Had a fairly long conversation with my son yesterday, mostly centering around the challenges facing the Democratic Party here in our state. A sampling of two is by no means a statistical foundation for taking action, and it's also important to note my firstborn is an unrepentant contrarian, always ready to assume the mantle of the devil's advocate. Or just the devil...anyway, we spent some time poking at soft spots and chewing on assumptions, and I may have a slightly better understanding of why the ranks of the Unaffiliated (like my son) have swelled so much in North Carolina, seemingly at the cost of registered Democrats. As I've mentioned before, I think it is critical the NCDP dedicate some resources to figuring this out, however much the data will hurt some feelings. In lieu of that, chew on this for a while:
First assumption: disillusionment with the two-party system as a whole. While there does seem to be growing evidence of this nationwide, especially among idealistic young voters and those on the fringe left who (for some strange reason) seem to believe anarchy would be some sort of purifying force they could unleash and then quickly rein in, that doesn't seem to fit in the NC formula where the Republicans' share of the pie remains static while the Democrats' slice keep getting smaller. If it really were the "two-party system" that was to blame, you'd think both of those parties would suffer.
Granted, a large percentage of young voters appear to be more progressive than their older counterparts, so they would/should be Democrats unless that whole party thing was a problem. But I still think this explanation leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and it provides little in the way of constructive criticism, both of which serve to shed doubt on the validity of this assumption.
Second assumption: lack of opposing candidates in Republican-heavy districts. Since NC allows Unaffiliated voters to vote in either Primary, in districts where no Democrat is running, the real election takes place during the Primary. If you're a Democrat in one of those districts, you have absolutely no say in who takes that General Assembly seat. If you're Unaffiliated, however, you can vote for the least evil Republican. Not a very pleasing situation, but you are taking part.
One of the holes in this assumption is, many other states don't allow cross-voting in primaries, yet the ranks of Unaffiliated voters have grown in these states, as well.
Now, even though this is an unlikely driver of Democratic Party reduction, we should proceed as if it is. Pragmatism is understandable, and when you have a limited amount of resources, they should be wisely spent. But you know what? Pragmatism doesn't and won't grow the ranks of your party; motivation and idealism do. Democrats in every district deserve a Democrat they can vote for. If we continue to leave them behind, we shouldn't be surprised when they leave us behind.
Third assumption: political campaigns are distasteful. Before you say, "No shit!", consider the contradiction (or two conflicting beliefs) that most on the left hold. We are well aware of the deleterious effects money has on our representative system of government, yet we roll our sleeves up and jump on the fundraising bandwagon every two years. This produces little conflict in the mind of Republicans, because money is the only (or the greatest) gauge of self-worth. Progressives however, especially young ones, find it hard to wear both hats.
Which brings up the most important aspect of this discussion, that of "identity." This may come as a surprise to those of you who have been fighting these political battles for years, but choosing a political party is not the same thing as choosing a sports team to root for. Choosing the latter says something about where you or a family member attended college, or maybe where you used to live, or maybe just the pretty colors the team waves around. But when you choose a political party, you are saying something about your core beliefs. Your "identity", as it were, which is intermingled with a lot of psychological associations. Empathy, sympathy, and sympatico. These are the people with which I align myself. Which leads me to:
Fourth assumption: the recent history of the Democratic Party of North Carolina is riddled with corrupt, self-serving and shallow politicians. And before you say, "Yeah, we already know, let's move on", consider the fact we're not moving on and haven't moved on, in any substantial way. We still, for the most part, choose candidates based on their physical appearance and how much money they can raise, and we don't look too closely at where that money is coming from. We work from the assumption that the (D) beside their name somehow fortifies them against conflicts of interest, even though we have ample and embarrassing evidence to the contrary.
Plainly put, if we want people to (once again) be proud to identify as a North Carolina Democrat, we have to give them something to be proud of. We need leaders who can articulate a vision for our state, and not just point out how horrific Republicans are. And we need to aggressively advocate against conflicts of interest and patronage, instead of arguing the legality of such. Being merely "less wrong" is not enough to overcome the stench of corruption, we have to climb higher than that. And then, maybe, we can move on to bigger and better things.