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Democratic Voters Have Some Stepping Up to Do
Establishment leaders keep the system from changing, and “normie voters” keep them in their place
It's quite tempting to blame the ills of the nation — and of the Democratic Party — on its backward-looking, gerontic leadership. As Kaylen Ralph at Teen Vogue points out:
[A]nother two years of 80-year-old Pelosi steering the establishment Democratic ship, hip to hip with 70-year-old Chuck Schumer, now the likely Senate majority leader after Georgia’s January runoff elections, and 78-year-old Biden, promises to be a far cry from the progressive future younger lawmakers, activists, and voters have been trying to deliver.
And the gerontocracy isn't limited to three. Howie Klein notes in "The Ossification of the Democratic Party Establishment") that 33 senators — a third of the body — are over 70, and only one, Jon Ossoff, is under 40.
But any discussion of the "ills of the Democratic Party" must start, not with its abysmal leadership, but the reason those leaders stay in place. That means looking at the voters who keep them there. Joe Biden is in office with the help of Democrats — not just elites and king-makers, but voters as well.
These voters, whom David Sirota has been calling "normies" (borrowing the term and extending it), are the actual source of our ills — at least it could be argued that way — since they have the ultimate say, via the vote, in whether these men and women stay in office and in charge, or are forced to leave en masse.
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If Democratic base constituencies — college-educated white collars, communities of color, young people, etc. — went beyond merely voting in November and actually made demands of their Democratic lawmakers (and held them accountable in primaries), then maybe the party would pursue its purported agenda with the same urgency as the Republican Party does for its conservative base. And if that happened, maybe more voters would flock to Democrats who were materially improving their lives.
Over the last 25 years, the opposite has happened.
While Republican normie voters were being radicalized by Fox News and talk radio, Democratic normie voters were being anesthetized by NPR, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and MSNBC, which taught them to believe that an extremist like John Roberts is a lovable moderate, Mike Pence is an American hero, George Bush is a decent guy, and an operative who installed Sam Alito on the court is a warrior for democracy. [emphasis added]
Sirota blames the media, and a great many progressive operatives — real ones — are counting on their ability to wake up these voters to the fact that unless things do fundamentally change, the nation, and their lives, are headed to a deep dark place.
Establishment Leaders Keep the System from Changing
I hope progressives' belief that they can succeed with these voters is correct, because Democratic Party voters ("normies") are responsible for a lot. Dem Party voters stood down when the Supreme Court, in a perversion of Marbury, stole the 2000 election for George Bush (and Al Gore laughed on camera at the feeble House protests).
More recently, Democratic “normie voters” in the South killed the last chance we had of electing someone like Sanders. Were voters led to that point by Party pied pipers like the happily corrupt James Clyburn? Of course they were. And he was highly praised by Party leaders for doing it.
But those voters were eagerly led, happy to vote against the scary socialist Sanders, and they'd do it again, I think, if they had to today. Overall, they choose wrong more than half the time, and, misled by "normie" media or not, they walk where they shouldn't go and allow what should never occur — for example, let a Pelosi-endorsed anti-abortion zealot, Henry Cuellar, return the Party-controlled House.
Progressive activists, those toiling to turn the Party around, have their work cut out for them. "Normie voters" — a phrase I don't like, but the right phrase is too old — could keep us in this mess till we drown in it. Chris Hedges, in a recent powerful piece, wrote:
In the end, even the liberal class will choose fascism over empowering the left-wing and organized labor.
By that I think he meant the rulers and "curators" at the top of the Party food chain. But this could well describe the voters too, especially Sirota's "normies." They've never rebelled, not in living memory, at the increase in oppression and, yes, authoritarianism by the bipartisan state. As Roe and so much more is taken away, will they suddenly care enough to reverse the trend? The odds aren't great, given their past behavior.
And therein lies the problem. It won't take a lengthy period of unawakening before it really is too late, before the Constitution is perverted past the point where the perverts can’t be removed. They already hold the Court in near-permanent majority (barring a Ministry for the Future accident), and Democrats, both leaders and their "normie voter" enablers, seem determined to keep them in place. We'll see, of course; but the odds aren't all that good.
Not Every Pendulum Swings Back to the Middle; Some Just Break
I'm always reminded, by history if nothing else, that things do end — empires collapse and die; people pass on, the very best and worst, till even the famous are lost to memory; institutions change (I'm thinking the Roman Republic), and never change back.
Life's not always a happy pendulum swing. Sometimes the pendulum breaks and a new one forms, defining limits in a different place. When that occurs, there's nothing left to do but take one last look and move on.
I do hope the effort to reverse this course succeeds — everyone's lives will be better if it does, and I applaud all those attempting it.
But it would be good to consider a world where the effort fails. Because if "normie" voters still don't feel threatened enough, we’ll need to prepare to battle on that later ground, the one where the pendulum has found a different middle, the one where too much power has been permanently ceded, and democracy has still not come to the U.S.A.
This is not to deter progressive attempts to change our course. It's to encourage the rest of us to prepare other weapons for the dangerous day when other fights require them.