Elections: Lessons for S.C. Republicans and Democrats

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Although I suspect that we’re all glad it’s finally over, the recent election may well turn out to have been a watershed of sorts, with lots of important lessons for both Democrats and Republicans in South Carolina.
Put simply, this election shows that in South Carolina both parties are heading down a losing path, and it’s only through changing their current parties and challenging their own party leadership that either party can win in the future.
First, the Republicans. A quote by Sen. Lindsay Graham says it all: “If I hear anybody say it [losing] was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough, I’m going to go nuts…We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”
Graham is right; demographics are destiny. And while it is true that the electoral revolution he’s discussing has not been felt fully here in South Carolina yet, the demographic makeup of our state is changing, and changing fast, with Hispanic population growth reaching almost 150 percent over the last decade. For Republicans, the future is no longer a hazy unknown – it’s the express train that’s bearing down on them as it speeds along the tracks.
Even worse for the SCGOP is the other problem that Graham highlights – hard-ass extremism. This is the current S.C. Republican leadership’s path to eventual defeat.
We are getting a lot of new people coming into our state’s politics and they don’t like what they are hearing from Republicans. These new people fall into three groups: People who are moving here from other states; new young people entering the political process for the first time with more tolerant views about race and sexual preferences; and a new emerging electorate of native South Carolinians that is being changed by rising education levels and the forces of globalization, resulting in voters with a broader and less simplistic world view.
And all these new folks are hearing from GOP politicians in the Palmetto State is more of Graham’s extremist politics. This past election campaign brought us Republican candidates and party officials who wanted to ban all abortions, disenfranchise hundreds of thousands with voter ID laws, impose a sexual purity test for candidates, not to mention calls for establishing our own state currency and an incumbent Anderson County councilman revealing his past membership in the Ku Klux Klan.
What used to be call “the lunatic fringe” has pretty well taken over the Republican Party, and they have increasingly adopted a mentality that says if you don’t believe the world is flat, then you must be a communist. Ronald Reagan would be run out of this Republican Party.
For South Carolina Democrats like me, the lessons to be learned from the election are equally clear and simple.
Democrats need to learn the lessons of Obama’s win – if we stand up for Democratic principles and fight for the middle class, we win. If we focus on new ideas, new people and new technology, we win. Obama did these things nationally and won.
The real tragedy is that the state Democratic Party establishment here in South Carolina is not listening to this message. This election has proven that they were unwilling or unable to provide the leadership and support our candidates and local parties need to carry this winning message to the voters. These state party insiders have refused to learn these lessons for a long time.
We have now had 22 consecutive statewide elections without winning a Democratic majority. Politics as usual with the usual politicians means we continue to lose.
Our state Democratic Party establishment has actually made things worse as they have actively fought against the new ideas, new people and new technology we so clearly and so desperately need to win.
The good news for Democrats in South Carolina is that things are changing. Obama has brought a lot of new people to the process and many of them are getting involved as candidates, volunteers and campaign managers. They are not going anywhere, and, in fact, many are already planning to run in 2014.
In addition to this growing group of new Democratic reform-minded activists and candidates, there are a lot of regular Democrats – as well many independents and some fair-minded Republicans – who are increasingly realizing that we need big change and real reform to fix our state government.
Citizens of all political hues know our government and politics are seriously dysfunctional, broken and corrupt. Our state is in crisis, and in crisis there is opportunity…for reform Democrats.
But the question remains: Who in South Carolina will learn the lessons of the 2012 election and change their party? Will it be the Democrats or the Republicans?
Whoever does take on the hard challenges of reforming their own party’s ineffective leadership will likely shape our state’s future for years to come – for better or worse.