So, okay. Let's be honest about just what went on here. The Democrats didn't lose a few key races last Tuesday. There wasn't a surprise upset here and there. What happened was a complete, utter, and virtually unrelieved disaster.
In fact, what happened was worse than the 1994 GOP takeover of the House of Representatives, because it was so unexpected. In 1994, the Democrats had a President in the White House, the President had some baggage, and the President's party always loses seats in the off-year elections. This time, not only did the President's party lose seats in the off-year elections, it managed to lose over 60+ seats.
In other words, every single sign on the horizon indicated that the democrats would lose seats in this election, and the Democrats would retain control of the Senate. Instead, the Republicans ended up with increased control of the House, and control of more than half the state governments besides
Okay. Democrats don't think everybody who votes Republican does so by mistake. There are some people, rich people, who know what they're doing, because the Republican Party truly represents their interests. It makes sense for rich people to vote Republican, because the Republicans are the party of the rich. That is the god-given truth. They're in favor of cutting taxes on billionaires and in some cases gutting the public school system to pay for it.
That's okay with the billionaires, because billionaires don't send their children to public schools. Billionaires like Republican policy on the environment, too, and on free trade, and on health care. They wouldn't use government health insurance even if it existed, free trade fattens their bank accounts, and they can afford to move away from the environmental messes they make to pricey pristine enclaves like Maui.
No, the trouble, the confusion, the angst, is over those other people who vote Republican, the ones who make it possible for Republicans to win elections. Those people were once, and sometimes still are, called "Reagan Democrats," because back in 1980 they left the Democratic Party to vote in droves for Ronald Reagan--white, working class men and women, "angry white males" and traditionalist housewives, whose underlying motivations were racism, antifeminism, and fear of change.
We knew those were their motives because, well, why else would they have elected a man who couldn't think his way out of a paper bag and didn't try to hide his ties to union busting moguls.
The Reagan Democrats have been joined by millions of middle class men and women who say all the right things when they're taking part in focus groups: "more money for public education! do something about health care insurance! we want a cleaner environment! what gay people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms is their own business!" and then go out and vote Republican anyway.
Time after time. Election after election. They do this in spite of the fact that, on many issues, they seem to be getting more liberal with every election cycle. Back in the supposedly much more liberal 1960s, you could never have gotten a majority of Americans to say that gay men and women shouldn't be discriminated against in housing or employment. Now they say it all the time, and conservative religious groups trying to repeal or defeat anti-discrimination ordinances find themselves routed more often than not. The same is true on a host of other "social" issues: working mothers, divorce, sex outside marriage, abortion. The same is true on economic issues.
They support public schools and would like to see public schools get more money. They're suspicious of school vouchers and downright phobic on the subject of privatizing Social Security.
They think the government should do something to make sure all Americans have access to health care.
Then they must have been duped by the media. They must not be able to understand their own interests. They must be uneducated, or irrational, or so brainwashed by religious fundamentalism that they do just what their preachers tell them, like robots or sheep being led to slaughter.
They must be something, because they cannot possibly be voting Republican on purpose and with their eyes wide open. It all has to be a mistake.
This is the place where you expect me to announce that the theme of this essay is how the Democrats have to learn to accept that people are voting Republican because they want to, not because they've been duped--and I do want to say that, but I want to throw a little caution in here first.
The problem is that when Democrats have tried to accept the fact that people vote Republican because the Republicans are giving them something the Democrats are not, they've done so by descending into a frenzy of irrationality, ignoring the polls, ignoring the focus groups, ignoring reality itself in order to decide--on the basis of God only knows what--that no matter what people say, what they want is market-based health care insurance, education vouchers that take tax money away from public schools.
What nobody has yet been able to force himself to face is this: since 1968, there has been only one issue in any race for national office, and it hasn't been social security, or the welfare state, or race relations, or union busting, or gays in the military, or corporate greed
It's been elitism!
If elections have been about elitism, you say, then the Democrats should have a solid lock not only on the White House, but on both houses of Congress. It's the Republicans who are the party of elitism. They're the party that serves the interests of the sort of people who live in mansions on the North Shore and vacation by renting entire villas in Crete. They're the party that cuts the taxes of fat cats and puts the burden of public funding on the middle class
And they're winning, by and large, by presenting themselves to the American public as the voice of ordinary middle class people, fighting the good fight against a Democratic party entirely under the sway of Ivy League college professors, upper middle class professionals, cultural snobs and stridently hysterical movie stars.
What's more, the American public has bought it. Go take a look at the archives of message boards and Usenet newsgroups where people discussed the election when it was over. The theme is echoed again and again and again. Go take a look at any collection of right-wing magazines, from The Weekly Standard to The National Review. The theme is always the same. The Democrats are the party of the elites, and the elites despise you
Republicans are good at trashing people, but at least they're careful not to trash the people whose votes they need to get into office. If they send a few zingers at Harry Reid, they know in advance that the people who identify with her were never going to vote Republican anyway. We turn around and fire on our own troops.
Democrats don't need to abandon their convictions about public schools, or health care, or gay rights, or even the separation of church and state. We do need to learn to respect that born-again construction worker for his religious commitment, instead of treating it as a disease we'll cure him of if we ever get him tied down long enough, or as a distraction that can be finessed by pledging allegiance "under God" on national television. We need to rework our image as the party of the kind of people who are just so...pained...at the spectacle of people eating at McDonald's after coming out of the latest Michael Douglas movie.
We need to accept the fact that people can oppose the things we favor without being stupid, venal, duped or brainwashed. We need to address the concerns behind the positions, and we can't do that if we define those concerns as being irrational and illegitimate on their face.
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