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We Need a Clyburn Day
Jim Clyburn put Democrats back on a path to victory, but the emerging pandemic obscured those lessons. It is time to reflect on his role in 2020 & what it means for the future.
A year ago today, the Democratic Party averted what could have been a disaster for the party.
For that, we owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to a congressman from my home state; a man whose role in American democracy will still be tabulated for years to come. But how Democrats persevered - and what it means for the future - has been left largely underappreciated during a year in which we lurched from crisis to crisis. The time is now to pause and reflect on what one leader did for America.
U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who cut his teeth in politics advocating for underpaid hospital workers, and his decision to endorse President Joe Biden three days before the South Carolina primary that set Biden on a path to the nomination, deserves the thanks of every American who believes our government should be a competition of views, not a non-stop steamship of ideological purity.
Covid Derailed Reflection on the Primary
But that swift victory encompassed just 11 days. Fourteen long months after Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the first major candidate to declare, the primary wrapped up rapidly between the Feb. 29 South Carolina primary and the functional end of the primary campaign on March 10, with Super Tuesday sandwiched in between.
The battle and opportunity to define Democrats ended briskly, almost as mood music, while the nation became consumed by the pandemic instead of internalizing the irrefutable fact that Democratic primary voters had rejected the divisive rhetoric of the far left in favor of a big-tent unifyer.
It truly felt as if one minute I was (maskless) roaming the lively streets of Charleston, abuzz with excitement for the South Carolina debate and upcoming primary, and the next minute I was sheltering in place from a virus that descended on our country quickly and unrelentingly.
Our work with The Welcome Party, an effort to build a Big-Tent Democratic Party that advances progress and curtails division, centers demonstrating our appreciation for Whip Clyburn by paying attention to some of the vocabulary we use to express our patriotism and our insistence that this country moves forward, not in reverse. The morning Whip Clyburn announced his support for Biden, we were gathered in a conference room of the beautiful Hotel Bennett in Charleston, where we heard from former Republicans and current Democrats their sentiments on why changes in rhetoric were necessary for the future of the Democratic Party.
All of that glorious momentum the final week of February slipped through our fingers the moment Covid-19 became a national pandemic. Now, it’s time to close the loop.
The Case for Clyburn Day
In honor of this anniversary, why not host the Inaugural Clyburn Day? As state-level Democratic parties have been casting about to rename their Jefferson-Jackson dinners -- major fundraising and organizing events for state parties across the country -- why not have a Clyburn Dinner instead?
Clyburn steered the party away from further polarization that would have led to a second Trump term. And Biden’s early weeks prove he is a President who fosters healing rather than acrimony. Clyburn chose well. Following his lead, voters did, too.
The unique elements of the 2020 primary also obscured a larger point: since 2018, American voters had been urged by party fringes to adopt a bellicose stance. Fight. Fight. But, after a lengthy overture, the drama was resolved in weeks by a coalition-builder who does want to fight -- just not among one another. Unfortunately, that message was largely lost in the maelstrom of the pandemic and swiftness of the primary’s crucial, decisive final weeks when Democratic primary voters rejected the far Left in favor of a Big-Tent moderate.
If it feels like our democracy has been on a knife’s edge in recent times, that’s because it has. People of goodwill and patriotism should rally to the democratic cause. And the same could be said of the Party: At a critical juncture, able to do amazing things if we set aside some of what divides us and pull together on those things that unite us.
Jim Clyburn, the good people of South Carolina, and Black and moderate voters from Super Tuesday states deserve credit for delivering us from what would have been a calamitous second Trump term. Frankly, that coalition represents a healthy swath of the modern American electorate, and Democrats would do well to pay heed to its proclivities earlier in the process.
In the Democratic primary’s flash-bang denouement, the lesson was shrouded: by the pandemic, Trump’s foolishness and iniquities, the general cacophony of a crowded primary. But the lesson should be learned nonetheless: Biden won because he viewed the campaign as a means to govern, not the inverse.
And not govern as a destructive force, but as someone who can help us achieve compromise, not chaos. Humanity, not horror. That was the path out of the Democratic primary and back to the White House. That is a path we cannot stray from in 2022. That is a path that is tempting to stray from, and we must pause to consider why it should be well-worn.
So let’s have Clyburn Day and Clyburn Dinners. That’d be a really good party.