Hillary Clinton hysteria shows Democrats are asking themselves the wrong questions

Clinton blames Comey, DNC for election loss
Clinton blames Comey, DNC for election loss

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Clinton blames Comey, DNC for election loss 01:15

(CNN)President Donald Trump is withdrawing the US from a global climate deal. His Justice Department is cracking down on nonviolent drug offenders and amping up prosecutions against non-criminal undocumented immigrants. Senate Republicans are taking aim at Obamacare.

And the Democrats... what are the Democrats talking about?
For the past 24 hours, the No. 1 issue in Democratic circles has been Hillary Clinton. Even as most elected officials and the new party leadership try to steer clear of the latest firestorm -- and steady the focus on more pressing matters -- the party establishment's chattering class and the progressive grassroots have displayed a rare unity. They want to discuss Clinton.
From the Sanders wing, the familiar tides of scorn and derision are flowing apace. It doesn't take much from Clinton to drive up a progressive's blood pressure. Those hard feelings are set in place. So when the former Democratic party presidential nominee rolls out a line like, "I take responsibility for every decision I make -- but that's not why I lost" to Trump, the collective thrombosis is never far behind.
    And while the Berniecrats writhe, and tweet, Clinton diehards line up in her defense. Criticism, no matter the tone or validity, is rejected out-of-hand and cast as either unwitting moral failure, political naïveté or, worse, the crass expression of something deplorable in the critic.
    "If you're still wagging your self-righteous finger at Hillary after everything we've seen from Team Trump, you're part of the problem," onetime Clinton adviser Peter Daou, now among her most voracious online partisans, tweeted Wednesday evening.
    This is the state of Democratic party politics in the opening months of the Trump era. Two sides, relatively close on most policy points, but riven by personality and personal grievance. Animating it all is a pervasive anger at the results of the 2016 election. And a desire to pin blame. Clinton loyalists are mad at Sanders supporters (and adjacent subgroups) for damaging the eventual nominee during an unexpectedly competitive primary. On the left, Clinton's defeat in the general election -- after being hand-delivered, as many still believe, the nomination by the DNC -- is held up as evidence of the liberal establishment's corruption and impotence.
    One of the many ironies here is that on the eve of the election the two sides were moving, not unhappily, toward an optimistic détente. Clinton was going to be president and they, the progressive left, were poised to have a seat at the table.
    "Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, but she is the consummate politician," Max Berger, co-founder of #AllOfUs, a millennial progressive group now focused in part on supporting potential primary challenges to sitting Democrats, told me as early voting kicked off in 2016. "She knows which way the wind blows and she points herself in that direction. So we're going to do everything we can to make sure she knows that the wind is blowing in our direction."
    When the prevailing gusts ended up delivering Trump to the White House, Democrats were left to hammer out their differences in less forgiving circumstances. Some, mostly on Capitol Hill and among the party elite, have turned their energies toward prosecuting the President's alleged ties to Russia, viewing it as means of undermining his agenda and weakening or breaking GOP congressional majorities. Clinton's loss is treated more as a tactical defeat or historical blip than a blaring alarm.
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    The left, meanwhile, is clamoring for emergency measures. Their take: Tear the whole thing down and rebuild it with a more progressive agenda -- a reorganizing of priorities and messaging designed to appeal more readily to the working class.
    This is, in extremely broad strokes, the fundamental quandary facing the Democrats as the 2018 midterm elections near. Political handicappers sense a wave election could be brewing. But if the party has any hope of succeeding -- defined here as winning back control of the House and holding the line in the Senate -- it needs to strike some kind of equilibrium.
    Getting there might first require open political warfare. Fights over the DNC's role and allocation of resources, like we've seen in the aftermath of a recent run of special elections, can be ugly, but they are rooted in valuable, instructive disputes. The challenge will be in framing them that way.
    When Sanders backed Heath Mello, a progressive with a fuzzy record on abortion rights, in the latter's campaign for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, the party was faced with a familiar conundrum: Where does economic populism begin and end? And what is the best path for Democrats in socially conservative parts of the country? The DNC would effectively disavow Mello, who lost a race he was unlikely to win in the first place. If anyone learned anything useful from the episode, they've yet to articulate it publicly.
    And so we return to Clinton.
    Whether or not the state of the DNC data operation was "mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong," in early 2016, as she put it on Wednesday, is not high up on the list of issues facing the party right now. Nor are the sundry other complaints lodged by the former nominee during a long interview. But Clinton didn't suggest they were.
    But bleating over Clinton's every utterance, telling her to stop talking and step aside -- or keep shouting for what she believes! -- is a diversion, an opportunity to exercise frustration and regret. It's not a strategy, or the beginning of one, for fixing what is broken in the party. This aversion to confronting the substantive issues head-on, rather than via everyone's favorite proxy, or making tough compromises, is looking like an increasingly sure bet to scuttle Democratic efforts, in 2018 and beyond, to reclaim power.