Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Moving Forward

In a little over two weeks, donald drumpf (the caps were omitted intentionally, because he disgusts me) will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. There is a lot of ink being spilled over the fact that nobody except Ted Nugent wants to perform at the inauguration, and that he is (at best) intellectually incurious, and (most likely) wholly unqualified for this office. The "liberal media" (defined by the Republican Party as "anything that isn't Breitbart, RedState, or Fox News") is offering up the usual op-eds by significant figures about how drumpf promised to "drain the swamp" but is instead stocking it with bottom-feeders, and how he is turning his kids into a shadow Cabinet, and how the "alt-right" (a term created this election cycle to describe white supremacists, homophobes, xenophones, and generally unpleasant bigots with one term) has "become emboldened" (like they really needed an excuse ... they weren't "emboldened," it was simply a case of the media realizing that it was all of a sudden acceptable to put that crap on primetime TV).

All this is well and good, I suppose, but it does nothing to provide a path forward for the majority of the people in this country who did NOT vote for drumpf. There are post-mortems, finger-pointing, shouts from the right to accept that we lost and get over it (extremely ironic that, in one instance, a crowd of yahoos waving the Confederate battle flag would take that stance, but whatever), and exhortations to keep the calls coming to your elected representatives to keep 'em honest (which was a big part of the reason the measure to hobble the Congressional Ethics Office was abandoned -- good work, folks!).

Now is the time that we need to start looking forward to 2018, and it's going to be a battle. A major battle:

Campaign funding.
It's no secret that Republicans are better at raising money. This is accomplished mainly through the use of nativist fear tactics. In 2008 and 2012, Obama was the Kenyan Muslim atheist boogeyman (and yes, I know one can't be a Muslim and an atheist simultaneously. This doesn't matter in the fact-free environment our elections have become). They are going to raise more money in 2018, and there's going to be a lot of dark money at play. We need to step up our fundraising game. Look, I get it ... it's ugly and unsavory to pin election outcomes on the almighty dollar. The fact remains, though, that (with the exception of drumpf himself, who is an outlier) money talks in an election cycle, and whoever has the most cash generally has the loudest voice. And to anyone holding their breath waiting for Citizens United to be overturned? Ya might as well start breathing deep now. You're gonna need it.

Gerrymandering.
The GOP played it smart in the early 2000s. Rather than focusing primarily on Federal races (which is what Democrats were doing .. after all, the Presidency is sexier than local county clerk or state representative), the GOP put significant resources into getting people elected at the local, county, and states levels. The result of this was that, by 2010, they had 33 governorships, majorities in both houses in 25 states, and majorities in one or the other house in eight others. The end result of all this was that, when the 2010 redistricting came around, they were able to draw Congressional districts that made it next to impossible for Democrats to win a majority in the House of Representatives. For example, in 2012 Republican Congressional candidates won 48% of the vote statewide in Pennsylvania, yet managed to capture 13 out of 18 Congressional seats. In Pennsylvania's 7th District, incumbent Pat Meehan won handily against Mary Ellen Balchunis in both 2014 and 2016, despite the fact that he barely even campaigned and had virtually no accomplishments on which to fall back.

Dog Whistles.
The Republican Party has become the party of fear and anxiety. Just listen to some of the things that were said this past election cycle -- about Mexicans being rapists and murderers, about how this country was going to hell, about ISIS attacking us on our soil -- and look at the effect these messages had on the voting population. For a certain segment, these were exactly the right things to say to get them energized. And it worked in that we now have a President-Elect who is intellectually, temperamentally, and ethically unsuited for office.

Arrogance.
We need to face it. Some of the accusations against progressives -- that we sometimes act like intellectual elites speaking down to the "unwashed masses," that we dismissed drumpf voters as a bunch of slack-jawed knuckle-draggers with no real electoral power, and so on -- were absolutely true. They still are. I read op-ed pieces -- in the New York Times, the L. A. Times, the Washington Post, among others -- that adopt an undercurrent of "look at these idiots. They elected a cartoon character" instead of trying to understand what motivated them. These are real people, with (for the most part) real concerns, and we simply dismissed them as comic relief. To our detriment.

So what do we need to do going forward?

