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House Democrats unite

by John Brummett | December 4, 2022 at 2:04 a.m.

The new post-Pelosi leadership team for House Democrats got elected by acclamation Wednesday.

The unanimity reflected a concerted Democratic desire to appear more unified, collegial and efficient than Republicans.

That seemed easy enough considering that Republicans are afflicted with the silliness of a significant nut-right caucus somehow disapproving of a kowtower to them by the name of Kevin McCarthy.

The only daylight between McCarthy and Trumpism is that McCarthy endured a couple of days in January 2021 when he was opposed to insurrection and then a moment last week when he found it necessary to say when questioned by the media that one shouldn't sit for dinner with an avowed white supremacist.

Against that, House Democrats--substantially afflicted day-to-day with policy and tactical divisions between practical moderates from swing districts and impractical "progressives" and an occasional socialist from safe districts--decided to present a pep rally for the new minority leader and his team.

Leave it, then, to a Southern white male left-leaner with a remote and vastly unread newspaper column to note that there was no recognized moderate nor Midwesterner nor Southerner nor mountain westerner among the three new leaders--Hakeem Jeffries, 52, as minority leader; Katherine Clark, 59, as whip, and Pete Aguilar, 43, as caucus chairman.

This new regime was celebrated for reflecting contemporary American diversity, which clearly meant by race, gender and new youthfulness in contrast to the octogenarian decades-long rule of Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn.

What it didn't mean was geographic diversity.

The House Democrats' top three positions will now be held by young or middle-aged members from New York, Massachusetts and California, which happen to be the three states that would compose the easy instant answer if a politically knowledgeable person was asked to name the nation's most stereotypically liberal Democratic locales.

At least one of the octogenarians was from South Carolina, not that it did any good with white voters there.

The two Democratic leaders next year--Jeffries in the House and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Senate--live about a mile apart in Brooklyn.

I'm not complaining. I'm just relating.

Diversity is good. Generational change is inevitable and smart. It requires adaptation. The country is transforming and the Democrats are reflecting as much while Republicans cling to the vast stagnant white rural acreage of the nation.

But it's basic political analysis, relevant and fair, to point out that nothing in the new leadership of the House Democrats suggests an opportunity for change in the national political landscape.

The upper Midwest from Michigan to Pennsylvania--traditionally industrial-worker economies widely feeling abandoned by post-Clinton Democrats--remains barely blue, and not reliably so. The red center of the country--the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri--remains crimson. The South outside purpling greater Atlanta remains overwhelmingly retro-Confederate Republican.

As does Arkansas, where beleaguered Democrats remain left for dead by their national party, disregarded in favor of the greater evolving population concentrations, and reduced to map specks in Fayetteville, Little Rock and three or four Delta counties with heavy Black population. Hopeless, in other words.

Now, to the fuller context: What I've taken note of is regional stereotype, not specific policy or leadership style, which remains to be defined.

There were a couple of positive sentences in the Thursday report printed in the Democrat-Gazette, from The New York Times and The Associated Press, of these Democratic changes.

One sentence noted that, amid the Democrat unanimity, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez complained that her party had missed a chance for needed open debate on what the generational changes will mean in terms of policy direction.

The effective message of youth and diversity would be dwarfed, or at least offset, by a signal of becoming more liberal.

The best things Democrats have going for them in a full national context is a delicately balanced combination--their own generational appeal and diversity spurring progressive turnout in the urban Democratic strongholds while the Republican extremism drives swing voters to Democrats who are seen in places like greater Atlanta and greater Phoenix as more sane and responsible.

That's the careful two-step that Democrats require--to be modern and changing, but safer even in newness and change than these Republicans challenging American elections and finding Kevin McCarthy somehow too reasonable.

In that regard, there was a singular encouraging sentence in that article Thursday, going as follows: "Jeffries has sometimes been met with skepticism from party progressives, viewed as a more centrist figure among House Democrats."

For an old white-male left-leaner in an abandoned remote province writing a widely unread newspaper column, singular encouraging sentences from The New York Times and AP are about the best to be hoped for.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Print Headline: House Democrats unite

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