Monday, November 29, 2010

The Democratic Party after the 2010 elections: Part 1

Okay, here’s the deal. Election day was brutal, crushing, utterly demoralizing. There’s been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and general despair about what this means for Democrats in the future; what it says about the mood, needs, and intelligence of the electorate; and what will become of the state under Republican control of the house.

Got that out of your system yet? If so, good! We have work to do. If not, then hurry it up. We have work to do.

I’m not irrational. I’m simply seeing things very clearly. I think I understand exactly what caused voters to choose as they did, and it’s far from simple. But the answer to what we, as Democrats, need to do to reverse those voter choices is quite simple, although it’s far from easy. It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of time, and most importantly, a relentlessly positive attitude. It’s going to require us to believe in our own power to succeed even when the odds seem stacked against us.

There was no one magical thing that Republicans did to win so many of the elections a few weeks ago. They did it with empty promises, backed by no specifics or utter nonsense (“We’ll reduce the deficit by lowering taxes.”) and an epic tsunami of corporate money that was funneled through groups that, I suspect, will someday once again be legally barred from funding political campaign ads as they did this year.

Let's face it people, republicans won by utilizing a massive media machine that masquerades as a “news network,” but which most of us recognize as the unofficial propaganda apparatus of the Republican party. Some have said they won by igniting, fueling, and ultimately harnessing the inarticulate rage of a class of people who are fundamentally ignorant about politics, economics, social justice, and our political process and governmental procedures.

Then they used the misery and suffering of the general population – which they themselves caused and prolonged – to amplify their campaign message, which boiled down to “Democrats did it! Don’t vote for them!”

None of these tactics is appropriate for Democrats to adopt and modify as their own. They are not going to defeat the destructive, negative influence of the Republican party by becoming a mirror image of it. And more importantly, they don’t have to do that to win. No way the party need a liberal Fox News and they don’t need to pump the American people full of lies that cast Republicans as villains and Democrats as knights on white chargers.

All we need to do is tell the truth.

Now, I can hear some of you already shouting in response that “We already did that! We told the truth, but the people couldn’t hear us over the sound of Fox News and Glenn Beck and the tea party rallies! The people believed the lies because that’s all they were hearing!” And you’re right about that. Therein lies the real problem – that the American people aren’t hearing us.

But the answer is not to get a bigger megaphone. I think this election made it pretty clear that corporate America is almost entirely in the Republican corner. Any megaphone Dems build is going to be dwarfed by the one they can buy. Theirs will always be bigger, fancier, and louder. But they won’t need a megaphone anyway, because we’re going to reach the people by talking to them. One at a time.

People don’t want Republicans or Democrats. They want people with real answers to real problems. They want someone to hear their pleas for help and respond with actions that make their lives better. They will elect anyone who seems to get what they are going through and has ideas that make sense to them. This year, they went mostly with Republicans because of that messaging infrastructure they have. But Dems messaging structure will be even more powerful.

What Dems must do is to meet people where they are. They can’t judge them for their views, whether they are tea party or lifelong Republicans or libertarians or whatever. They need to get out among them and help them. If they are down, they should help them up. If they have a problem, they should work alongside them to help solve it. They will teach them by example what it means to be a Democrat; that “liberal” is not a dirty word; that “progressive” is not an epithet & that "conservative", yes, "conservative democrats" have a place in the party as well. (Or I hope they still do)

This is going to take patience, it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take hard work. The temptation to lecture people will be overwhelming, but that’s not what will win them over. They can’t win elections by arguing with the people, because most of the population has forgotten or never learned the art of debate. They think what they think because they have been appealed to emotionally; logic and reason were contorted to serve the emotional purpose. Dems can’t tell them what to think, but we can show them who and what we really are. And in the end, that will be the key.

Dems spent the past two years fretting over what the Republicans have done, laughing at the ignorance of the tea party people (some are ignorant, but not all), and browbeating our elected Democrats for their perceived failures. But what dems need to understand is that this administration and this Democratic Congress have faced a combination of obstacles unprecedented in our history.

They were up against a corporate media machinery that served Republicans interests far more often than it served up the truth, plus the exhorbitantly partisan voice of Fox News. They were up against a Republican party that publicly decided not to help govern, but instead fought every every single bill that would have aided the economy or made life easier for suffering constituents. They were up against a corporate conspiracy that not only laid off far more workers than necessary when the recession hit, but deliberately failed to start rehiring when it ended, thus keeping the economy weakened and prolonging the misery of voters in my opinion.

And Democrats were up against a conservative “grassroots” movement that has been carefully nurtured and extravagantly bankrolled by billionaires intent on keeping America the promised land for corporations and the ultraric. I think dems fell into polarization mode – which is perfectly understandable and expected – but that in doing so, we played right into the hands of the Republican puppetmasters.

But this isn’t all a bunch of hippy-dippy, kumbaya crap. There are very pragmatic, concrete things to be gained by keeping the message positive. For one thing, it’s a lot more efficient – maintaining a negative attitude and constantly attacking uses far more energy. It also takes a spiritual toll and tends to make one petty, mean, and embittered. I think they can all agree that petty, mean, embittered people are far less attractive to others, less fun to be around. And that brings me to another practical concern: young people

Young people are much more likely to be motivated to take part in politics – as activists, and even as voters – when there is positive energy. One look at a tea party rally should tell you that; how many young adults do you typically see there? And young people turned out in droves to organize, politic, and vote in 2008. Why? Because Barack Obama’s positive message and energy inspired them. I’m not a young person, but that’s what drew me in.

It worked in 2008, and it will work now. Notice that I didn’t say “it will work in 2012.” Dems can’t wait for official campaigning to begin our new ground game. If we want to educate voters about the realities of Democratic policies, we have to start now. Where do we start? Well, there’s a meeting of my county Democratic party next week. I’m going to attend. That will be the first time I’ve ever done that.

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