NOTHSTINE: NC Democrats should lead to expand party

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Democratic candidate for Senate Deborah Ross hands the microphone off to gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper during a campaign event for Hillary Clinton at the University of North Carolina's Michael Hooker Fields in Chapel Hill

For Democrats, former Gov. Pat McCrory’s new role as a commentator Sunday was a visible reminder of one of the few bright spots for the party in the last election cycle. He appeared as a panelist on the most recent Meet the Press episode. But the toppling of McCrory, even in victory, is a reminder too of some of their constraints, now weighed down heavily by destructive identity politics.Perhaps the most prescient Meet the Press guest Sunday for Democrats though was not McCrory, but former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb. Pushed aside by his own party, Webb is trying to get Democrats to recall some of their history that helped them champion the common man. “[T]he Democratic Party over the past five or six years has moved very far to the left,” Webb lamented Sunday. “When you can’t have a Jefferson/Jackson dinner which was the primary celebratory event of the Democratic Party for years because Jefferson and Jackson were slaveholders, they were also great Americans in their day, something just different has happened to the Democratic Party.” Last month Democrats showcased the real depth of some of their absurdity when one of their candidates for party chairman declared her job is to “shut other white people down.” Webb went on to point out that the Democratic Party has lost its base, largely because of ideological rigidity and identity politics. It should bother Democrats that many Americans view Donald Trump as a voice and vessel for the forgotten man. After all, Trump was a powerful tabloid symbol of opulence and excess through the 1980s and beyond. If losing the working class to Donald Trump is not a devastating irony for Democrats, then probably no wakeup call is looming on the political horizon. Largely now a coastal and urban party, North Carolina’s geographic diversity and electoral importance give state Democrats’ a broad opening to shape a more electorally inclusive future. However, this will require Gov. Roy Cooper to govern more as a centrist in the mold of Jim Hunt and the new Democrats of the 1990s, who rode the success of former Arkansas governor and eventual president Bill Clinton to victory. That means reaching beyond the constituency that is motivated by more government dependency and the politics of outrage that is already showing signs of collapsing under its own weight. While tempting, it may not be enough for North Carolina and national Democrats to simply wait out key demographic shifts. Trump’s campaign hijacked the sophisticated turnout models by speaking to the real needs and concerns of voters, even making inroads with some minority groups, surpassing Mitt Romney’s more outreach-oriented but lackluster presidential campaign. Former Georgia governor and Sen. Zell Miller, a Democrat, published a book in 2003 titled “A National Party No More.” It was widely panned by Democrats and critics in the media. Yet, Miller’s warnings to a party he has belonged to all his life turned out to be prophetic. Democrats are experiencing terrible growing pains in a country that seems to want to move back to the political center after eight years of leftward leadership under President Barack Obama. It makes sense that Southern Democrats, traditionally more moderate, lead the effort to retool and rebuild their party toward national relevance again. Democrats in North Carolina would be wise to lead the charge instead of following a loud but less appealing ideology.
Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.