March 2, 2017 at 1:31 pm EST | by Mark Lee
Democrats answered the wrong question in Atlanta
Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, Democrats

DNC Chair Thomas Perez (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Those who were attentive to the selection of a new chair by the Democratic National Committee last Saturday might be forgiven if the protracted party confab in Atlanta resembled a College of Cardinals conclave at the Vatican to select a new pope.

Puffs of white smoke floating above the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel when a winner in the first contested election since 1985 was finally announced late in the day at the conclusion of the lengthy and off-schedule session would have underscored the drama inside.

The larger omission was that party leaders answered the wrong question.

There was no genuine soul-searching by DNC members regarding how the now largely regional political party can recover from an eight-year series of massive and humiliating electoral losses across the country at the local, state and national levels.

The contentious battle between “establishment” contender and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and “progressive” U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison disguised a debilitating dilemma for Democrats. Both are far-left adherents in a party increasingly devoid of political diversity or even a willingness to accommodate differing perspectives.

The public can’t be faulted for having failed to notice much daylight or actual difference between the two contenders, with neither offering any real inspiration for remedying the party’s plight.

Democrats won’t get out of the ditch they’re in by doubling down on a big-spending, high-taxing, entitlement-laden, commerce-antagonistic, cultural-elitist, arrogant-toned bossy-government brand-message rejected by voters in most locales.

Those at the essentially party-encompassing but most extreme-left were predictably demoralized by the outcome. Representing the wing of the party personified by radical firebrands Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist ironically not even a member of the party, and the also always-agitated Elizabeth Warren, it remains to be seen how engaged their hard-core devotees will remain in attempting to rebuild the party.

Perez, the narrow victor on the second ballot, touts an “every zip code” remedy to returning to relevance. A political party suffering an identity crisis, however, can’t seem to shake a message that just won’t sell in the majority of places with a post office.

With the party’s high-profile personalities of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer decidedly less popular than nemesis President Donald Trump in national polling, it’s disappointing that discernment of a more moderate and proven popular political path is not a party priority.

Democrats keep thinking they can win with the bronze medalists of voters. Liberals have long taken the bottom rung at the podium when compared to the more numerous moderates and conservatives.

A Pew Research survey last week detailed this internal dichotomy for Democrats, with party loyalists essentially split on whether to pursue a more measured political posture or remain on the path of an extremist and losing hyper-liberal stance.

Democrats have been reduced to controlling a “trifecta” of state government – bicameral legislatures and governorships – in only six states, three on each coast. The party clung to one-vote state senate control in a Delaware special election last weekend, holding on to a district long dominated by the party.

Perez himself recounted in an interview Tuesday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program a recent encounter with a longtime Democrat in Wisconsin. The voter, who had switched sides to support Trump, told Perez that he has begun to feel “homeless” as a party supporter, saying Democrats didn’t seem to care about him anymore.

The new party chairman seemed oddly and blithely unaware of the message at the core of the self-reported exchange. Perez instead began reeling off by rote the talking points that are the losing message Democrats just can’t stop repeating.

If Democrats hope to recover and, in the words of the non-politician who won the White House, “start winning again,” party leaders need to start listening to that voter in Wisconsin who is no longer with them instead of simply shouting louder.

It’s a lesson Democrats have yet to learn.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

  • How come the GOP can become a party of extremists and win the whole country, while democrats are always counseled to be moderate???

  • So Mark, when you say Democrats should start listening to “that voter in Wisconsin,” what you really mean is that they should start pandering to middle-aged straight white guys, right?

    • Not pander…acknowledge. Many moderate blue collar white voters are turned off by identity politics, the constant derision of their heritage by academics, media, and social justice warriors, and a definition of diversity that means “anyone who is not white or male.” This Marxist class struggle mentality that many of my progressive brothers and sister have adopted is not going to win over these voters, whose voices and opinions will still matter for the next thirty years. Yes, voting Donald Trump in response to these sleights is clearly cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face. He is a dangerous moron. But this is a learning opportunity for Democrats to develop policy strategies that are truly inclusive and stop pitting white males against the rest of society.

