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Thu Feb 9, 2017, 09:35 PM

A Difficult Choice for Democrats (warning: LONG)

Justin Gest, in The Two Kinds of >Redacted< Voters posits a possible opportunity for Democrats to take into account in building strategy for 2018, 2020, and beyond.

The "exasperated", as he calls them, may be up for grabs. That seems to be his term for the white working class folks, including some former Obama voters, who crossed over to pull the lever for >Redacted< to 'send a message' to all those establishment-co-opted liberal elites or whatever they were blaming Hillary for on November 8th.

For now, let's go along with this and leave the role of misogyny (as powerful and perhaps even more pervasive than racism) out of the equation. Let's stipulate there's a big chunk of disaffected, mostly white people who voted for >Redacted< because they were just so pissed off at how their lives look right now, and they connected it with the Democratic Party ticket somehow.

And let's stipulate that Gest's analysis of what he calls the "Nationalist" segment of >Redacted<'s base is permanently out of reach for the Democratic Party.

Then let's state some assumptions about the most basic (and realistic) short- and intermediate-term goals for the Party (long-term goals are important, too, but we'll bring them in a little later.)

Short-term: Two Gubernatorial elections in 2017, NJ and VA, both up for grabs with term-limited incumbents. Worth putting in the effort to take both.

In 2018 on a national level, at a minimum, we may be able to limit losses in the Senate (23 Dem, 2 Ind and 8 GOP up for re-election- with the best efforts I think we'll still end up at least four more seats behind) but begin making gains in the House. Whether we could flip the 23-25 seats needed for a majority, given how thoroughly gerrymandered the district lines are, is in some doubt, but it's possible. Still, seems more likely we'd end up with a nearly-equal split.

On the state level, we need to start flipping legislatures and governors. The stakes are much higher here, as we'll be prepping for the post-Census redistricting. Some of the most gerrymandered states, especially those with large populations, may be vulnerable and that's worth putting a lot of effort into even if it means letting others slide for another couple of cycles. (Yes, I'm looking at YOU, Texas... but also Florida and Ohio.)

Intermediate-term: Depending on how bad the Senate damage is in 2018, we could get close to an equal split in 2020. 50-50 is worth trying for but not terribly likely unless we have a very strong candidate at the top of the ticket. We need to start working on some consensus about that as soon as possible, as another small-field, hard-fight primary could cook us. We could push a majority in the House with a strong ticket, and if we've done our state-by-state work we might be in position to un-gerrymander a few key states after the Census.

Over and above electoral results, major goals should include, but certainly not be limited to, an un-hackable election process, stronger enforcement of voting rights, and some version of Electoral College reform that (at a minimum) gives us proportional rather than winner-take-all electors. (Would it be nice to get rid of the EC altogether? Possibly, although there are still good arguments either way, and it's not likely a winnable fight in the intermediate term.)

Laying out the board this way leaves Democratic Party strategists with a challenge:

How much and what kind of investment do we make in bringing "exasperateds" into the tent? And which ones? (This I include because although Gest's description seems to focus on the urban working class missing their "smelters and mills", without reference to the whole "forgotten rural America" discussion. I group many of the rural folks with the "exasperateds," because their motivations seem similar. See below.)

Picking apart the 'exasperated' mindset, I see three motivational buttons that the GOP and >Redacted< were able to push effectively:

1. Nostalgia
2. Fear
3. Exasperation

Nostalgia. This is the whole "back when it was better" fantasy. When the farm paid enough to send a kid to college. When the plant had those solid (Union, but funny how that's rarely part of the rosy picture in the rearview mirror...) jobs where a guy could put in forty and take a vacation with the family now and then and retire with dignity. When there was a 'real' downtown in the small towns, not just a few big-box stores out on the highway and a lot of shuttered, decaying buildings on Main street. Memory simplifies things. The good things seem brighter and less complicated. The stuff we worried about then is past, too, and so seems less awful in the face of present awfulness we have no idea how to deal with. Which leads to...

Fear. That's a big one and an easy button to push. There's a lot of very real things to worry voters who live from paycheck to paycheck in shitty jobs (if they have jobs at all.) A big helping of fake news, some conspiracy theories, a few scapegoats, and you can direct those fears squarely at the 'uncaring elites sipping their latte's downtown in the Financial District and not giving a rat's ass about YOU.' Sure, most of the things these voters fear have their roots in corporate oligarchy and their GOP helots. But that's effectively obscured when Democrats are easily painted as just as reliant on big lobbyist money, and just as protective of a status quo that gives these voters the fuzzy side of the lollipop. Which brings us to...

Exasperation. This is the most psychological factor of all. Take any of these voters aside and ask them which candidate in their memory made the biggest impression or the strongest connection to them, and you'll get any of several answers. But they'll mostly fall into two categories: First, the candidate who showed up where they were, and looked them in the eye, and seemed to care about what they thought or wanted or even said. Second, the candidate whose utterances, on teevee or wherever, sounded like the voice in their own head. The voice that identifies 'what's wrong' and 'how to fix it.' The stronger the correlation, the bigger the impression. And it's fairly clear that they haven't had that experience with many Democrats.

