When 19 men affiliated with al-Qaeda wanted to take down America on the cheap, they didn’t need an armada of ships and soldiers landing in New York Harbor on Sept. 11, 2001 to accomplish their mission.
Far easier, and far less costly, they used existing tools to carry out that day’s deadly damage. They bought tickets on commercial American airplanes, then turned them into their own malicious air force by flying them into targets including the twin towers in lower Manhattan.
The George W. Bush administration had been warned in early 2000 that just such an attack might happen, but ignored the report “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.” After the attack, Bush’s national security adviser at the time, Condoleezza Rice, an expert on Russia, articulated the first fatal failure.
“We couldn’t imagine terrorists using planes as missiles,” she said.
Sixteen years later, when different terrorists wanted to blow up America in a different way, they didn’t hijack planes. Using the same strategy 911 al-Qaeda terrorists used, Russian hackers bent on disrupting American democracy used existing tools to do their dirty work. They seized on social media platforms, especially Facebook, then flew tens of millions of fake news stories into the presidential election process, crashing it to the point that the expected winner and best candidate for the job lost the Electoral College to the wackiest, most unfit candidate for the job despite winning the popular vote by more than three million.
A new piece of analysis on last year’s stunning loss by Democrats, “Autopsy, The Democratic Party In Crisis,” doesn’t dwell on how Russian hijackers helped install Donald Trump as president over Hillary Clinton. Its focus is what happened to the Democratic National Party.
And to be clear, had 77,000 votes over three states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – gone Democratic, Republicans would again be looking into the political abyss, wondering whether a more moderate, establishment candidate could have beat Hillary and her once-feared Clinton machine.
“Autopsy,” written with a distinct pro-Bernie Sanders tone, lays blame on the Democratic National Party for leadership that showed “scant interest in addressing many of the key factors that led to electoral disaster.” The main thrust of the 33-page piece is not to address topics like FBI Director Comey or Russia, but to focus on key factors “that have been significantly under the party’s control.”
“Aggregated data and analysis show that policies, operations and campaign priorities of the national Democratic Party undermined support and turnout from its base in the 2016 general election. Since then, the Democratic leadership has done little to indicate that it is heeding key lessons from the 2016 disaster.”
Based on several new reports, Democrats have a foggy future in front of them. Are they really in as much disarray as the latest crop of reflections suggest? Is the latest rash of bickering and backbiting as bad as it seems, and is the DNC’s so-called backward bureaucracy holding it back from future wins?
News broke last week via an upcoming book by Donna Brazile, a New Orleans Democrat who ran Vice President Al Gore’s losing campaign in 2000 and stepped in last year after party chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to step down. In “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House,” Brazile described an “unethical” agreement between the Clinton campaign and the committee that she says “allowed the Democratic candidate to exert ‘control of the party long before she became its nominee.'”
New York Times Magazine ran a long piece by political reporter Robert Draper called “A Post-Obama Democratic Party in Search of Itself.” Draper, who spoke with me last year when he had a passing fancy with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, spent thousands of words tilling all-too familiar ground on where Democrats went wrong and what course corrections are needed going forward into next year’s 2018 midterm elections to win back voters they used to count as their own, that switched brands and voted for Trump last year. Draper comes up empty handed on a winning prescription. Popular with Washington and New York elite media, Draper pens a piece that delivers bigly on internal strife but falls flat on what the new message should be, and who the new messenger should be.
New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow writes in “The New Democratic Party,” that the party “is locked in a vicious cycle of re-examinations and recriminations.” He adds, “The reign of Trump is the reign of ruin. That is why the Resistance is needed now more than ever,” he says, referring to the “Resistance,” a movement around defeating Trump he says is “strong and resolute, passionate and focused.”
“The only issue I see is that these efforts seem to be operating separately from the national Democratic Party, a dinosaur of bureaucratic machinery in an evolved age of direct democratic action,” Blow writes.
Following their second big loss to President Barack Obama, in 2012, Republicans looked inward with their own “Growth and Opportunity” report”, much like Democrats are doing today. Did Republicans in 2016 heed the important points from their 2012 report? Absolutely not. Their winning candidate, Donald Trump, violated every point in the report when it came to minorities and women.
Paul Starr, co-founder and co-editor of the The American Prospect and professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, says in “An American Way For America Now,” that the burden going forward for Democrats is to forge “a new agenda for economic fairness and inclusion that the Democrats alone are in a position to take up.” The contact point for Democrats, Starr says, is that if they want to maintain their tradition of economic progressivism, “they need to devote energy and resources to building support among working-class voters, white as well as nonwhite.”
Civility and tolerance, Starr says, is important but not enough. Growing problems of “precarious employment, the hyperconcentration of new businesses and job growth in the largest metropolitan areas, the excessive power of platform monopolies in the new online economy, disparities in income that Republican tax and budget changes will only exacerbate, out-of-control health-care prices – these are some of the items that ought to be on a new agenda for economic fairness and inclusion that the Democrats alone are in a position to take up.”
Today’s Democrats, whether in the form of a new message or new messenger or retooling the party’s long-standing message to workers across the board to fit today’s world, should show that “they can continue to address racial injustice and still win enough votes from whites by framing a vision of national prosperity and a decent society that all Americans will see as the country they want to live in,” he says.
Starr says American society is elastic, and “we need to make sure it continues expanding to keep up with all the people who make America their home and who must work together for the country to work at all.”
With elections for governor this coming Tuesday in Virginia and New Jersey, if Democrats win them, as polls show their candidates are poised to do, will bickering about betrayals and backward bureaucracy still be the go-to talking-point of the DC beltway crowd? Or will the new narrative be one of a new Democratic Phoenix rising from the ashes of a one-off election that still feels pretty hot to many?