As Democrats ponder why they are poised to lose Congress in this year’s elections to a party that is unwilling to condemn an insurrection, they should consider how radical their policies look to middle America.
Let’s start in the windy city, where Monday was the fourth straight day Chicago Public Schools were canceled, due to the teachers’ union’s vote to refuse to teach in school buildings. “What the Chicago Teachers Union did was an illegal walkout. They abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot on NBC’s Meet The Press.
Lightfoot went on to note that “the safest place for kids to be” is in schools. She’s right, but she hastened to add that her team is working to “get a deal done” with the teachers unions.
How about this for a deal? Show up tomorrow, or find new jobs.
This is serious. Children’s mental health is being negatively impacted by these closures, as is their learning—and there’s a big impact on parents, too.
And then, there are the political ramifications. Last November’s Virginia governor’s race was, at least partly, decided on this issue. As National Review’s Philip Klein noted, “the seeds for the backlash were all planted by unnecessary school closures.” The fact that Democrat Terry McAuliffe chose to end his faltering campaign at a rally with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten tells you all you need to know about the power and influence these unions hold.
But it’s not just Virginia or Chicago—and it’s not just school closures—that Democrats who care about winning elections should be worried about. In case you missed it, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has instructed prosecutors to ask judges for jail time only for the most egregious crimes. According to the New York Times, Bragg “instructed prosecutors to avoid seeking jail time for [crimes that] include certain robberies and assaults, as well as gun possession in cases where no other crimes are involved.”
This is happening at a time when violent crime is up dramatically since 2019 in major cities, including New York and demoralized police officers are heading for the exits. This is happening one election cycle since the “defund the police” slogan was blamed by some centrist Democrats for costing them elections, and its author is a cut-em-loose district attorney who was elected in the same year that the city elected a former police officer who says “safety is the prerequisite to prosperity” as mayor. Good luck with that, when the DA won’t put most criminals behind bars.
But wait, there’s more! That new mayor, Eric Adams, who has pronounced himself “the new face of the Democratic Party,” decided this week to allow non-citizens to vote in New York City elections. “While I initially had some concerns about one aspect of the bill, I had a productive dialogue with my colleagues in government that put those concerns at ease. I believe allowing the legislation to be enacted is by far the best choice, and look forward to bringing millions more into the democratic process,” Adams said.
Given that Adams was elected mayor himself with about 750,000 votes, his talk about “millions” of new voters in local elections is surely a vast exaggeration, but it’s notable that the new mayor did not sign the bill, but merely allowed it to be enacted. His administration did, however, vow to “vigorously defend the law in court” after the state Republican chair and other elected officials filed a suit challenging it on Monday, calling it "a slap in the face of every single American citizen" that violates the U.S. and New York constitutions, “dilutes the voices of American citizens and is not in line with the views of the vast majority of our city.”
Adams is far from the only Democrat caught between his promise to govern with common sense and the demands of his party’s activists. Joe Biden was elected on a promise of sanity and no malarkey, but has tried to govern like he was the second coming of LBJ or FDR. Judging from the polls, and reality, it’s been a disaster.
Like Biden, there was a lot of hope that Adams would be a tough, pragmatic, working-class Democrat. But if, once elected, Biden and Adams both fail to stand up to the powerful progressive interests in the Democratic Party, who can?
To be sure, Democrats are not the only party guilty of being pressured into doing stupid or crazy things. On the Republican side, the politicians are scared of their constituents. Democrats have a different problem. Their constituents (at the national level, at least) are more moderate—but the progressive wing and powerful special interests, like the teachers’ union and radical activist groups, have outsized power.
Neither party is willing to do what it takes to be the majority party. No doubt, this explains why neither side can maintain power nationally for long. And this, itself, creates a self-perpetuating cycle. Party A takes power, realizing that it won’t last long. They try to jam through everything they can on the self-fulfilling assumption they won’t be in power for long. The public then reacts to this overreach by voting for Party B. Repeat.
Ultimately, though, this is a bigger problem for Democrats, who ought to be capitalizing on Republican dysfunction. Think of who the gettable voters are. They don’t like Trump, but they also don’t like the progressive agenda. But which side do they fear most? For a lot of average Americans, defending democracy feels esoteric, while keeping their families safe and making sure their kids are getting a good education is urgent and real. Suppose you were a college-educated suburbanite who doesn’t obsess about politics. Which “tribe” poses the most danger to you?
It’s also a bigger problem for Democrats because in big cities, including New York, they’re usually the only game in town. If that means that its leadership is always getting decided in party primaries that tend to pull voters further and further to the left, then those leaders—the faces of the party—are inevitably going to be a drag on its national prospects.
Of course, what happens in New York City and Chicago does not necessarily reflect the rest of the country. Still, these are trends that are being played out in a lot of other cities, and the biggest cities will always have a disproportionate impact on our perceptions.
What cannot be quantified is the missed opportunity. In the face of an increasingly weird and toxic GOP, how well might Democrats be doing if they simply decided to be the sane and competent party?