Democrats' messaging is part of the problem, because we're reluctant to over-simplify complex problems, to propose simple band-aid solutions we know damn' well won't produce lasting results, and very reluctant indeed to promise the undeliverable: return to the 'better time' when everything was simple and right and good and understandable.

Democrats keep wanting to explain and to educate. We keep wanting to respect the minds we know voters must have, even when they're blindly following their emotions. We keep wanting to be honest about what's do-able, what's deliverable. We keep talking about the trade-offs and the costs, and how we can't deliver all of what interest group A wants, without being unfair to interest group B.

But the exasperateds don't want to hear it.

We cannot promise to restore the economy to status quo 1965, when a high school diploma and a (Union) job in a local mine, mill, or factory produced economic security for millions of (white) families. What can we promise, without complications, ambiguities, ifs ands or buts?

We can promise to build a new economy that will provide economic security and opportunity for children through an evolving structure that will put more control in the hands of workers. Instead of relying on big-brother mega-employers to provide both wages and benefits sufficient to allow families to live well, we can ensure the most important benefits (health care, retirement security, educational costs within reach for our children) stay with the worker no matter what. We can invest in employers and businesses who share our vision for sustainable communities of all sizes, from rural areas protecting the land and producing quality foodstuffs, to small towns connected by a vibrant transit and communications infrastructure, to livable big cities full of neighborhoods and opportunity.

We need not push the fear button, but we can tear away the veil of fake news and conspiracy theories, and shine the spotlight of reality sharply on precisely how the GOP is perpetuating the things they fear, and making them worse, for the benefit of the one-tenth of one percent cavorting at Mar-a-Lago and rolling K Street money into Republican coffers. (Of course, we'll have to do a little house cleaning, to make this one really effective, won't we?)

We need to go big on going local. We need to invite the exasperateds to the local Party organization, listen to them, give them a chance to help us. We need to get them running for the most basic local offices. And we need to have our candidates and office holders there at the local level wherever and whenever possible. Listening. Looking into people's eyes. Shaking their hands. Sharing a coffee. Asking "what do you think of this?" and "What matters more to you, if I have a tough choice to make?"

And finally, we need to build a consensus, among ourselves, starting now, for new top-of-the-ticket leadership and what it will look like and what messages they will carry. Now is the time when it's okay to be messy and scrappy and contentious, so yeah, keep arguing. But always with the bigger picture in mind and the reality that every one of us will have to compromise, to give on something that matters to us personally, in order to make a bigger impact.

I'm not saying that we have to give up on our "go to the wall for it" issues. We all have them. And I will never, ever stop pushing for the rights of women to control our own bodies, and the need to save our planet's ability to sustain life. But sometimes I can see past the speed bumps. I will never stop pushing for those things, but if one of them HAS to take a back seat for the other one to make a few steps forward, I'll deal. (And yeah, I'll bring it back around in the long run.)

I said I'd get back to the long-range goals, because they are important. Here it is: There's a trade-off we've all been too willing to make, in the past. A trade-off between "not having to pay attention to the messy bits of government of, by, and for the people" and "worrying about the future of our children." Any snake-oil salesman coming along with a pitch for 'the easy way' has a quick sale when we don't want to have to spend our evenings in community center meeting rooms talking about choices between raising the mill rate and letting the junior high class size creep upwards.

The long range goal is a better understanding, for all of us, of the trade-offs between the value of getting exactly what we want for ourselves, and living in a community where everyone shares benefits, responsibilities, and choices. The long range goal is a clearer understanding of how big and complex and interdependent all the various parts of our economy are on all of us, and how many diverse gifts and requirements we all bring to the table to balance among ourselves. It'll never be easy and it'll always be more work than we want to do.

But in this political environment, I think it's our only positive choice, as a long-term goal. We can disagree on which of several states or districts we should put the most effort into for those 2017 governor's races, or which immigration strategy will serve us best in the 2020 race. But if we keep the long term goal in mind, we'll make better short and intermediate-term choices, and have better success. Of that, I'm confident.

long-windedly,
Bright



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Reply A Difficult Choice for Democrats (warning: LONG) (Original post)
TygrBright Feb 2017 OP
Trust Buster Feb 2017 #1

Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Thu Feb 9, 2017, 10:20 PM

1. I think the analysis of our chance in 2018 and 2020 was spot on.

 

I have two issues with the OP.

1 - All of the issues that the author suggests that we communicate to the people has been boiler plate Democratic messaging for awhile. The people chose to ignored it. The author claims that Democrats waste their time trying to educate voters just to compile a list off issues of which he suggests we educate voters on.

2 - This fascination with reaching out to the Trump voter frustrates me. 46% of eligible voters DID NOT VOTE IN 2016. They should be our target. Trump acted like a hateful madman on the campaign trail for 18 months. In my opinion, investing precious time and resources turning those voters when the non-voters dwarf the Trump voters in numbers makes absolutely no sense to me.

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