Doug Jones' lesson for Democrats: Voters want a vision

With a major victory in Alabama, Democrats must utilize their momentum and put forth a message for voters

By Charlie May

Published December 13, 2017 12:58PM (EST)

Doug Jones (AP/Brynn Anderson)
Doug Jones (AP/Brynn Anderson)

The Democrats came away with a historic upset victory in Alabama on Tuesday night, and while it was certainly a devastating blow to the Trump administration and the Republican Party, perspective is important: There's still a long road ahead to achieve lasting progress.

Tuesday's election represented a just loss for a uniquely disgraced candidate more than it represented any significant trend that flipped a deeply red state to blue. There's still plenty of work to be done on that front, if it's achievable at all.

To put it in perspective, Tuesday's write-in vote total was higher than Democrat Doug Jones' margin of victory over accused child abuser Roy Moore.

The Democrats were heavily reliant on a high turnout from black Alabamians, and luckily, they were able to achieve that. But low-income and working-class families — predominantly ones of color — have largely been the ones on the wrong end of the Wall Street-friendly policies that the Democrats have championed in recent decades.

It goes without saying that the Republican Party has been no better when it comes to putting forth policies that benefit working-class Americans, but they've been able to tap into, and have near-fully embraced, the anti-establishment wave that swept the country in the lead up to the 2016 election.

In other words, the Democrats still need to complete their due diligence and provide voters a galvanizing message that offers a forward progressive vision. This is not to necessarily argue that a more progressive candidate would have outperformed Doug Jones; that's quite likely not the case in Alabama. Jones is projected to be a conservative Democrat, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. However, Tuesday night should serve as an awakening for the Democratic Party, and it should realize it sits atop a gold mine: a deeply unpopular ruling party and president.

It's vital that Democrats take advantage of the resentment their counterparts are currently engendering by putting forth candidates that offer something rather than being a lukewarm alternative. With more than 20 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018, and 10 being in states won by Trump in 2016, there is still an uphill battle ahead. Tuesday proved the party can succeed when it's unified against someone, but it needs to be able to succeed while unified against a vision because, agree with it or not, that's what has motivated voters to support candidates like Moore and Trump.

Republicans are already looking for a scapegoat. But whether they place the blame on those who pulled their support for Moore too early, or former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, the Democrats must view it as an opportunity — their counterparts are on shaky ground.

Jones' win is a step towards future success for the Democrats in 2018.

Alabama native and former NBA star Charles Barkley, who campaigned for Jones, shouldn't be viewed as a go-to political commentator, but his words on election night were nonetheless significant and ring true for plenty of Americans.

"This is a wake up call for Democrats," Barkley said. "They've taken the black vote and the poor vote for granted for a long time. It's time for them to get off their ass and start making life better for black votes and people who are poor."

He added, "They've always had our votes and they have abused our votes and this is a wake up call."

Charlie May

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