Friday, June 23, 2017

Post-Mortem: Special Election Edition

Yes, the Democrats just lost two special elections for House seats -- in Georgia and South Carolina.  Together with earlier losses in Montana and Kansas, the Dems are 0-4.  (Actually, the Democrats did win a special election in Los Angeles in June.)  Losing sucks.  But given the deep redness of these Congressional districts, the races should not have been close and the narrow margin of defeat actually bodes well for the mid-terms.  As Nate Silver says, the results are "consistent with the sorts of results Democrats would expect if they were on track to compete for the House next year."  And with the Democrats needing a net of 24 seats to flip the House, there are, according to the Cook Political Report, 77 congressional districts held by Republicans that are more Democratic-leaning than the district in Georgia that was so closely fought. 

So, there's hope and there's a lot of work to do.  But first, we have to endure the usual self-loathing and destructive finger-pointing from the Democrats who are insisting, particularly in the Georgia race, that their candidates should have attacked Trump more (or less) or promoted a more populist message or should have been more issue-oriented -- or that everything is Nancy Pelosi's fault.  There are certainly some good arguments about how these campaigns -- and the candidates -- could have been stronger but I can't go along with the Democrats who despair that the Party's brand is "toxic" and that the solution is to demote Nancy Pelosi as House minority leader.

Here's the thing.  The Democratic Party is by nature a messy coalition that has long been an easy target for Republicans to drive wedges through.  What Republicans have been remarkably successful at is stoking the culture war by demonizing Democrats as dangerous -- e.g., stirring up violence with their hateful rhetoric and lax immigration policies -- and elitist -- e.g., ignoring and belittling working class concerns (white working class, anyway)

It is what Republicans have been doing ever since Nixon.  As Greg Sargent puts it: "For half a century, they’ve been telling voters that Democrats are alien radicals who indulge criminal minorities and bring chaos and violence wherever they go."  Or per Digby:  "They will always find a way to mock Democrats as not being red-blooded Real Americans."

Republicans are expert at this but the response isn't to buy into their bullshit and pile on.  Sure, I've got a few issues with Nancy Pelosi but the notion that she is the problem is absurd.  The voters who (a) know who Pelosi is and (b) see her as the root of evil in America are already unsalvageable.  Eric Levitz is right that "the Democratic Party should try to convert some Republican-leaning voters — but the ones whose amygdalae flare up when they think about a liberal woman from San Francisco holding a position of power are not among them."

One way for Democrats to fight back is to do a far better job at not only going after Trump but tying his ignorant, erratic, incompetent, corrupt ass to every Republican candidate.   It is hard to know where the various investigations and law suits against this malevolent orange shit gibbon are going but the Republicans' wholesale refusal to hold him accountable for anything -- from his constant lying to his brazen self-enrichment to his abuse of power and likely collusion with Russia -- requires Democrats, as I've argued repeatedly, to demonstrate every day that this is not business as usual.  They must use every technicality and procedural rule to throw sand in the gears of the government to slow, if not shut, it down.  There is, in fact, no daylight between Trump and the Party he leads, and we need to make Republicans pay dearly for their cynical insistence on putting their Party over the safety and security of the Country.

Beyond Trump, Democrats must not be cowed into abandoning the fundamental principles of the Democratic Party to avoid the Republican attack ads that seem to resonate with those old Reagan Democrats and their ilk.  What fundamental principles, you ask?  Well, I would argue they include social justice -- or, what is disparagingly referred to as "identity politics" -- which I take to mean a focus on racial justice, gender equality and women's reproductive health, humane immigration policies and LGBT rights.  Basic Democratic principles also include believing in climate change and in the urgent need to combat it, ensuring health care coverage, supporting public education and affordable colleges, protecting the rights of workers, and strengthening the safety net. 

And while there is a need to tailor campaigns depending on a district's particular demographics, that doesn't mean we abandon these principles and support Democrats who, for example, want to roll back abortion rights and same sex marriage to appeal to socially conservative voters.  And it does not mean that the Party should only pay lip service to ending mass incarceration and extrajudicial police killings of African Americans because doing more might not resonate with the broader swath of the white middle and working class that Democrats are trying to woo.

Tom Sullivan argues persuasively that the way to reach outside the Democrats' "diverse, multicultural, multiethnic, progressive urban base" is through the prism of fairness: "On fairness, Americans from all walks of life and all partners in the Democratic coalition can agree. That people who work hard and the unfortunate among us who cannot should be treated fairly and decently, as well as equitably in the abstract, is something that should be fundamental and explicit in our conversations."

This is something Elizabeth Warren, for example, is brilliant at.  In response to the turd of a health care bill Republicans just dropped on America, she put it thus:
Medicaid is the program in this country that provides health insurance to one in five Americans. To 30 million kids. To nearly two out of every three people in a nursing home . . . These cuts are blood money. People will die. Let’s be very clear: Senate Republicans are paying for tax cuts for the wealthy with American lives. . . . Senate Republicans know exactly what they are doing with this health care bill.  Their values are on full display. If they want to trade the health insurance of millions of Americans for tax cuts for the rich, they’d better be ready for a fight.  Because now that this shameful bill is out in the open, that’s exactly what they’re going to get.
There's your primer on how to speak to the American people. 

The lesson from losing these special elections on the heels of losing the presidential election and the Congress isn't to turn away from the goal of a pluralistic social democracy in order to persuade less educated white voters to abandon the Republican Party. Those voters, as Charles Pierce says, have been "buying what the radicalized Republican party has been selling since Reagan rode out of Trickledown Gulch back in 1980. . . [and have] easily gobbled up the fictions about welfare queens, and "crazy checks," and big black bucks buying T-Bone steaks, and, most recently, of immigrants come to steal your jobs and cut your throats in the night."  They have been "worried so profoundly about [their] neighbors who were black, or Hispanic, or Muslim that [they] handed the government to the people who have been picking [their] pocket and selling off [their] birthright for going on four decades."

If what they've seen of Trump's presidency and Republican malpractice as evidenced by the latest health care bill isn't enough to make them receptive to a Democratic Party pitch for fairness because it is one that embraces the aforementioned blacks or Hispanics or Muslims, there's nothing we can do about it.  It just means we need to energize and organize and do a better job of getting out the fucking vote next time.


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