Friday, June 29, 2018

What, Me Worry?

In less than two years, the vultures have come home to roost. The Republican party, as the political organization representing movement conservatism, has fought an increasingly impossible generational war to avoid slipping into demographic irrelevance. And now, the fallout from that war, represented by the presidency of Donald Trump and the rise of white supremacy and violent misogyny is weighing heavily on the electoral hopes of conservative America. The upcoming mid-term elections should represent the best opportunity for the Democratic party to take control of federal governance in decades. Indeed, before the rise of Trumpism, the most optimistic projections for a Democratic House majority were centered on 2024 or 26. With Trump, it's all in play, right now.

There are two things that worry me. They are both things that the Democrats can control. There's no point in worrying about the economy, or a war, or Trump's health, or any other factor beyond control. When things happen, both parties have to react to them, and the chips fall where they fall. One thing worries me a little - that because it's truly evergreen, a problem with Democratic policy choices and messaging forever. The other is bigger, and risks creating problems that even the desperate Republican party could exploit.

The smaller of these two problems is policy messaging. This has always been a strong Republican advantage. They do bumper stickers - "Morning in America", "Make America Great Again" etc. - while Democrats do White Papers. Now, I LIKE White Papers, but you have to be able to communicate effectively in four minute cable news hits and Twitter, neither platform lends itself to the White Paper format. So we say "Healthcare is a Human Right" and wow, that's so vague as to be meaningless. So we try "Medicare for All" and not even the people who say it can agree on what it means. It's the same when we call for "Comprehensive Immigration Legislation", and it only goes downhill when we shout BREAK UP THE BANKS or demand that businessmen be sent to prison en masse. It's important to remember that the spittle-flecked madmen and madwomen largely on the other side, so you should try to keep the message rational and constitutional.

I do think that some of the nuance and detail in policy is important to communicate, even though there is neither in Republican messaging. But that's mostly because the Republican party is fully invested in barefaced lying to support their positions, so the Democrats have to have some built-in firewalls to protect them from the lies. (Remember Death Panels?) So, again going to healthcare - it's going to be THE big issue from now until 2021 at least - if we shout SINGLE PAYER we're opening up the opportunity for them to scream about raising taxes. And not even dishonestly, although they will find a way to exaggerate the issue. Americans spend $4 trillion dollars a year on health care, and that would be a LOT of taxation - far more than could be borne  by the richest 10% alone.

Oddly, the second problem is easier to solve, because it would be such a brutal self-inflicted wound. The conventional wisdom is that running as the NOT-TRUMP is not enough. That Democrats have to STAND for something, to be for things rather than just against him. First of all, the Democrats ARE for things - and health care and immigration will be two of them at the forefront. But come on. Open a newspaper. Open a browser. Turn on the news. What is everyone talking about? It's Trump. Remember that America elected an African American president not because of his message, but because he was NOT GW Bush. This is THAT on steroids.

In every opportunity, every speech, every rally, every cable news hit, Democrats need to emphasize that they're NOT Donald Trump, they're not a corrupt crime family with a third grade education and a massive inferiority complex. Even though it's the mid-terms, every Democratic candidate should run against Trump. They should tie their opponents tightly to Trump, they should explain what they'll do to stop Trump from acting, and they should promise to clean up the cesspool that the West Wing has become under Trump.

And this should not worry them. With 56-58% of the popular vote, they can sweep both houses of congress. None of this is about convincing Trump supporters to vote D. Anybody who's still a fan of the Trump White House at this point is a lost cause, but the numbers keep saying that shouldn't matter. And frankly, if the nation continues down that path after two years of seeing it in action, we truly will have the government we deserve.

One additional point. Liberals want to see liberal policies enacted - that's only rational. And the more liberal one's ideology, the more liberal the policies one wants to see. But during the 2016 campaign, I saw that morph into an odd belief that more liberal policies would be more popular, and receive more votes. That's not only politically wrong, it's statistically impossible. Ideology is a bell curve, with the vast portion of the electorate near the center. Every step to the left loses more votes than it gains, just as the Republicans kept moving right until they'd lost everyone but white southern men. So perhaps we can tone down the rhetoric, reduce the use of the word 'socialism' and talk about how we're not DJ Trump and what we might do to make our country a better place.