Putting faith in the people.. Not leaders
PUBLISHED: 13:00 27 March 2018
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How the Democrats are finding their way back from the wilderness explains BONNIE GREER
There is an interesting phenomenon in the States now that is barely being mentioned. The Democratic Party is winning by-elections. With no leader.
The recent effect of this phenomenon is the election of Conor James Lamb. Lamb is a former prosecutor, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve. And a Democrat in a district that Trump won big in 2016.
Trump himself deigned to campaign there in the run-up to the election. He barely mentioned the Republican he had come to support, but did manage to get the man’s name in during his own two-hour love-fest.
The Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District is quintessential swing country. A terrain of former steel works, now a place of economic desolation, where there are more pharmacies than steel mills.
The district is ruby red, red being the colour of the Republican Party. No one with the colour blue had shown up for a long time. Until Conor Lamb did.
His family has been active in Pittsburgh-area politics for years. His grandfather, Thomas F. Lamb was the Democratic majority leader in the Pennsylvania state senate and later secretary of legislative affairs. His uncle Michael is controller of Pittsburgh, and was previously an Allegheny County official. Lamb’s pedigree is equivalent to being the scion of a Conservative or Labour Party family known for years. Lamb is from around those parts.
Back in the day, the seat would have been his by right, but this is now Trump Train Country and he was simply expected to fail. The Republicans poured a fortune in for their candidate, a lacklustre individual by the name of Rick Saccone. But no matter. The real person on the ballot was Donald J. Trump. And that was what he wanted.
Trump reminded them at the rally that he needs the Republicans in Washington to help him. “Lamb the Sham”, the president called him, in reference to some of the candidate’s views which might be considered unorthodox in his party. Nevertheless, he was going to perform the traditional role of the Democrat: lose. Pundits predicted that since the Democrats had no leader, not in the sense of a figure head, their effort in deepest Trumplandia was doomed.
But while Lamb has gone on to win by a mere 600 or so votes, something has shifted. Something has changed.
The Democratic Party, known as ‘the machine’, had seemed to have collapsed after the electoral college wipe-out of Hillary Clinton. Her defeat made it more awful because she had won the popular vote. An unusual phenomenon. All had to be lost.
Much of the political news that we get on the States is filtered through the prism of the main networks and the rest of the mainstream media. The current picture is of country dominated by the ‘Orange One’, and any opposition is presented as being hopeless.
Trump, a master of television, conveniently manipulates the news flow by shaping it like reality television. This format, through which he became a public figure (The Apprentice was created by NBC for him), is quite simply the way that most Americans know him. He said, on the 2016 campaign trail, they if he walked down Fifth Avenue and shot someone, his base would still support him. And it is true. So how are the Democrats winning?
This ‘no leader’ phenomenon was first clearly seen in Alabama last November, a state that had not elected a Democrat for many decades. Senate candidate Doug Jones did run against an exceptionally bad GOP candidate, but something else happened, too.
He fashioned his campaign around Alabama, around what Alabama needed, what it wanted. He rejected help from the Washington Democrat headquarters, and talked to his people down home in the way they needed to hear.
White Republican women who pulled Trump across the electoral line in 2016, are now, tired of his temper and shenanigans, deserting him. They are looking local.
Conor Lamb posed with an AR-15 rifle; he is pro-life although he has vowed to support a woman’s right to choose; he also vowed not to support the Dems’ leader in the house, Nancy Pelosi, the wicked witch of both right-wing radio and the progressive left.
Above all, he seemed relaxed about the fact that there was no figurehead, no one at the top. And the voters were, too.
So now in the States there is one party with a dictator at the head, and one party with no one. And that party looks set to sweep the midterm elections. The beauty of the Dems now is that the past is truly becoming the past. With a president of the United States who watches breakfast telly and tweets to their orders, the Democratic Party seems to be all at sea.
That it might take back the lower House, which has the power to impeach the president, says something about a kind of exhaustion with party politics-as-usual. As well as a deep hatred of the man at No.1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Friends of mine who are Bernie Sanders supporters ask constantly if he will run again in 2020. They are utterly convinced that if he had been on the ticket, he would have won. But to say this is to not understand the base of the party, those people who always vote Democrat, always get out to the polling booth come wind or rain. That base is largely women of colour, particularly black women.
They never took to Bernie, mainly because they did not know him, had never seen him in their precincts.
The people who supported Bernie poured in from nowhere, and everyone knows that out-of-towners are suspect. Strangers.
Every centre left party in the West now has problems, as they are left high and dry by the people. The Parti Socialiste was fired by the French people, a phenomenon that many in France are still analysing. The Italians, too, told Matteo Renzi and his centre left party ‘ciao’, and he himself said on election night that he knew that this was the end. All of the centre left, with partly the exception the Labour Party, are searching for a raison d’etre. The right has embraced populism, come hell or high water.
But the thousands of women now registering to run as candidates from the local to national level are choosing the Democratic Party. Partly because there is no leader. No figureghead. They are listening to what people want, not dragging a party platform around.
Could this happen in the UK? My bet is no.
Political parties are one of the few places in which British public emotion resides. The political party is more than politics. It is a kind of home and an identity. To make a new party demands making a new place for emotion, for feeling.
The EU referendum allowed the British public to have a place to posit feeling. Emotion. And the choice is stronger for that.
The vote to Leave or to Remain was local, individual. Although there were plenty of leaders about, the campaign required no leader. It was internal.
Wherever the Dems land, they will land there on the local level. On the backs of individual women and men who have something to say that is not big. But small. Personal. With an invitation to a future that people can shape with their own hands, and on their own terms.