      • So other words. Blacks and Latinos SHUT UP~! We got you. Give us Whites FIRST then we’ll think about YOU! Sorry buddy that isn’t working neither. Us minorities never started this. As long as we shut up and accept all types of abuse from whites in the past it was okay. Now they’re feeling some kinda way? Too bad. Either way the Dems will be DOOMED unfortunately! If we turn it all over back to totaly white.How is that NOT Identity politics?

        • No one needs to shut up or take a back seat. This is not an “us or them” issue. This is the problem with identity politics is that it places people into teams that compete and only argue from reductio ad absurdum. Notice your own response. I said the Democrats should develop strategies that reach out to rural white voters in the same way that they have developed strategies to reach out to other groups, and you immediately turn to talking about abuse. Rural voters have needs specific to their community just like everyone does. Why are you so resistant to the idea that their needs are also worth acknowledging?

          • Who said their needs are NOT? What are their needs? These people always voted for the GOP thinking they had their best interest at heart. They never did. Also these same rural voters HATED the fact that a BLACK man was P.O.T.U.S They see us in the urban blight as their enemy WHY? We havent done anything to them. So they voted for Trump because he preached a message of FEAR to White America and they fell for it. Just like white working class voters did too. I’m really waiting to see these coal mines and factories come back. As far as the ‘identity’ thing ‘we’ meaning minorities never had a seat at the table. They have representatives who should be addressing their concerns. Correct?

          • I’m going to address your reply and Beary Flinstone’s reply in one message. First, to you: I don’t think its fair or accurate to paint everyone who voted for Trump as some kind of bigot. This is bubble thinking. Many people who I would call low information voters voted for Trump as a “spite vote.” They were disgusted our political institutions as they perceive. Trump’s outsider message and promises to bring back coal jobs, while ridiculous, appealed to these voters. Trump certainly attracted white supremacists and bigots, but that is not everyone who voted for him.

            To Beary Flintsone: When reading your post it seems that you are (a) painting all white people with an ugly and frankly racist stereotype, and (b) claiming to speak for all persons of color. Remember over 25% of Hispanics voted for Trump, so there is certainly diversity of opinion with non-white communities.

            Not only is rural America facing an employment and education crisis, these folks are also experiencing a huge opioid abuse crisis. These crises were created by careless doctors, pharmaceutical companies, the wave of automation, apathetic politicians, and poorly funded schools-this school issue is the same education crisis faced by communities of color. People that live in rural areas lack access to the same social support structures that are available to the urban poor, Plus, there is a bias toward studying urban poverty in the field of sociology. .

            Rural poverty is not just a white issue. 40% of blacks living in non-metro area have annual incomes below the poverty line. This biased and incorrect idea of associating poverty with whiteness discounts the plight of rural blacks. The “rural poverty as a white problem” doesn’t fit into the tradition narrative of poverty in this country.

            Black poverty is correctly attributed to the legacies
            of slavery, Jim Crow, housing discrimination, mass incarceration, and de jure racism. The is no corresponding rational for white poverty. This is brought about by an overemphasis by the left on the idea of white privilege. As a result, there is an implicit belief that
            whites, who are all treated as having an equal level of “privilege,” don’t have a good reason to be poor. This means that black poverty is seen as an outcome of a flawed system, while white poverty is seen as a moral failing.

            Clearly the problems of rural America are not being met, and clearly
            their elected representative are not addressing their concerns. There is no rational reason to believe that we as Democrats can’t develop policy initiatives to help the rural poor and begin winning back their votes. It’s not a zero sum game. We are the Big Tent party. We are the party of coalition of diverse groups. We can create a society that works for all people.

          • Many moderate blue collar white voters are also turned off by the thought of two men being intimate in public or in private, the so-called “ick-factor.” So should we go back into the closet to make them feel better? Is it my problem that ENDA scares them or is it their fault for perpetuating attitudes and an environment that makes it necessary? Perhaps we are not the ones with the inclusivity deficit that needs adjustment. Straight white males didn’t vote for Trump because they thought he would be a better arbiter for bringing about a more equitable world. They voted for him because he promised to restore what they see as their rightful place on top of it.

    • That is exacty what he meant!

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