by Nick Taylor
The Democratic Party in 2016 forgot its New Deal roots. Franklin Roosevelt’s programs planted the seeds for working and middle class prosperity the likes of which the world had never seen in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.
But a changing world, technology and globalism closed factories and tarnished working class prosperity there, and this escaped the Democrats. Hillary Clinton’s campaign failed to understand and adequately address the economic anguish of blue collar workers in key states it thought were safely Democratic.
Would it have made any difference if it had? Maybe not. The bottom line in this election, or one of them at least, is that not enough voters trusted Clinton. A Democratic platform is always better for people below the 1 percent, but she had too much clutter in her background for that message to break through.
Ed, a voter in Portsmouth, Ohio, explained his vanished optimism to a Hillary caller a few days before the election: “I’ve been good all my life. I’ve done everything right. Now I’m barely getting by and it ain’t gonna get no better.” He said that he’d written in Bernie Sanders in early voting. As for Hillary: “I know she’s got experience but she’s got years of buried bodies.”
How did it come to that despite her experience and grasp of policy? One reason is the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that Clinton complained of back in 1998. People laughed at the time. But with the help of Rush Limbaugh, Richard Mellon Scaife, Fox News, the Citizens United organization, the Koch brothers, and seething 1960s-hating anti-baby boomers like Newt Gingrich, the right ginned up an unending series of Clinton “scandals.”
Whitewater, Travelgate and the death of Vincent Foster began a line that ran through Monica Lewinsky and continued unbroken to Benghazi and Hillary’s email server. Principled political opposition gave way to what Bill Clinton called, aptly, “the politics of personal destruction.”
Staggering amounts of public time and treasure slopped down the drain in these futile witch hunts. But they served the purpose of the right: they made people believe Hillary Clinton lied all the time and they couldn’t trust her.
The media did nothing to help. The right-wing outlets on cable and the web flogged every story until it dropped, and then kept flogging. Supposedly neutral cable outlets picked up the same chants. And the once-trusted and respected mainstream media covered these matters as battling talking points between left and right when objective reporting should have dismissed them altogether.
Hillary didn’t help either. She was at least partly a victim of her own unwillingness to open up. Her suspicions made her closed and inaccessible, controlled when she should have been spontaneous.
Now the Clintons are exiting the stage. Their day is over and the Democratic Party finds itself shut out of every branch of government.
The vast right-wing conspiracy succeeded. The Democrats’ search for new faces and voices must begin today, and they must reclaim their roots among people who work hard with their hands as well as with their brains.