Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

The Democratic Party: A growing divide

Photo by krosseel from morguefile.com

It’s one thing for a country not to unite to find common ground. It’s quite another for a single political party to publicly take a path to splitting. In the case of the country, it’s part and parcel of the divisive, self-righteous, selfish people we’ve become, where building community isn’t paramount. But when it comes to a political party, which theoretically should rally around a unifying platform and should be keeping its eye on the bigger prize – 2020 – it’s decidedly, to put it mildly, not good.

The division within the Democratic party is an issue that will get worse. At one point, I thought it was “only” where Israel and anti-Semitism is concerned. Back in 2017 with “Between a rock and a hard place” I was already asking where do we go from here; more recently in “Progressive, Zionist and trying to make it work,” I asked, “With the 2018 midterms, I’ve begun feeling it even more; Zionists, Jewish and others who otherwise identify with the Democratic Party’s positions are having a hard time with its progressive flank’s embrace of BDS and other anti-Zionistic positions.”

But it’s not only on the topic of Israel that the party is splintering….and it goes two ways. Who remembers how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it wouldn’t hire consultants or vendors who worked for Democrats challenging Dem incumbents? Ouch. But at the same time, there was this small silver lining: in my blog analyzing the Ihlan Omar/AIPAC controversy, I noted how both freshmen and a number of veteran Democratic members of Congress had pledged not to take corporate PAC money, a unifying step (and one that should be adopted throughout).

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the dividing stories:

Back in February, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex was interviewed; in New York Democrats could eliminate Ocasio-Cortez’s district after 2020, she talks about that possibility.

Last month, in Nancy Pelosi has chosen her war, and it’s with her own party’s future, the party leader dismisses progressive House Democrats as “only” four voices, but what she is doing here is riling up all their supporters and fanning the flames. The article is sadly a good read of a bad situation. It also notes the list of topics which are viewed differently in the party; they range from Israel to impeachment to the Green Deal to illegal immigration. This rift grows; as Why Democrats should unite on battling the raging border crisis points out, “Pelosi has, for the most part, been able to adeptly navigate the increasing ideological divide within the Democratic Party, but she could not maintain consensus and ultimately lost unified control of her own caucus…”.

Last month, too, in We have a criminal in the White House: behind the scenes of the House Democratic debate over an impeachment inquiry, Gabby Richards (Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon’s spokesperson) said that the party is “united on the frustration with the administration, not leadership,” but that script has since flipped dramatically. Ocasio-Cortez aide calls Democratic party ‘cowardice’ the ‘greatest threat to mankind’ amping things up too, and taking direct aim at Nancy Pelosi (though Nancy Pelosi allies back Trump impeachment, “merely” spells out this conflict without calling for war as AOC spokesperson does). And the challenge to incumbents carries on, despite the DCCC’s edict. ‘Members are looking over their shoulders’: Democrats spooked by new primary threats describes the tensions.

If the goal is to do better in 2020, if it is to keep and to grow the party, this is not good.

Candidates are pitted against each other, it is true, but even there, they need to find ways to support each other…like author Marianne Williamson, who, in an unusual turn, sent out an email asking supporters to donate to Mike Gravel to allow him to make the next round of Democratic debates. (As an aside, in an interesting and entertaining twist, Republicans are doing the same to keep her on the stage).

A gesture is not a strategy and is certainly not enough. Last presidential election, Bernie Sanders badmouthed Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and when he lost, not only did the Republicans co-opt what he had to say about her, but a good number of his supporters petulantly sat out the election. This cannot happen again. The Democratic Party cannot afford to be cannibalizing itself – neither post-primaries nor this far out, not if they want to be a party that supporters can support.

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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