By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR., Special to the Star
SAN DIEGO — As Bob Dylan might put it, Democrats are tangled up in blue.
They’ve promised so many goodies to so many groups that they can’t possibly deliver to all of them. Doing so would result in taking care of some supporters but taking others to the cleaners. In trying to be all things to all people, Democrats have all but ensured that they will disappoint and disillusion.
As the cattle call of presidential candidates gathered this week in Detroit for their second round of debates, let’s examine how conflicted and twisted the Democratic Party has become.
Sure, the party is diverse. But it’s also disunified and disorganized.
Of course, the Republican Party is also a mess. A real estate tycoon — who turned out to be a natural politician in the worst sense of the phrase — turned the GOP inside out. Think about all the race talk. In one of the great magic tricks of all time, The Great Trumpini got the party that freed the slaves, integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1957, supported civil rights bills in the 1960s, and gave us the first two African American secretaries of state to make excuses for racism.
But this doesn’t change the fact that the Democrats’ big tent has become a circus. John F. Kennedy’s admonition that Americans should ask what they can do for their country has been replaced with: “What are you going to do for me?” Dreamers. Teachers. Blue-collar workers. They all have their hands out. And trying to make everyone happy only makes everyone angry.
The latest argument is taking place in Congress, and it’s over whether the House of Representatives ought to impeach President Trump. Now that the Mueller report has been reduced to a door stop at the Democratic National Committee, the liberal media are playing up impeachment as the next big story.
Of course, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to kill that story. It’s not because she’s protecting Trump. It’s because she knows that being impeached would give Trump the martyr status he craves, rally Republican voters and make it harder for Democrats to retake the White House in 2020 — and allow her to retain the gavel.
But even before the fight over impeachment flared up, Democrats were not exactly one big happy family. They were already at each other’s throats over a litany of other issues — where they overpromised and will likely underdeliver.
On immigration, Democrats can’t decide whether to push for so-called “sanctuary laws” and health care for illegal immigrants, or go to bat for white working-class voters who want fewer immigrants because they can’t compete with their work ethic and for African Americans in the inner city who worry that their neighborhoods are changing color.
On trade, Democrats want to have it both ways by supporting free trade agreements since it helps them court Wall Street and appear more business-friendly, while also winking at Trump’s anti-China tariffs because nothing says you’re “pro-organized labor” like embracing protectionism to give U.S. workers a leg up in the globalization game.
On crime, Democrats are the architects of mass incarceration. In the 1990s — while they were still smarting from the pummeling that Michael Dukakis got in the 1988 presidential race for appearing soft on crime — they overcorrected and dropped the hammer on the folks that then-first lady Hillary Clinton called “super predators” by pushing the 1994 crime bill.
And finally, on race, Democrats must walk the line between marketing themselves as defenders of people of color who are ready to call out racism whenever they see it while also being careful not to alienate white voters who are sick of everything always being about race and who think that the Democratic Party no longer speaks for them.
Those divisions are real, and they run deep. They’re helping define the 2020 presidential race, especially the scraps between Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. — both of whom, ironically, have tried to have it both ways on race.
Biden was the author of the Senate version of the 1994 crime bill, and Harris made her bones as a prosecutor who incarcerated her share of Latino and African American inmates.
What a perfect pair. One minute, they claim to be looking out for Latinos and African Americans. The next, they’re trying to lock them up.
If Democrats want a ticket that illustrates its conflicts and contradictions, the clear choice is Biden-Harris. They might even change the party mascot, from the donkey to something more suited to the times: the chameleon.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.