Hi Mr. Brooks,
Thank you for “What Is the Democratic Story?” It’s nice to be working with you again. I’m seeing a couple of repeat issues—especially with vagueness and missing data—but I’m sure we can work together to fix it. I bet your arguments will be persuasive to a lot of people, but especially when dealing with such partisan topics we owe it to our readers to double-check our facts.
Anyways—here’s my corrections in order of appearance:
First off, I think we need to be more exact when alluding to philosophical theory.
“That’s an important question, but the most important question is what story is the Democratic Party telling? As Alasdair MacIntyre argued many years ago, you can’t know what to do unless you know what story you are a part of. Story is more important than policies.”
I would consider using the actual quote here; the lack of quotation marks mixes MacIntyre’s theory and your opinion together, and makes it impossible to tell the difference, which might be a bit misleading. After all, MacIntyre’s quote from “After Virtue,” his 1981 book on moral philosophy, reads: “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” But as far as I can tell, he doesn’t go talk about the effect of stories on policies, specifically, which seems like your argument extending his. And since scholars say that “After Virtue” condemns modern society as morally corrupt because it is incapable of consensus—existing as “a collection of strangers, each pursuing his or her own interests under minimal constraints”—it’s unclear that he’s the best guide for a political party like the Democrats; why not use someone like George Lakoff, who specifically talks about politics? I feel like MacIntyre and the Democratic Party are doing very different things. Anyway, if you used the exact quote, the reader would at least be able to make their own judgments.
“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has risen to prominence blending these two languages into one: racial justice socialism.”
After extensive internet searching, it doesn’t appear that “racial justice socialism” is an established political term. Did you invent it yourself? If so, you should maybe rephrase and say instead that “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has risen to prominence blending these two languages into what I would call racial justice socialism.” Or if you would prefer not to change the sentence, could you potentially find another way to characterize Ocasio-Cortez’s policies? Maybe consider how she described herself in an article for The Nation. She said, “I am an educator, organizer, Democratic Socialist, and born-and-raised New Yorker running to champion working families in Congress.”
I’m also concerned that you make it seem like she invented this new story, that she herself “blended” it; surely she isn’t the first? If she is the first, then it certainly has become dominant very quickly! But if she isn’t the first, then shouldn’t we connect it to a longer history?
I’m also concerned about how you use your new terminology to oversimplify here:
“Racial justice socialism seems to be the story of the contemporary left. This story effectively paints Trump as the villain on all fronts, and Democrats do face the distinct problem of how to run against a bully like Trump.”
I think we might want to reconsider the all or nothing statements you use in both sentences. To provide the readers with a more complete argument, maybe you should include that the “story of the contemporary left” includes a multiplicity of ideas? Potentially consider including the examples more moderate “blue-dog” Democrats such as Joe Manchin, whose approach helped Democrats retain control in right-leaning West Virginia. The use of the phrase “effectively paints Trump as the villain on all fronts” might be unnecessarily polarizing for the reader.
I’m also not sure what source you used to find that platform which places the blame solely on Trump, the villain. Progressive websites tell a more complex story. According to the somewhat dated mission statement of the Democratic Socialists of America, the blame for social injustice is actually caused by both the “economic dominance of transnational corporations backed by the dominant capitalist governments.” There’s not a section on the site which explicitly blames Trump alone; most issues are characterized as a confluence of corporate greed, systemic institutional oppression of women and people of color and governments who support big business.
“They did because Americans trust business more than the state, so socialism has never played well. They did it because if you throw race into your economic arguments you end up turning off potential allies in swing states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania. They did it because if you throw economics into your race arguments you end up dividing your coalitions on those issues.”
It seems safe to say that Americans do trust businesses more than the state. But the statement that “socialism has never played well” doesn’t seem to be as true today, and doesn’t naturally flow from distrust of the state (since the point of socialism would be to change the state, right?). Anyway, it’s important to note that socialism’s popularity has exponentially risen following the last election, especially among the young. Maybe consider including statistics that show the rapid rise of the Democratic Socialists of America? Since the 2016 election, its membership has quadrupled. More broadly, according to a 2016 Harvard University study, a majority of American adults under 30 reject capitalism. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve embraced socialism, it might indicate that the traditional reverence for corporate America is declining.
We might want to further explain your reasoning about race and the economy, because I’m not finding data which entirely backs this up. Post-election there was an intense media focus on the economic factors which drove white-working class Americans to vote for Trump, especially in places like the swing states you mention above. However, that narrative is changing. Increasingly, some commentators believe that racial divisions superseded the economic argument, which accounts for the large number of Trump supporters among whites of all income levels. A post election survey from The Atlantic found that the majority of white-working class voters cited “cultural anxiety” rather than the economy as the main reason they voted for Trump. So, it seems like for the stereotypical white voter you’ve mentioned throughout the piece, it’s a little more than the old “it’s the economy, stupid” argument. Maybe flesh this out further in your next draft?
I can tell that this paragraph features your advice, but I’m a little worried about your focus on hypotheticals and the lack of data.
“If I had to advise on a Democratic narrative I’d start with three premises: First, by 2020 everybody will be exhausted by the climate of negativism and hostility. Second, the core long-term fear is American decline; are we losing our mojo?”
In the first premise, we need to try not to make all-encompassing statements if there’s no specific example to back it up. In fact, it seems that the data might contradict your thoughts. A 2017 Pew Research Center study found that there’s a 36-percent partisan gap between Republicans and right-leaning independents and Democrats and left-leaning independents. Twenty-four years ago, the gap was only 15 points, and it doesn’t seem to be closing anytime soon. The data also indicated that there’s not only more division between the political parties but also within them. Some Democrats and Republicans are turning towards their ideological bases, dividing their parties over economic policy. So it seems that the first premise is a hypothetical which, as of now, appears to be statistically unlikely. Could you reframe the statement as an individual preference? Perhaps, “I would hope everybody would be exhausted by the climate of negativism and hostility by 2020.”
From a fact-checking perspective, your second premise creates more questions than answers. What sources state the core fear is American decline? Whose fear is it, a politician’s or the average American’s? Also what do you define as “decline?” When dealing with something as subjective as emotions, it’s best to turn to the empirical. Fear is almost impossible to quantify, but a 2017 survey from Chapman University found that the majority of Americans’ were either “very afraid” or “afraid” about internal concerns like government corruption (74.5 percent) and the accessibility of healthcare (55.3 percent). The closest concern relating to decline would likely be what Chapman researchers called “Economic/ financial collapse,” the 11th most common fear. Maybe you could characterize this fear more clearly as your opinion instead of fact?
Thanks for letting me work with you on this! This is a considerable improvement over the first piece of yours I fact-checked. Best of luck with the second draft!