Is the Iowa Democratic Party still a big tent? Thoughts from a Webb Democrat

Tyler Mills is a writer in Lee County and a former member of the Lee County Democratic Central Committee.

Note: This post is not implying that former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Jim Webb is still aligned with the Democratic Party. I am simply questioning whether the party is really a big tent any longer, if an honorable individual like Jim Webb cannot gain traction.

Are Democrats who hold views similar to Jim Webb’s still welcome in the party? President Barack Obama missed many opportunities to unite the country during his eight years in office. However, in my opinion, he was still a far better leader than Presidents Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

I wrote this piece because I am worried about the lack of diversity of thought within the Iowa Democratic Party.

We have had trouble recruiting candidates for state legislative races in recent years. I have begun to wonder whether some people have entertained the thought of running for the legislature, but backed off because they would be criticized for taking some moderate positions that would fit their district.

When Democrats last controlled chambers in the Iowa legislature, we had liberal, moderate, and conservative wings in the Democratic caucus. Do we have that now? Why shouldn’t we have that?

The turning point for me came during the 2016 cycle. I began to wonder whether people who hold my views are still welcome in the Democratic Party. The media had lost interest in any serious discussion about how we would try to protect workers by potentially placing union members on corporate boards. They were certainly not interested in expanding criminal justice reform and attempting to give kids in poor neighborhoods a shot at the American Dream.

The whole thing felt like the only thing the media cared about was the Confederate flag. Webb’s campaign had nothing to do with the Confederate flag. His entire life and career have been about lifting up as many people as possible within all demographic groups. His speech to the International Association of Fire Fighters is one of the best political speeches I have ever heard.

The Democratic Party needs a hint of populism, with fiscal sanity being part of that picture. Since the 2016 election, the nation has seen how much Senator Bernie Sanders is willing to support a significant number of vital government programs to help the American people. The question is, how does one realistically pay for those programs? I feel like the Webb campaign could have played a role in answering that question.

I was particularly disappointed with CNN’s Anderson Cooper when he claimed that Webb might have damanged the Americans with Disabilities Act. Cooper could have been kind and thoughtful about the friendships and work that Jim Webb has been involved with on behalf of veterans instead of trying to push him out of the presidential race by implying that he was unwilling to give advancement opportunities to people of color. Cooper owes Senator Webb an apology for implying that Webb does not care about people of color, the poor, or the disabled by reading too much into the idea of re-examining some aspects of affirmative action.

Cooper also owes an apology to those people with disabilities who did or would have supported Webb’s presidential candidacy by insinuating that they would support a candidate opposed to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For someone who never had to worry about whether they would get their next meal in a down economy, Anderson Cooper has no right to belittle people taking serious looks at public policy.

Another question is whether Trump was serious about trade issues and the re-shoring of jobs. During the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton was viewed as the Republican on this issue, and Trump’s rhetoric has permanently damaged the Democratic Party’s image. It raises the valid question of whether Webb Democrats are welcome in the party.

Many Democratic activists also did not take the time to learn more about Webb’s nuanced position on immigration and looked at immigration issues from a humanitarian perspective. Of course, Webb cares deeply about the issues immigrants face as they try to find their footing within the country. His wife, Hong Le, is an immigrant who grew up in New Orleans. But, again, the fact that very few Democratic activists took the time to look at this history may be a sign that the party is becoming too dogmatic in its ideological approach.

The fact that someone like Jim Webb may or may not feel welcome in the Democratic Party may be a sign of trouble for Iowa Democrats and other state parties around the country as they try to rebuild.

Top image: Tyler Mills with presidential candidate Jim Webb in June 2015. Photo Webb campaign staffer Joe Stanley provided by Tyler Mills and published with permission.

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  • Tyler Mills is right on.

    “. . . . . . .a sign that the party is becoming too dogmatic in its ideological approach.”

    Agree with Mills. Could not be a “sign” greater than the results of the 2022 election in Iowa. I am surrounded by friends and acquaintances deploring the Republican agenda in the Statehouse and in the current administration (including Attorney General’s office). This is a result of “unified” control of both chambers of the Legislature plus the Executive branch by the R’s but how did this come about?

    This is the result of the near total meltdown of the Democratic Party in Iowa, beginning at least three election cycles ago, punctuated by the 2020 primary fiasco (we left Lincoln High gym after 2 hours of total chaos) but finally completed in 2022. My take on this disassembly of the party is the circular firing squad represented by the “coastal” ideas and issues the party imported, getting well-ahead of Iowa citizens. We are not early adapters but we get there eventually; meanwhile, the D’s are starting from a very deep hole.

    We have seen the disastrous fiscal results of “unified” government at the Federal level the last two years and now we are seeing similar “cultural” results in Iowa. “Divided” government is always preferable, forcing compromise and serious debate about the few truly significant issues.

    Through their ineptitude the D’s are responsible for our current situation.

  • Below is the part of the post that hit deepest for me, because I remember those years...

    “When Democrats last controlled chambers in the Iowa legislature, we had liberal, moderate, and conservative wings in the Democratic caucus. Do we have that now? Why shouldn’t we have that?”