Remember the war against Franco?
That’s the kind where each of us belongs.
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs.
“The Folk Song Army” by Tom Lehrer
The recent Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner and the outraged—or perhaps puzzled—reaction to it is a telling snapshot of every bit of bizarreness in American politics today. This odd conflation of social protest, wounded innocence, police state intransigence, fashion photography, “woke” consciousness, flirting, emotional vulnerability, gloriously faux freedom, and base corporate shilling points to the difficulty of deciding who, what, where, why, and how to protest when so many still insist upon using foolish caricatures or publicity stunts and hashtag activism to denigrate others while celebrating their own virtues and sheer wonderfulness.
I still can’t quite decide whether this particular Pepsi ad is an example of gooey idealism or squinty cynicism, but it most definitely fails as both an effective corporate marketing strategy and a call to action—while still managing to make our skin crawl. Perhaps Pepsi’s ploy is to be expected in an age that so relentlessly mugs us with ads in order to convince us to purchase junk we don’t need with money we don’t have, but shamelessly turning the legitimate political and social concerns of many Americans into a melodramatic and stagey street confrontation apparently both fueled and defused by sugar water is both silly and reprehensible. If this ad was set in Birmingham in 1963, I suppose Bull Connor would have taken a huge swig of Pepsi and danced with the protestors under the surprisingly gentle spray from a fire hose while the police dogs cavorted with laughing children—I’m only half-joking about this possibility, by the way.
Of course, the real question that arises out of all this is why are those opposed to President Trump’s agenda relying upon celebrities and corporations with their own profit-making agendas to advance their causes? Perhaps this is yet another depressing sign of just how impotent and directionless the hollowed-out Democratic Party has become over the past eight years, but counting on Meryl Streep or a Fortune 500 company to act as the guiding spirit of “The Resistance” (an appellation that I presume will soon be stirring up its own righteous dismay regarding “cultural appropriation”) is a sure sign you’re pretty deep in the weeds. There is work to be done, but it won’t be accomplished by wearing safety pins to show your solidarity or slapping a pussy hat on your noggin.
If the Democratic Party wants to start winning elections again, there are three actions it needs to take today.
Develop your bench by re-focusing on local, county, and state elections.
The disintegration of the Democratic Party nationally has left them with leadership that looks like the mummified members of the old Politburo reviewing a Moscow May Day parade. Unless the Democratic Party starts rebuilding from the ground up and elevating new, young leaders who are not merely mouthpieces for the old guard, they’re going to be stuck wheeling out Hillary or Bernie and hoping for a miracle for years to come.
Drop the “purity tests”
A political party cannot grow and thrive if it loudly insists that anyone who refuses to conform to every one of its beliefs is unwelcome—and is a bad person besides. There has to be room for more than the faithful few, and it must be acknowledged by all that open and respectful debates on issues of substance are signs of strength. Failing this, you’re going to come across a nothing more than a bunch of shrill scolds and snowflakes who revel in pointing out the idiocy and immorality of those less enlightened than you—not a great way to make new friends.
Remember that there is a world beyond the affluent zip codes of New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Last November Democrats seemed astonished to discover that the broad middle section of the nation had turned bright red right under their noses. The incredulity so many experienced when they realized Donald Trump had won the Presidency seems the perfect illustration of just how disconnected the Democratic Party has become from voters who don’t attend fundraisers in The Hamptons or go on wine tasting tours in the Napa Valley. It might be high time for the Democratic Party to reconnect with Americans who aren’t quite as busy counting their stock options or crabbing about how difficult it is to find a good nanny.
All this said, I must admit I am not at all certain that the Democratic Party can yet save itself from the ash heap of history. As long as there are still Silicon Valley billionaires and New York hedge fund managers willing to bankroll a national political machine whose default setting is smug superiority, it might be the case that for many years the Hillary/Bernie show will continue to lurch from one electoral disaster to another—all the while wondering why the “Deplorables” hate them so.
The Pepsi Democrats need to get “woke” to their own problem—connecting with those voters who want a Democratic Party like the one there used to be before they decided that the average American wasn’t worth their precious attention any longer.