Kind of embarrassing to admit it, but until about two years ago, I didn’t even know that Jefferson/Jackson events were still held in some Maryland counties. Guess I’m just an elitist left-wing nutball guy from Montgomery County. Oh, wait - actually I am, minus the elitist, anyway.
For nearly a century, Democrats have honored two men as the founders of their party: Thomas Jefferson, for his visionary expression of the concept of equality, and Andrew Jackson, for his populist spirit and elevation of the common man.
Political candidates and activists across the country have flocked to annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners, where speeches are given, money is raised, and the party celebrates its past and its future.
But these time-honored rituals are colliding with a modern Democratic Party more energized by a desire for racial and gender inclusion than reverence for history. And state by state, Democratic activists are removing the names of Jefferson and Jackson from party gatherings, saying the two men no longer represent what it means to be a Democrat.
The moves in many states are not without their opponents.
The move to erase Jefferson and Jackson is not being welcomed by all Democrats. Some of them fear the party loses what has long been its unifying philosophy by removing the names of founders, whose virtues and flaws illuminated the way forward. And they worry that as the labor movement declines, cultural liberalism is beginning to eclipse a fundamental message of economic equality that brought about some of the party’s most important achievements, from the New Deal to Medicaid.
“What does the Democratic Party stand for?’’ asked Andrei Cherny, a Democratic writer and a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton. “Jefferson and Jackson and the ideas they stood for, spreading economic opportunity and democracy, were the beginnings of what was the Democratic Party. That is what unified the party across regional and other lines for most of the last 200 years. Now what unites everybody from Kim Kardashian to a party activist in Kansas is cultural liberalism and civil rights.”
What does the Democratic Party stand for? It represents its constituents - labor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, trial lawyers (yay!)’ liberals, and other groups. What it does not stand for is a couple of long dead white slave owners who are the antithesis of much of what the party seeks to accomplish today. History and tradition is all well and good, I clearly believe that, but traditions and symbols must change to meet the changing needs and meeting identity of the people - real people - that we as a political movement claim to stand for. I agree with this:
It’s good to see Democrats move away from Jefferson/Jackson dinners at the state level. There’s no real reason to tie the party to two long dead white slaveowning men who believed in white agrarian rule. I’m more ambiguous about dropping Jefferson since at least he had ideals modern Democrats can believe in, hypocrite as he may have been, as opposed to Jackson where there is nothing positive to remember. But fine. I’m significantly less concerned with the complaining of party elites that this move takes the party away from fighting for economic democracy.
Remind me how much regular voters in 2015 are moved to vote for Democrats because of Andrew Jackson’s position on white male democracy? Oh right, none. And even if past figures did help define a modern party publicly, Jefferson and Jackson don’t do that for Democrats. If we want to rename these dinners Roosevelt/Kennedy, fine. I’d rather it be LBJ but obviously that little Vietnam thing makes that impossible. But while I think historical memory matters a lot, it only matters if people actually remember the history. Normal people don’t care what these dinners are called. Politically aware liberals rightfully remember Jackson especially as a person who did awful things. But no one, and I mean no one, is going to assume the Democrats won’t support working people because they changed the name of elite party events to reflect someone less offensive than Old Hickory.
All this said, the odds that we will be getting rid of JJ dinners in Maryland are about equal to Larry Hogan getting a comprehensive independent redistricting plan passed into law. And for precisely the same reasons.