First and foremost, we need to reach out to the "disaffected" drumpf voter. These are the people who put their faith in an outsider to "Make America Great Again" and are discovering that they were conned. The most important aspect of this outreach effort? We cannot display pity or contempt for them simply because they believed the lies. Look, every candidate makes campaign promises that aren't kept. Whether because they underestimated the problem they were seeking to address, or assumed more political support than was actually there, or simply lied, every politician has, at some point or another, made a campaign promise that didn't come to pass. The difference between every other politician and drumpf is that he doesn't even pretend like he ever meant any of the things he said. He has flat out told his supporters, for example, that while "Lock Her Up!" made for great TV on the campaign trail ... well, "you're over it now, right?"

We need to engage drumpf voters as equals. We need to actually listen to them and hear their concerns. We need to make the case for the progressive agenda ... not explaining why this measure or that proposal will be good for them, but actually engage them, hear their concerns and suggestions, and try to find common ground on issues that matter to them. We need to make them a part of the conversation. Sure, we're not going to agree on many points, and I suspect a lot of them will not be able to get past the "vote the party, not the candidate" straitjacket, but it will go a long way toward legitimizing progressive causes in the eyes of some Republicans.

And sure, there may be times that some explanation is necessary. We must do this without being patronizing, and instead focus on how our positions will benefit them personally. For example, pointing out that the Republicans want to do away with many worker protections (minimum wage, food stamps, and so on) while lining their own pockets with tax cuts aimed at the wealthiest 1%, and showing them how they stand to benefit from our stances on these issues and issues like them will at least make a dent.

Second, we need to seriously amplify our Get Out The Vote efforts, and this cannot be limited to driving people to polls on Election Day or phone banking. While these are valid measures, in order to overcome the gerrymandering we need to ramp up efforts to register new voters. This will include championing legislation to allow high school students to register if they will be turning eighteen by the date of the general election; pushing for automatic voter registration upon reaching age eighteen or while applying for or renewing a driver's license, and repealing discriminatory voter ID laws that are designed to suppress the vote from non-Republicans.

Third, we need to adopt a page or two from the Republican playbook and focus some serious effort on getting progressives elected at the state level. We have another round of redistricting coming up in 2020, and in order to bring things back into balance and restore the concept of the voters choosing their representatives instead of the other way around, we will need majorities in at least one state house across the country ... preferably both, as well as the governor's mansion.

This isn't to say that we should flip the gerrymander the other way; then we are just as shady and dishonest as the Republicans. What we need to do is to have districts drawn that fairly represent the voters, even with the knowledge that we will lose some of these districts. However, we will then be able to speak form a position of moral authority, and to use the chicanery perpetrated by the GOP against them with a clear conscience.

Finally, our message needs to be, quite simply, "we want everyone to have a better life." We need to highlight how a progressive agenda helps everyone -- rich, poor, black, white, Christian, Muslim, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative -- and how Republican policies of trickle-down economics and deregulation hurt everyone except the richest few, and just how regressive GOP policies are.

Maybe I'm being a bit of a Pollyanna, but I truly believe that conservatives can get behind many progressive positions once they are brought out from behind the curtain of obfuscation and misdirection erected by the Republican Party. For example, instead of bemoaning the loss of coal mining jobs, we need to put even more effort into getting the message out that these coal miners can be retrained with a minimum of effort to work in alternative energy ... and that these jobs are going to pay better and have better health benefits, not to mention the fact that it is highly unlikely that a worker in a factory making solar panels is going to be buried alive by a cave-in. Or that by raising the minimum wage we are actually reducing the amount spent on food stamps and Medicaid, since these workers will now be able to support themselves.

Or even being brutally honest about how manufacturing is not going to come back to the United States, at least not at the scale that it was in the middle of the last century, but that whole new areas of employment are opening up: high-tech, alternative energy, communications, aerospace and transportation ...

The most important thing to remember is this: the Republicans cannot win elections based solely on their platform. This is the "untold story" of gerrymandering. If they could win elections based on Republican ideals without gerrymandering and suppressing the vote, they would. The reason all this nonsense is happening is that the GOP knows good and well that their ideas are unpopular and would be rejected by a majority of the voters if they were given a fair chance to do so.

We have a winning agenda. Quite frankly, we just need to be as aggressive about promoting that agenda as the Republicans are about tearing it apart.

Changing tack

About a week or so ago I announced that I was taking a break from politics. As it turns out, this is not entirely true. In fact, I am taki...