Pragmatism with a conscience: An operating guide for the Democratic Party

The 2016 Presidential Election cycle produced many "disruptive" changes across the political spectrum, resulting in a categorically unqualified President and a fractured and bitter Democratic Party. These issues are not in dispute, and trying to minimize the importance of the latter will do nothing to heal those wounds. For a very brief period of time, it seemed like the blame game was over, that Democrats were beginning to come together and move forward in unity. But that may have simply been the eye of the storm. There is still a huge amount of animus directed towards "Establishment" Democrats, and the list of people who fall into that category is growing, instead of shrinking. And the more we scrabble around trying to find a magic issue or policy position that will please a super-majority of the voting population, the more damage we can do, if we're not careful. So I thought it would be constructive to develop a good "rule of thumb" for people to follow while searching for the Holy Grail of electoral success. Stealing from Hippocrates, that rule is "Do No Harm." Follow me below if you're intrigued:

On the economic front, which many of our "sages" have pegged as the most likely area that inroads can be made into the rural vote, the middle-class white vote, and other areas Republicans have generally dominated, there are virtually countless theories on how the lives of those people can be financially improved. Infrastructure projects are a great idea, for those who can physically perform the work. But while that's good in the Macro, I'm not so sure about the Micro. If you knock on the average person's door and tell them you've got a shovel with their name on it, I'm thinking you should be ready to run, not shake hands. That doesn't mean we shouldn't pursue infrastructure improvement as a policy position, it just means you can't reduce it to a sales pitch and expect great results.

The truth is, our economy is consumer-based. Deeply. More money in their pockets is what most of those currently "R" voters are concerned about, and the GOP has been wildly successful in blaming Democrats for their tax burden. But the reality is much different, right? Tax cuts for the wealthy have shifted that burden down, and stifled economic growth via austerity. Rural economic programs are a ghost of their former selves, while corporate agriculture entities have gobbled up that money in subsidies. These are the things that need to be revealed to rural folks, so they understand just how misled they have become. Unfortunately, there are some Conservative Democrats that are just as confused as these voters, who believe cutting taxes and government spending will (somehow) help these people. And that is where the "Do No Harm" comes into play for our Party.

When the GOP-led General Assembly slashed unemployment benefits in 2013 to the lowest in the nation, four Democrats voted for it, and three of them are still sitting in the Legislature. The amount of harm this caused is incalculable, not just to the families who had food literally taken from their tables, but to the economy, as well. It wasn't a "confusing" issue, up for interpretation. Those Democrats knew thousands of people would suffer, and they voted "aye" anyway.

And now you see why this guiding principle is so important. The Democratic Party must stand as a bulwark against the stunning lack of empathy that emanates from the GOP. And the voters must know that as a fact, not a slogan. There is nothing inherently wrong with pragmatism, although it may leave a bitter aftertaste when it rolls off the tongue. But that pragmatism must be leavened with a conscious effort to follow that policy idea out into the real world, and make sure nobody is harmed by it.



I'm sorry, but ...

"Pragmatism with a conscience" sounds like "Compassionate Conservatism" to me.

If we all start being "pragmatists" about voting rights, a woman's health rights, or how to deal with the issue of poverty, then we'd simply be compromising away our basic principles.

If you ask me, it's what's been wrong with the Democratic party since the Bill Clinton administration.

All of those things cause harm,

to either individuals or groups. So they would not be acceptable under the "pragmatism with a conscience" scenario I was trying to promote.

Messaging is such a sticky issue

Everyone's opinion matters ... and nobody's opinion matters.

I like this well enough, and it might even be something a person would actually say ... though it does sound a little intellectual.

My touchstone language is "freedom and fairness." Not saying it's anything to write home about, but there you are.