Like a man in a dark room, the Democratic Party is bumping around and feeling its way forward. But to get through, it must first solve the riddle of the old socialist.
The politician who consistently articulates the traditional message of the Democratic Party is the senator from Vermont, a former socialist thought to be too far left, too radical for the mainstream voter in the last presidential election.
It seems so long ago but I remember during that election, on my walk home, I would see a homemade sign hung inside a tree that spelled out in little white lights “Bernie.”
With a slightly disheveled head of wispy white hair, Bernie Sanders had cast a bit of magic dust that enthralled the young.
But the machine within the Democratic Party rolled over the wizard in favor of the one who it was hoped would be the first female president.
The long debacle that followed has given time for consideration of which of the two was on the fringe of the party and which stayed right in its main channel.
One banged away about economic fairness and the other played in turn to each sub-group within the party. One relied on the broad appeal to working men and women of America and one focused on a set of promises to groups coalesced around their identity.
Which was old school and which was rad.
It matters right now because senators Booker, Harris, Gillibrand and Warren are jostling for position at the starting line for the next presidential race. In their focus on immigration and sex harassment, they look like the inheritors of Hillary’s machine.
So the party puzzle can be stated like this: Is the old lefty actually at the center.
The Democrats may be on their way to figuring it out.
Over the weekend I received a mass email from the Democratic chairman, Tom Perez, in which he said, “This is all pretty simple. (1) Republicans are pushing an agenda that hurts working people – all to benefit the billionaire class. (2) We have a chance to do something about it this November by voting them out of office.”
Now, his party would need to put some meat on that bone, the way Sanders does every time he gets in front of a news camera, and break down the measures taken in the last year to widen the gap between the haves and the have nots. The party would also benefit by advancing a couple big ideas, with an infrastructure program as one easy choice.
If the Democrats are finding their way, it is because survival is a primal motivator.
It could be seen in the way they veered away from a government shut down over immigration. They must surely have seen an omen in the numbers that came back to the president after they tried the tactic last month.
The president’s wish for a confrontation confirmed the wisdom of keeping the government in operation.
As for the second statement from Perez regarding his party’s chances this year, a harbinger of realignment could be seen on our news page last week. We ran a story about an open seat for the Missouri Legislature taken by a Democrat in a St. Louis suburb that Trump carried by 28 points.
But such sooths must be interpreted through subsequent events.
Two other Democratic candidates in the state lost their races, leaving the Missouri Legislature in Republican hands by a huge margin. While losing, those two Democrats nevertheless outperformed Hillary by 18 and 25 points.
The numbers augur the future and should guide the Democrats as they try to emerge from their long dark passage through the land of lost elections.
The answer to the riddle, it would seem, is Bernie perhaps without Bernie.