Democrats are wrapping a gift for Trump
WASHINGTON -- I don't quite know what a handbasket is, but the Democratic Party is heading in one to electoral hell with its talk of socialism and reparations. Given a Republican incumbent who has never exceeded 50 percent in Gallup's approval ratings poll and who won the presidency thanks to a dysfunctional electoral college, the party is nevertheless determined to give Donald Trump a fair shot at re-election by sabotaging itself. In fact, it's veering so far to the left it could lose an election in 1950s Bulgaria.
Democratic socialist ideas appear to be making significant headway in the party. The Democratic part is fine, the socialism part is not. It suggests a massive government intrusion in the economy that has not worked elsewhere -- post-war Great Britain or that contemporary mess called Venezuela -- and that, in a cultural sense, is un-American. Time and time again, the American people have shown they want nothing to do with socialism. While socialist movements have at times been politically strong in Europe, such has not been the case in America. This, in fact, is one of the original meanings of the phrase "American exceptionalism."
If Americans are not about to embrace socialism, they certainly are not about to support reparations. This proposal, which seems to have come out of nowhere, has the support of Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro and Marianne Williamson. This supposed redress for slavery -- nothing can redress slavery -- polls abysmally. Sixty-eight percent of Americans oppose making payments to descendants of slaves, and 72 percent oppose paying reparations to African-Americans in general. Among whites, 81 percent oppose payments to descendants of slaves.
At the moment, these proposals are reassuringly vague: Who would benefit? Just the descendants of slaves? All African-Americans? What about the very rich? As you can see, this can get a bit complicated.
It can also can get dangerously divisive. The poll numbers cited above obscure a vast racial division. African-Americans and Hispanics feel differently. Only 35 and 47 percent, respectively, oppose reparations. Such a stark racial or ethnic difference does not bode well for a political party which is trying to woo the votes of whites who supported Trump the last time out. It may prove hard to convince a low-paid Walmart worker that he or she owes something to the descendants of long-ago slaves. I pity the politicians who venture into that argument.
The problem for the Democrats at the moment is that much attention is being focused on political novelties such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who espouse both socialism and reparations. She is ferociously telegenic, infectiously likable and clearly inexhaustible. She is also political poison, the product of a freak election in a New York City district where the past has taken root -- socialism and a lot of rot about the evils of capitalism. She cheered Amazon's decision to forsake New York for friendlier climes, taking at least 25,000 jobs with it. (Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) For a mere first termer, this is quite an accomplishment. It usually takes much more seniority to do this much damage.
The Democrats need worthy candidates -- some who can occupy the media's idle hours in Iowa and remind America that the party is not in the least Trotskyite. Joe Biden would fit the bill. So would John Kerry and, of course, so would Mike Bloomberg. Kamala Harris, who has the necessary happy countenance of the successful politician, would suffice if, as I suspect, she turns out to be more moderate than she now appears.
Already Trump and other Republicans are going to town over socialism, which is about as real a threat to America as Mexican sociopaths clambering over the border, bearing drugs and, of course, infectious diseases. Moderate Democrats are having to answer for the provocative statements and tweets of their more radical colleagues, including of course, the now-retracted anti-Semitic tweets of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. The GOP, ever-helpful, will ensure that they are not forgotten.
Trump is a rotten president who needs to be replaced. That is the solemn task of the Democratic Party. The president is a divisive, unpopular figure who can be defeated. But imprecations of socialism and endorsements of reparations are anathema to the electorate, socially and racially fragmenting a nation that urgently needs unity. They are both worn ideas -- nostalgia trips for the radicals of old and freighted with failure. They ought to come boxed and nicely wrapped for what they really are -- not a gift to the economically anxious or the racially aggrieved, but to Donald J. Trump.
Richard Cohen's email address is email@example.com.
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