A Moral Minority

Martin Karaffa
5 min readNov 10, 2016


Dear Democratic Party: Your crocodile tears for the workers of America were too little, too late.

You should have felt the Bern. And done it decades ago, without the need for an independent Senator from Vermont to explain the obvious. Namely, that leaders need to make a positive case for every government programme, and to enforce fair taxes, paid by all.

I registered as a Democrat when I moved to New York. Hillary Clinton was my Senator, with an office a few blocks away.

Though I’m a supporter, Democrat policy has cost me plenty.

I’m gay. Attempts by a Democrat administration in the nineties to “negotiate” with religious loonies on gay rights were utterly counterproductive.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell derailed the inclusion programs which the military was working on at the time, and created a worse outcome.

In 1996, a Democratic President said that while he didn’t endorse the Defence of Marriage Act, which forbade the federal government from recognising gay partnerships, he opposed same-gender marriage in principle. A majority of Democrat senators voted for DOMA shortly thereafter, making it veto-proof.

Explain how you could be against legalising gay marriage and against a law against gay marriage? Your cack-handed have-it-both-ways political non-position yielded an unjust, unconstitutional law. A law which, as an American citizen with a foreign-born same-sex partner, affected me personally, and profoundly. Not to mention expensively.

I’m an American who lives in Europe. Sanders supported Same Country Safe Harbor reforms to FATCA, as well as reforming foreign bank account reporting (FBAR) and advocating residence based taxation (RBT). Secretary Clinton didn’t support these policy changes, and the party platform echoes her. As a result, do you know how many banks refuse to deal with American citizens? Have you stopped to consider that you are depriving me of a right to financial privacy which every other American enjoys? Shall I send the DNC a bill for how much you have cost me?

On these subjects, you remain deaf to the urgent pleas of Democrats Abroad. That’s your party branch serving a constituency which best estimates put at 4.3 million people, and some place as high as nine million. Would you dare face your branches in Kentucky or Michigan, and tell them to take a hike? (Perhaps, for many years and in many ways, you did).

You blew the political capital you earned from steering America through the 2008 financial crisis. You didn’t prosecute corrupt bankers and brokers.

You failed to make the (easy) case for the long-term positive effects of immigration. And refused to say how we, as a nation, can manage the short term disruptions.

Too late, you acknowledged the harm the Three Strikes policy caused. And the inherent racism which underpinned it.

You were dragged, kicking and screaming, into endorsing something as innocuous as marijuana legalisation. It was added to the party platform — by a single vote — in July 2016. The electorate proved that they were ahead of you, legalising it decisively at the ballot box. A change in policy which 60% of Americans support. Are you really a progressive party? Or are you just asleep?

You failed to point out that the only way to guarantee religious freedom is with completely secular government.

You made a VP pick who is deeply, publicly religious; whose liberalism is apparently “…driven by Jesuit ideals.” This, when you desperately needed the vote of Millennials, the least religious generation of Americans, ever. How can you maintain you’re against sexism, corruption and tax avoidance, and still put cash in a Catholic collection plate, Senator Kaine?

You should feel relieved that the biggest issue in the election was rogue emails. And not, say, your failure to prosecute war crimes.

During a previous US election, I sat in the audience at Amerika Haus here in Munich, to see an ill-prepared debater from Democrats Abroad get trashed by a Trump-like Republican. A debate that could have been won by sharing a vision, rather than an agenda.

You’re caught in the Stockholm Syndrome. Conservatives kidnapped you.

You go after Republican voters, when the key to victory lies in your own natural constituency — progressives. The young and energetic, the old and wise, the ambitious, the idealistic, the students, the optimists, the impatient, the restless. The book-smart and the street-smart. The hard workers who need a chance. The middle class whose material needs have been met, and so have the freedom to pursue bigger goals — they can be, as they always have been, the engine of progress. And of the progressive movement.

There were plenty of those folk among the 47% of America who didn’t turn up to vote. A disproportionate number of them were your tribe.

You can find these people among every social, racial, gender, ethnic, age and economic group. In every part of the country.

My vote, and the vote of millions like me, couldn’t save you. The opportunity for the USA to have its first female president has been squandered.

Squandered not by the candidate herself, though her behaviour often didn’t help. But squandered by decades of poor policy and cynical compromise. You were like a lemon calling an orange, citrus.

We now have an orange in charge. Well done.

What now? I’m an adman, so here’s my professional opinion.

First, change your name. You need a rebrand.

Second, get the ground game working. In 2008, Obama built a genuine grass-roots digital-native movement. When he handed this structure to the DNC for use in the mid-terms, you pissed that resource against a wall. In 2016, your candidate organized her ground game well enough, but her opponent’s ground game was better. Not because he organized it — he can’t even organise his thoughts from tweet to tweet— but because it arose spontaneously amongst believers. All those T-shirts came from somewhere, and it wasn’t him.

EDIT: Times have changed in the years since I published this piece, haven’t they? The cut and thrust remains the same. But I’d simply remove the word “spontaneously”.

Third, use the ground troops to get serious about tackling voter suppression. Do it between elections, so it doesn’t appear motivated by political advantage.

Fourth, prepare for a new McCarthyism. Resist it. Defy it. Don’t cave like lefties did in the middle of the 20th century.

Fifth, vision before policy. Why before what. And leave the how out of it — the how is your job. The electorate gives you no points for the elegance of your delicately-triangulated policy negotiations. They look at what you actually achieved.

That’s just my professional advice. My advice, as a citizen and a human being, is to measure yourself by higher moral standards.

Yes, you maintain higher moral standards than your Republican opponents, and I endorse you for it. But let me remind you, that’s hardly the moral high ground.

You painted pragmatism as the ultimate political virtue, and swept the sellout of your principles under the rug.

Over the decades, your policies have not only disappointed me greatly, but screwed me royally. And I’m your pal. Imagine how it looked to those who aren’t.



Martin Karaffa

Marty is an independent strategy consultant specialising in global brands and communications. He is also an Associate Partner of The Culture Factor.