It’s a scene as old as time; the sweating, nervous politician trying desperately to answer the questions of an angry mass of voters. The mob gets more angry as the politician vacillates and tries to dance around the question until, finally, they come up with some excuse or other to leave the room amidst boo’s and denunciations from the crowd.
Now this image has been brought back to life, as angry voters in GOP controlled states, concerned about the future of healthcare in a post-Obamacare world, are descending upon town halls held by GOP Representatives and Senators. Videos are spreading across social media of figures like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Jason Chaffetz, and Senator Tom Cotton surrounded by angry voters.If you remember the Tea Party years of the early Obama administration, it’s hard to pass up the comparison to the town halls held ahead of the Obamacare vote in Congress. As with much in our time, things seem like a mirror-mirror version of the past, in which the roles are reversed but with very different players filling the shoes.
I argue that, as satisfying as these videos are and as nice as it is as a first step towards activism, Tea Party tactics like this are going to be much harder to enact against the Democratic Party.
The GOP in power is a different animal as the GOP out of power. The pre-Congressional majority GOP found in the extreme fringe of the Tea Party a chance to ride a wave of anti-Obama sentiment in the wake of the 2008 election. Ever since the GOP inherited a large swath of white voters after the Dems signed the Civil Rights Act, it’s been their goal to press into the minds of their new electorate the free-market economics and neoconservative foreign policy that the GOP establishment truly cared about instead of the kneejerk racial enmity that many in that swath of voters felt motivated by.
We can see in the election of Donald Trump how well that worked out, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
In any case, the GOP is much better at sublimating their extreme fringes into their program given they’ve had over 50 years of practice. They used that support, and took advantage of the poor DNC leadership, to gain seat after seat in state and local elections, creating more and more of a bulwark against Obama. The Dems, by contrast, have more experience in ignoring the left-wing factions within their own parties while staying their own way.
Second, the Tea Party did much more than just show up to town halls and protest in the street; they were able to successfully bring candidates to primary challenge many of the sitting GOP politicians with ones that closer represented their interests. Take for example David Brat, the Virginia Tea Party legislator that not only beat their Democratic rival, but defeated Eric Cantor in the primary, a man once considered a contender for being the Republican nominee for President. Efforts like this, and (once again) the doddering and feckless leadership of the Democratic Party, the GOP is now one state legislature away from passing any Constitutional amendment they want.
I’ll allow you some time to deal with that chill that just went down your spine.
The way I see it, progressive and left-wing activists that want to have the Democratic Party move left to respond to the GOP face a massive challenge. The fact that Tom Perez, former Labor Secretary under Obama and staunch establishment man, is currently the frontrunner for DNC chair shows that Democratic leaders have learned absolutely nothing from the election and refuse to even consider the idea of moving leftward.
Dems will not see the light on this issue unless absolutely forced to do so. Activists should be doing the following: organizing town halls with Democratic politicians to pressure them into enacting their changes under threat of primary challenges, finding people willing to run in said primaries, and gathering public intellectuals to craft a manifesto of sorts stating the goals and needs going forward.