The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats are on a losing streak

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) during a San Francisco Pride event on June 30.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) during a San Francisco Pride event on June 30. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

The bevy of Democrats running for president seems determined to test my silent vow never to vote Republican, especially for President Trump. The truth is that I cannot imagine that happening, but I can imagine entering the voting booth with about a colonoscopy level of enthusiasm. Please, can we get this over with?

At the moment, the party is squabbling over what is called forced busing to achieve school desegregation. It seems the party has forgotten that, with the possible exception of the Civil War draft, no program has been more hated by working-class Democrats — more whites than blacks, but plenty of blacks as well. In large U.S. cities, busing was seen as an effort by liberals to send white kids to schools they would not, for a moment, send their own kids to. In Boston, the spiritual home of the antibusing movement in the 1960s, the populace had not been as furious since King George III bivouacked his unwashed redcoats in the tidy homes of American patriots.

The leader of that antibusing movement was Louise Day Hicks , a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a fearsome racist firebrand. She rode the movement clear into Congress, and she came close to becoming Boston’s mayor, losing by only 12,000 votes. By then she had proved that busing was loathed in white, working-class America. Mobs formed in the streets, and the cops had to be called. Busing was sometimes the only remedy for school-board gerrymandering, which carved districts in such a way that schools were racially segregated. Since you could not move the schools, you had to move the kids. The law, not to mention equity, demanded it. Hicks and others, not to put too fine a point on it, did not give a damn about the law.

This South Carolina voter is still undecided. But she’s sure politicians need to do more than just court African American support during election cycles. (Video: The Washington Post)

Busing as an issue eventually faded. It took Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) to revive it and remind us that Joe Biden was on the wrong side of the issue. Harris also reacted to the fact that Biden had made common cause with some of the Senate’s more repugnant racists, such as James O. Eastland (D-Miss.), in opposing busing. In a bit of prepared treacle at last month’s debate, Harris told the story of a young black child who benefited from being bused to a better school. “That little girl was me,” she said — words that now appear on a T-shirt her campaign is selling for $29.99 to $32.99, depending on the size.

Harris’s exhumation of busing was greeted over at Fox News with the delirium usually reserved for striking oil in one’s own backyard. Laura Ingraham was almost at a loss for words as the Democrats endeavored to be the brain-dead party she always said they were. Then, to presumed great glee in Trumpland, Biden did not take Harris to task for a cheap shot, but employing his usual logorrhea, he meandered his way to an explanation that lacked, among other things, clarity. Should Biden become the Democratic nominee, he’s going to have to answer for his party’s sudden fondness for a loathed program no one has much discussed in years.

But the Democratic Party is on a tear. One by one, its candidates have embraced losing issue after losing issue. First came reparations for slavery, a noble idea lacking only popular support and practicality and possibly amounting to yet another attempt to right a wrong with money. Before that, the various candidates raised their hands in support of Medicare-for-all, which could strip millions of people of their private insurance plans. That is sure to be characterized by Trump as socialized medicine with the sick growing old and dying, covered in cobwebs while waiting to see the doctor. GOP strategists must be hyperventilating over all the goodies arrayed before them. This is a campaign even Trump could win.

The Democratic Party has a possibly fatal inability to prioritize. The urgent challenge is to rid the nation of Trump, not to mollify this or that identity group or wrestle over issues that could not be solved when they were relevant — such as busing. As it is, the candidates are campaigning in an America of their own imagination — a bit to the left of Sweden and as racially unified as one of those old Coke commercials. They pander to the extremes of the early caucus and primary states, thinking they can seduce the middle later on down the road or, in my case, giving me a choice of one of them or Trump. Sedate me first.

Eugene Robinson

counterpointTrump won’t fade away. The GOP will have to get rid of him.

Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.

Read more:

Richard Cohen: Joe Biden reeks of insincerity

George F. Will: How can the presidential candidates be so silly?

Paul Waldman: Why Joe Biden’s history on busing matters

Jennifer Rubin: Putting the candidates’ ideas under a bright light

Megan McArdle: Dear Democrats: I’ll vote for any of you. But please nominate someone who can actually win.