive demographics: the dreaded “Bernie Bros.”
Well, I’m a Bernie Bro. The only thing I’d love more than a surprise visit from my big sister would be the chance to watch federal regulators go to town cracking down on greedy investment bankers.
Yet, as Dill sees it, the only reason people like me would ever oppose Hillary Clinton, Tom Perez and the other big money DC power players at the center of today’s Democratic Party is because, apparently, we’re part of a “boorish gang of sexist, aggressive bullies.” It couldn’t be the Party establishment’s intimate ties to Wall Street, their brutal hawkishness or their tireless support of the unfair corporate trade agreements that have devastated so many American factory towns.
Nope. Those have all been “vicious, unfounded attacks” clearly rooted in an “irrational hatred of Clinton or any Democratic woman running for office or in office.” Never mind that I spent much of last year helping two female friends run for local office, both of whom were Democrats. Clearly, I’m just a loony tune misogynist, harboring the kind of “sick and perverted logic that perpetuates dysfunctional politics.”
As Dill sees it, we must look past a candidate’s excessive wealth and profound disconnect from the population at large. It’s ridiculous to want leaders with integrity who are familiar with the sorts of challenges that low income people face every day. Politics to her are like a magic eye. If only you’d squint hard enough and look past all those skeezy backroom deals and hefty corporate campaign contributions, you’d see angels. Personally, I’m not so sure.
As I see it, Dill’s not just being snobby here, from a tactical standpoint, she’s also being incredibly unwise. Progressive community organizers like me are not just surly waiters who can be fired from carrying trays of champagne around a Cape Elizabeth garden party because the host doesn’t like our attitude.
Increasingly, while we might not control the Party’s purse strings, we’re rapidly becoming the ones with the real power. In the 2016 presidential campaign, despite getting minuscule coverage in the mainstream media, the Internet enabled Bernie Sanders to inspire tens of thousands of people to volunteer with his campaign, including many who practically went to work full time on it. Hillary got almost nobody.
Perhaps ten years ago, it might have seemed reasonable to claim that the only road to political victory was to secure enough large donations to promote the candidate on network television like a new brand of soft drink. But, now that we’re in the age of social media, that won’t cut it anymore. Today, we need candidates who can tap into the American people’s excitement and passion, at least enough for them to share their support for the campaign on social media. And you can’t buy that.
Dill acknowledges the desire for Democratic candidates to appeal to a wider audience, but she cautions against throwing on “a flannel shirt and some Carhartts – as if trading in a hybrid for a pickup truck will win future elections.” Right. Taking some Ivy League trust funder to Reny’s won’t magically get rural Mainers to vote for him. Of course it won’t fix things to simply change what candidates wear. But the answer isn’t for the Party to just return to the same bull pen of losers and let them keep their three piece suits.
Today, the power lies with those who can go viral, and if Trump and Sanders are anything to go on, it’s going to be the traditional underdogs who do that best.
Honest, hardworking, ethical candidates like Bernie never attract the kind of big money donations that candidates like Hillary do, but they inspire people. Voters genuinely love them in a way that nobody loves a politically manipulative shark, and these days, that kind of love is increasingly becoming the key to the castle. I’m not sure people like Dill even recognize how important it’s become for a candidate to be lovable.
Since Trump was elected a little more than a month ago, millions of people have taken to the streets in protest. Every public square in this country is overflowing with evidence that American voters are hungry to get on board with a new, honest, principled progressive movement. But there isn’t really much of one to join. And, as things stand, the void is palpable.
If the Democratic Party wants to help fill that void, they need to own up to the fact that it’s been decades since they seriously prioritized the interests of low income communities over the interests of capital in shaping policy. Voters know it. We all know it. The only people denying it are Democratic Party insiders like Dill.
If the Democratic Party’s going to stand a shot at taking back the federal government and reclaiming all of the state legislatures across the country that they’ve lost control of in recent years, we need leaders who take us seriously. Dill’s wrong. We aren’t thugs. We’re lovers. And we deserve leaders who understand that.