Saturday, May 13, 2017

Democrats: What Now?

I recently read that the NY Attorney General plans to sue if House healthcare legislation becomes law. There are some things to consider about the current state of American politics. These ideas apply equally to people across the political spectrum but given the way power works it's usually the people out of power who have cause to take them to heart.

Legislatures decide policy, not constitutionality. The courts decide whether something is constitutional or not. Courts (usually) do not pick among different policy choices. Just because someone is pursuing a policy preference you truly despise doesn't automatically mean it's unconstitutional. The courts can't and shouldn't rule on the political merits of a given policy. There is a whole universe of policy initiatives that I don't like but which are not unconstitutional. Suing your way to your preferred policy outcomes won't work in most cases. In short, the courts will not save you from all of the effects of a Trump Presidency and Republican control of both chambers of Congress. Only the people can do that. Like it or not Trump won. Right now the only people who can legally remove him from office are other Republicans. That's because, drunk on moral certainty, starting around 2010 Democrats forgot how to win seats. 

On policy questions, no political party or movement can accomplish much without winning over voters. Obtaining voter support doesn't mean that you must agree with every "deplorable" voter stance. It does mean though that you must visit the voters, listen to them, be seen to work on their issues, and build both a logical and emotional argument on why you and your policy are their best options. Hectoring them and lecturing them don't work.

Peremptory white hot enraged righteous dismissal of large swaths of the electorate can be fun and even pay well for authors, youtube personalities, academics, actors, media analysts, protesters, and dare I say bloggers. But usually that's not a smart option for politicians. The past eight years have seen too many Democratic thought leaders fall into the trap of dismissing almost all opposition as not only wrongheaded but entirely illegitimate. The Democratic Party put all of its eggs in the basket of future demographic change. The problem with this approach is (1) the future isn't here yet and (2) that demographic change might not be as fiercely Democratic as once thought. Heck the demographic change itself might be halted or even reversed if some right-wingers have their way. Where the Democrats move politically is a different conversation. I'm just saying that Democrats must reconnect with more people outside of the traditional coastal Democratic strongholds. You don't need to swallow silly Palinesque exclusionary ideas about "heartland real Americans" to realize that this is a big country with lots of different folks.

Democrats pointed out Trump's bigotry; Black voter turnout dropped. Slightly more Blacks and Hispanics voted for Trump than a Republican would usually get. Democrats dinged Trump on his sexist remarks and behavior; most White women voted for Trump. Democrats illuminated Trump's fat cat status, use of illegal immigrant labor and history of cheating his workers and contractors; much of the industrial Midwest voted for Trump. And so on. I'm not saying that the Republican Party has not become the preferred home for many white nationalists, white supremacists and other assorted lowlifes who just don't like black people one bit. It certainly has. And it's been trending that way since at least Goldwater. Trump skillfully exploited a lot of anxiety white voters had. I do not think that anyone should downplay, deny or apologize for the obvious racism that inspires many Republican base voters. The Democratic Party still must figure out a way to make a pitch towards reachable voters that acknowledges their fears but also appeals to their hopes, self-interest and better nature. This isn't easy. If I knew how to do that I wouldn't be here. I'd be getting handsomely paid to win elections. But I do know that simply yelling racist! or sexist! or homophobic! or greedy! at everyone doesn't win their vote. These missteps indicate that the Democrats should think about why their approach failed. 

I didn't invent this analogy but I think it's still relevant. Let's say I see you drinking a glass of dirty water and I want you to stop. Will I be effective if I tell you that only a stupid inbred muyerfuyer like you who comes from a long line of stupid inbred muyerfuyers drinks dirty water. Well maybe. You could be a mentally slow person with an unfortunate family tree. Sometimes shame motivates. But I'll probably have a better chance at changing your behavior if I sit down and pull out my own glass of clean drinking water. I explain why I drink clean water, what you will gain from doing the same and hopefully influence you to reason towards your own (correct) decision. 

What is popular and obvious in Massachusetts must be explained differently and reworked for consumption in Ohio. Democrats should make more arguments about why their preferred policies are good for American citizens first and foremost. That their policies may help non-citizens or the world in general is an extra benefit but Democrats would be foolish to make that their primary selling point. Only American citizens vote in American elections. When Democrats frantically recoil from an "America First" theme like a vampire from a crucifix, they've already lost. Although things look dire for Democrats now, that can change quickly. The country didn't suddenly become more racist in 2010. It's not a time for despair. It's not a time to fret over "normalizing" Trump or yell "Impeachment!" over every Trump silliness. It is a time to get more people registered to vote throughout the nation. It is a time to listen to voters in the Midwest and Rust Belt. It is a time to talk to people who switched from Democrat to Republican to learn why they changed. It is a time to reconsider and rework messaging, focus and outreach. Always Be Closing. That's how you take back some seats in 2018 and beat Trump in 2020--assuming he doesn't get bored and resign.

Or don't change a thing. Continue to scream that you're here to smash the eurocentric cis-het patriarchal nationalistic racist transphobic misogynist ableist homophobic power structure. And continue to be surprised when you lose elections.
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