The Democratic Party is beset with problems, not the least of which involved intraparty fighting and embarrassing emails revealing the previous chairman’s disdain for presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Healing the divide falls to the party’s new chairman, Snyder native Thomas E. Perez. He is embracing unity, first by swiftly announcing as deputy chairman Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, his chief rival in one of the most contentious party races in memory. That is a new position and one that is designed to reach out to the party’s most left-leaning members.
The Democratic Party has been fraying at the edges, criticized for what some deem an increasingly tone-deaf and elitist party that fell out of touch with working-class America. Enough of those blue-collar workers crossed over party lines to elect Donald J. Trump as president.
Democrats have a lot of work to do to get those voters back, and Perez has the unenviable task of making it happen. He pledged to pay attention to local and state elections, rather than solely focusing on fundraising. It’s a good start and might help the party shed some of its elitist mantle that alienated some blue-collar, working-class folks tired of the same old promises with no results. They wanted change, something the Democratic establishment failed to understand or deliver.
Perez is a former labor secretary whose affiliation with the segment of the Democratic Party that voters rejected likely contributed to the fact that he achieved only a nail-biting victory. Former President Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, praised Perez. He is also allied with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
None of this endeared him to Ellison supporters, many of them young. They, and Sanders, wanted the Muslim Minnesotan to win the office. And just as when Sanders was defeated by Clinton for the Democratic nomination, they did not take defeat easily. They booed Perez, who quickly presented Ellison as his deputy.
Both men have pledged to work together for the party. Ellison put it bluntly and, for Democrats, correctly: “We don’t have the luxury of walking out of this room divided.”
American government works best when there are two strong parties offering ideas and making compromises to achieve mutual goals. The more factionalized the parties become, the more likely it is that bitter cross-party fighting will prevent anything from getting done.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once promised to obstruct Obama, making it his No. 1 goal. Now Perez has pledged much the same when it comes to Trump, by making the new president the top enemy. But focusing on personality will not help restore the Democratic coalition of old. The focus should be on policy, and that’s the difficult task facing Perez.