Friday, November 06, 2020

Next Steps

With the election of Joe Biden looking more and more certain every hour, the topic of discussion amongst my online community has turned toward the future of the Democratic Party. These conversations fall into two broad camps:

  • One group maintains that, in order to win elections, we have to be a more centrist or center-left party … no radical proposals, nothing earth-shaking, just an incremental approach toward progress.
  • The other group holds that, because of the fact that down-ballot races tended to swing progressive, it is time for the Democratic Party to adopt a more activist and liberal platform.

Both of these groups are right, and both are wrong ... and both of them overlook a very key point: that the Democrats have been abysmally bad at communicating what we are for.

Back in the day the Democratic Party was the party of the working class, the party of unions, and fair wages, and keeping the 1% in check, and a level playing field. And while we still stand for those things, we have been horribly bad at telling people we are in favor of these things. Instead of saying what we are for, we have allowed the Republican Party to put us on defense, forcing us to deny increasingly absurd accusations and thus taking time away from outlining our platform. If we are going to increase out majority, if we hope to regain the majority in the Senate, we have to completely revamp our messaging.

This is where we can actually learn from the GOP playbook. Say what you will about the Republican Party, say they are hopelessly corrupt, say they are in the pocket of billionaires and corporate America, say they are reactionary racists and misogynists, say they are enables of our worst impulses ... I forgot my point.

Oh, right.

Like 'em or loathe 'em, the Republicans have always been very good as message discipline. They have a platform, they have marching orders, and they go out and follow those orders to the letter. Granted, many of these orders are abominable -- using "religious liberty " as a shield to enact all manner of regressive policies, employing racist dog whistles, etc. -- but they are effective and efficient. We need to start employing this same message discipline, but on the side of good and light as opposed to evil and darkness (okay, a bit hyperbolic, but you get my point).

The best way to do this is to cop a move from Ronald Reagan's playbook. During the 1980 presidential debate against Jimmy Carter, Reagan ignored attacks by simply shaking his head and saying, in a rueful, kind voice, "There you go again." This completely delegitimized anything Carter said, and gave Reagan the rom to make his own points ... and, in the process, make attacks that forced Carter to rebut, thus taking time away from his message (seeing a pattern yet?) We need to simply dismiss any Republican attacks in this manner. Basically, ignoring them and moving on to what we want to say.

This is all well and good in the long term, but we have a more pressing need right now: retaking the Senate seats in Georgia.

Raphael Wornock and Jon Ossoff are facing runoff elections on January 5th against Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue respectively. These are winnable seats, but not if we double down on the strategy that failed us this time around. We no longer have the boogeyman in the White House as a convenient foil, so this means we have to give voters something substantive.

This means that Ossoff and Wornock have to articulate clear visions for what electing them to the Senate means for Georgians and for the country apart from "hey, at least we aren't those assholes." This can be anything from highlighting how the Democratic Party will protect health care for all, or competent handling of COVID, or making education more affordable, or cutting taxes on the working and middle classes, that sort of thing. The Republicans should not enter into our messaging until after we have made our points, and then only in the context of how they are trying to screw the average Joe out of everything they can get.

We also, and this is much tougher row to hoe, have to get the point across that just because people of color are getting more than they have in the past, this doesn't mean that white people are getting less. We need to highlight how increased equity -- in gender, in race, in sexual identity, in ethnicity -- benefits everybody, not just these marginalized people.

Finally, we need surrogates. Lots of 'em. And they need to be tailored not just to the message, but to the people to whom they will be delivering it. For example, to have Julian Castro speak to the LatinX community on behalf of Raphael Wornock, or Stacey Abrams to speak on behalf of Jon Ossoff to the African-American community. This approach will work not just in Georgia, but also nationwide.

See, it's not that Republicans appeal to more people -- they don't. An absurdly large number of studies have confirmed this. This is why the GOP has been pushing gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc. as strongly as they have ... they know they cannot win elections based solely on their agenda, as people have said time and again that they do not favor these things.

If we can do these things, we can pretty much guarantee a Democratic majority for the foreseeable future.

I gotta lie down.

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