Opinion: Moving on from Clinton’s loss requires introspection


Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016.

Anthony Erhardt

Editor’s Note: This op-ed represents the view of the Kent State College Democrats. The same opportunity to contribute an op-ed has been extended to the College Republicans.

Let me just make a few points before I delve into my main topic: I volunteered during Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. I met Clinton three times. I cast my first general election vote for Clinton. I have an immense amount of respect for her and what she has accomplished in her career, especially for women in politics.

However, with all that being said, I don’t believe Clinton is beyond criticism and critique.

There seems to be this phenomenon taking place in politics where acknowledging a candidate’s flaws is tantamount to not supporting them. I saw many Trump supporters who so vehemently disliked Clinton they could not see past this to realize President-elect Donald Trump’s many problems.

Inversely, I witnessed many Clinton supporters castigate Trump heavily and tell others – be they conservative or progressive – who had a problem with Clinton they were just “buying into propaganda.” I am officially registered as a Democrat and am the president of the College Democrats, so my experiences are primarily with those on the political left.

The purpose of this piece is to mainly focus on what cost Clinton the election and how to move forward.

Part of moving forward is beginning to place the blame for the continual shellacking Democrats have received since 2010 where it deserves to rest: On ourselves. Sure, factors such as gerrymandering have played a role in the Democrats’ inability to win elections in certain states, but the problem runs deeper than that.

The current message of the Democratic Party is not connecting to the constituencies that used to be our bulwark. According to the Washington Post, Clinton received six million fewer votes than President Barack Obama did in 2012, and 10 million fewer than he did in 2008.

What does that mean?

That means Democrats didn’t show up. That’s not Donald Trump’s fault; that’s the fault of the Democrats.

It didn’t help matters that Trump won a constituency that was typically a Democratic hallmark: The working class. “Clinton did not have ties to working-class white voters as strong as those of her husband, who had been governor of Arkansas,” said political historian Mary Frances Berry of the University of Pennsylvania. The Democratic Party is seen by ordinary, working people as “caring about the cultural, managerial and professional elite,” but “not about them.”

For some, it may be easy to chalk Trump’s victory up to racism, xenophobia and bigotry – of which there was plenty in his campaign. Yet, it’s not an intellectually honest argument.

Many people voted for him simply because they wanted change or because he wasn’t Clinton. Many people – including my father – who voted for Obama twice, supported Trump.

They viewed Clinton as a key player in the disastrous free trade policies which have caused many quality jobs to move overseas. While automation is somewhat to blame for the loss of these jobs, there is no doubt that trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and TPP are written by and for large multinational corporations.

The only two candidates in the race against these agreements were Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Guess which one made it to the general election?

The Democratic Party rose to prominence under the programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The New Deal, New Frontier and Great Society looked out for organized labor, working class people and those struggling to make it.

I’m not saying the Democratic Party still doesn’t or that the Republican Party is somehow preferable, but it makes it harder to make the case to voters when your candidates take huge sums of campaign donations from Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry and large corporations.

I guess my message to progressives is to actually be progressive. I’m immensely proud we have candidates who support a woman’s right to choose, action on climate change and marriage equality.

Unfortunately, as I see it, the Democratic Party has embraced neoliberalism when it comes to economic policy. Trying to marry the interests of corporate America with working class citizens has been – and will continue to be – a recipe for disaster.

Public opinion polls consistently show that most of the policies we promote, a majority of the public agrees on. Most people don’t think we should cut Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. Most people think the wealthy and large corporations should pay their fair share in taxes. So what are we afraid of?

I’m sure some Democrats won’t like what I have published, and I’m used to it. I don’t think pointing out the flaws I see in the party I identify with makes me a bad Democrat in the slightest.

After all, I think the ideas you believe in and hold dear are more meaningful than any party label.

These are the types of conversations we as a party need to be having in order to grow stronger; I certainly felt discouraged on election night and wished the outcome had been different, but I’m not giving up.

President Kennedy once said, “If by a ‘liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people – their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties – someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘liberal,’ then I’m proud to say I’m a ‘liberal.’”

I firmly believe the Democratic Party is still the best vehicle to promote these values and will in the future. I will stay with the party until the day they do not, and I will fight every day to make sure that day never comes.

This piece was contributed by the president of the College Democrats, Anthony Erhardt.