Democrats, Let's Not Eat Our Own
The 2020 campaign will be one of the nastiest in living memory. President Trump and his campaign can be expected to slander directly or with coded messages whomever Democrats nominate to run against him. With Trump on the ropes, Democrats should be braced for an even more vicious barrage than the one Hillary Clinton faced.
And whomever emerges as our standard-bearer -- however left or center-left they may be – will need the whole of our richly diverse party standing behind them in order to withstand Trump’s maliciousness and successfully deliver their own message to voters.
It is important that the Democratic nominee prove tough enough in the primary to survive such attacks. However, it is also critically important that Democrats do not lay any groundwork for Trump’s attacks during the primary process. Every candidate must be cautious when going after other Democrats. The best way to maintain our own integrity and not help Trump is to keep intraparty criticism honest. We should not eat our own.
Keeping disagreements within the bounds that this unique moment demands, however, is an abstract idea, and abstract rules can be difficult to enforce. Running for president is an ambitious act, and primaries are adversarial situations that can quickly become more heated and charged than the participants ever intend. Therefore, Democrats should embrace the various peace pacts being proposed to keep the primary from drifting beyond an honest competition of visions that strengthens us all and becoming a conflict that obscures the overwhelming unity of purpose we have.
It is no secret that I have been critical of Bernie Sanders in the past. But I also believe that when someone with whom we have disagreed takes an action that we believe is right, we should make it a point to thank them. Sen. Sanders took a welcome step in the direction of party unity with his recent call for surrogates and supporters to be respectful of his opponents in the primary.
Sanders, as well as all the other candidates running, have embraced a pledge not to use hacked materials. This is a good start. State party chairs from New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada are making a proposal to the Association of State Democratic Committees to “develop a collaborative approach to battling disinformation, illicit campaign tactics, fake accounts, altered text, audio, and video, any and all inauthentic speech in our Presidential Primary process.” The ASDC should adopt this proposal at once.
In another commendable move, Sanders’ campaign has also pledged to not air a single ad that invokes a personal attack. He has left open the possibility of airing ads that display differences in policy – and that’s what this primary is for: a vigorous discourse on public policy, not personality warfare.
All our candidates are progressives who want to fight for the positive change that working families, those struggling to afford medical care, those suffering under the weight of reinvigorated bigotry, and the whole planet are counting on us to achieve. We must always remember that, just as we must always remember that Donald Trump is our shared opponent, regardless of the ultimate identity of the Democratic Party presidential nominee.
We must also guard against the use of unscrupulous attacks within the progressive movement.
A case in point: The Young Turks, a news organization that prominently supports Sanders’ candidacy, disseminated a false narrative about shadowy Democratic elites conspiring against the senator in their coverage of his recent CNN townhall. They did opposition research on Sanders’ questioners, impugning their motives by pointing to an internship one of them had done, and the composition of the board of directors of a nonprofit that another one of the questioners once worked for. This type of conspiracy-mongering hurt us in 2016 and will again in 2020.
Democrats should focus on honest policy disagreements that help us sharpen our messaging and demonstrate that we are open to people with different worldviews. Honest concerns about personal behavior help set the standard for how people should behave in this country. Honest exploration of ethical quandaries show leadership in these corrupt times. Substantive and fair debate strengthens our party and our country. Taking unfair cheap shots based on disinformation only divides our party and our country.