Hey liberals, take note. Last night should be a wake up call. Even when we had a an audience, the Working Families Party, which is specifically selected because they are liberals, the hard-right reactionary candidate Andrew Cuomo took 58% of the vote. Against our own Zephyr Teachout, who is a professor focused on money and politics, a policy question quite central to the democratic experiment.
That’s not just bad. That’s indicative of an utterly lost professional and ideological apparatus, one that has no capacity for internal dialogue or remediation of error. The identity politics of the Democratic Party has been utterly inverted, turned into mechanism to crush unionism and economic justice. Unions themselves have collapsed politically, and not just in terms of density of membership, but also ideologically. It was unions that whipped for Cuomo.
After a resurgence under Bush from 2005-2008, liberals have been losing consistently for six years now. Donna Edwards and Ned Lamont were the last stand. Now there is no real war within the Democratic Party. In blue states like Wisconsin, public unions got crushed, the centrist beat the liberal in the primary and then lost to Scott Walker. Primaries all over, blue states and red, are slaughters for liberals. EMILY’S list, the DCCC, the White House, and every other party institution makes liberals their chew toy. There are no challenges to incumbent centrist Democrats anymore, but there are right-wing challenges to liberals (see Ro Khanna).
There are some bright spots. Elizabeth Warren is a good Senator with a strong sense of consequential policy moves. But she uses her vast political network to help mainstream Democrats, not liberals. And Bill de Blasio and Eric Schneiderman, both aesthetically left-ish I suppose, are essentially failed at policymaking and stumped for Cuomo. The bright spots are not advancing the ball politically, or even worse, they are making things worse.
Meanwhile, forums for discussion are ruined. There’s no place where genuine debates happen, where people debate and fight over what to do, where intellectual centers bubble over with energetic policy questions. Nothing like CPAC, for instance. There is grassroots energy, in some places, but that is totally disconnected from the political establishment.
I don’t know what to do about this. I think, after years of watching this, that liberals have just been convinced that liberalism doesn’t work. They think that liberals can’t govern. Even though they dislike Cuomo, they don’t actually think Zephyr could be Governor. They want mythic conservative figures, like Cuomo, and Obama, and so forth, and they don’t really believe that government can make their lives better in any fundamental way. But Zephyr could be Governor! It’s just a job. She could actually make college free in New York, and start a state debt card competitive with the banks, and bring small farms back to NY, and make the state carbon neutral. That’s all possible! It’s not that hard!
Anyway, I hope people take away from what happened last night a real sense that we need some soul-searching. We need to start asking ourselves why we dare not work for a better world, why when faced with a choice of the good versus the evil, the courageous versus the cowardly, the hope versus the fear, we pick fear. Because that’s what happened. There was no structural blah blah blah this time. It was a group of liberals picking fear, fighting for fear, and making fear the guiding point of politics, one more time.
That’s the government we’ll get, again. That’s what the Democrats chose to stand for, and it’s why voters don’t trust them or don’t show up. They see the real choices. Why don’t we?