According to Jean Piaget, all children go through a phase of egocentrism, when their developing brains don’t yet differentiate the child from the rest of the world, and other people. For example, a child might give his mother a toy dump truck for her birthday, thinking that’s exactly what she’d want. Because that’s exactly what he’d want.
Egocentrism fuels political rhetoric. In a way, it has to. A candidate has to believe her way is the best way, and go forth to sell that version of reality. After all, it’s a founding principle of our Democracy that “out of many, one” — E Pluribus Unum.
But when the urge to unite is forged of narrow interests, it’s no longer an ideal. Instead, it’s a bent version of E Pluribus Unum, where differences are masked, and interests are ignored. The “many” are told to sit down and let “the one” speak for us.
It’s easy to tell the two apart. One feels like bullying, and the other feels like participation. One invites the many to participate in Democracy, and the other sees participation as a threat.
A few months ago, when Alan Grayson was hinting at a run for the Senate, a low-level party operative argued here that if he were to do so, it would result in Democrats losing the Presidential election. The egocentricity of “if my candidate doesn’t win, everyone loses,” is obvious, but I’ll go ahead and spell it out: it’s an extraordinary claim, backed up by zero evidence, that a down-ballot candidate would have the reverse effect on the top of the ticket. In a presidential election year, voter behavior is almost always straight-ticket.
Recently on WMFE’s Intersection, Dick Batchelor made the same extraordinary claim: “if Grayson is the nominee, he could hurt Hillary Clinton in the Presidential race.” Instead of welcoming voices into the Democratic space (out of many, one), this message is “beat it kid — you’re trashing up the joint with your message of economic equality.” It’s this kind of bullying that made Grayson dig in. It also reveals entitlement by assuming that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee. That may well be the case, but there’s plenty of good Democrats in Florida who are interested in the other Presidential candidates. Is it really necessary to alienate them so early in the race? What should be of concern to the Clinton campaign, is if she can win back the progressive populists flocking to the Bernie Sanders message, should she win the primary.
Similar sky-is-falling scenarios are imagined in other Congressional races, such as in District 9. On the Political Hurricane blog, a claim is made that if Democrats don’t support Darren Soto against Susannah Randolph for District 9, Democrats will lose races up and down the ballot. This is values-free posturing. A more democratic message would be to show the alignment of interests, and the moral basis for a candidate’s winning appeal. Instead we get slice-and-dice demographic strategy. No wonder people are turned off to politics.
The conceit in all these eschatological claims, is that only conservative, corporate-approved Democrats can win modern political campaigns. This is the opposite of E Pluribus Unum. The intent of these claims is to strike fear in the voting public, and to make them feel as if their needs are selfish, when the opposite is the case. This illogic is “out of one, many,” and it’s dividing the party into warring factions.
But let’s set the metaphor aside and examine the facts. In the District 9 race, the Hurricane would have us believe that Darren Soto is the “grown-up,” because he plays well with corporate interests. He received a 100 percent vote score from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, out-Chambering Republicans such as Scott Plakon (84%), Matt Gaetz (88%), Steve Crisafulli (93%), Jose Oliva (87%), Aaron Bean (93%), Anitere Flores (93%) and Tom Goodson (87%). To a Democrat, this doesn’t prove one is a “grown-up.” It indicates a willingness to sell out to big business, side with special interests over that of his district, and makes one wonder if they can be trusted when moneyed interests are in the room. Soto’s 100% from Chamber is so unprecedented for a Democrat that it was a full 25 points higher than the score earned by Katie Edwards (75%) and 32 points higher than the score earned by Jared Moskowitz (68%). Reps. Edwards and Moskowitz are seen as Democrats that frequently abandon progressive principles to vote with Republicans. Based on the Chamber’s own criteria, both Broward representatives look like devoted progressives when compared to Soto.
Darren Soto, by the way, has never made the cut for the Progress Florida “Middle Class Champions” list, and this is why.
It’s also been floated that Soto could help Hillary Clinton win Florida because new Puerto Rican voters might be drawn to his Hispanic ethnic identity. This ignores the fact that Soto is vulnerable to criticism of being too closely aligned with Jeb Bush. Also, his neoliberal tendencies would favor austerity and privatization, rather than economic independence for Puerto Rico. He has a 100 percent approval rating from Jeb’s school privatization foundation. His votes in Tallahassee track closer with GOP candidates than with Democrats, making it difficult to differentiate Soto from a Republican opponent.
This is the kind of candidate that invites ballot fatigue, where voters simply abstain from voting because they see no difference in the two candidates — a phenomena that was prevalent in the 2014 Governor’s race.
Perhaps it’s time these folks grew up and realized the world doesn’t revolve around them. Making back-room deals with Chamber lobbyists doesn’t confer “grown-up” status. It’s not a sign of savvy. It’s a sign of self-centeredness, and it’s considered morally bankrupt by many Democrats who have seen their issues horse-traded.
In political campaigns it’s completely understandable that the world would seem to revolve around your candidate. But in terms of organizational structure, egocentrism — forcing an inversion of “out of many, one” — drains the life out of the party. The rank-and-file come to us to be part of something, not to be told who they can vote for.
Primaries are our means of keeping the faith with the rank and file. Embracing a true primary process shows respect to the voters and to Democracy itself.
Brook Hines is a writer, photographer, activist and former alt-weekly publisher, as well as an award-winning advertising creative with more than 20 years’ experience crafting strategy in “words + pictures” for clients ranging from banking and financial services to radical nuns. She’s the Senior Political Correspondent for Progressive News Network, the Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, and the 2015-2016 Co-Chair of New Leaders Council, Orlando Chapter. All opinions offered here are her own. You can easily find Brook Hines on Facebook and Flickr. Read all of Brook’s articles here.