On Thursday, ACDC Chair Kip Malinosky forwarded me this memo by “The Democratic Strategist” on what Democrats should learn from the 2014 election. Here are the key points, which I strongly endorse.
- The most important lesson: “the GOP’s embrace of extremism as a calculated political strategy worked perfectly. It has invalidated key elements of Democratic political strategy and it is urgent that Democrats now face this reality.
- “This extremist political strategy of the GOP-reflected particularly in legislative paralysis and stealth campaigning-is a central force behind the two major challenges that face Democrats today: the enthusiasm gap and the inability of Democratic candidates to expand the current Democratic coalition.”
- “Up until now the combination of stealth candidates concealing the extremist nature of their agenda until elected and the 40 year campaign to discredit the Democrats as culturally alien representatives of minorities and the educated elite has left more moderate Republicans with what they perceive as an completely unsatisfactory choice-to vote for Democrats they deeply distrust or else for GOP candidates with whom on many issues they disagree.”
- “The key to successful persuasion and mobilization of Democratic base voters against the GOP will be to convince them that apparently separate individual issues that motivate them are all profoundly endangered by a coherent and coordinated national extremist agenda that directly threatens all progressive values and goals.“
- “The essential problem this group presents for Democratic strategy is that while they clearly see the consequences of extremist strategy-near complete legislative paralysis and gridlock-they still apply out-of-date concepts to interpret the causes of this problem rather than clearly perceiving the new and unique role of GOP
extremism. Some, more leftwing drop-off voters, for example, perceive both political parties as equally capitalist in nature and dismiss all Democratic and Republican politicians as equally puppets of big business. Other less radical drop-off voters blame more amorphous notions of “corrupt politicians” and “special interests” in
general. Still others assume the fault lies in an ethical failure of all politicians as a class to be willing to put aside their personal hubris and to compromise for the greater good. In each case the result is a cynicism about politics in general rather than an energetic opposition to the extremist strategy of the GOP.”
- “The mainstream media has not only accepted without question the view that the unprecedented political extremism of the GOP is simply ‘the new normal,’ but has even proceeded to blame Obama for the legislative paralysis caused by the political strategy followed by the GOP. This means that in 2016 and beyond Democrats will find the mainstream media repeatedly excusing, supporting, justifying and enabling the profoundly dangerous extremism of today’s GOP.”
- “The most indefensible group of rationalizers and apologists for the new GOP extremism is the mainstream media. The extent of their journalistic ‘dereliction of duty’ can be seen by comparing it to the behavior of the media in previous circumstances when right wing extremism posed a serious threat to America’s political institutions” – the McCarthy era, when the mainstream media played a vital role in finally rallying public opinion against the ‘witch hunt’ atmosphere and the hysteria that McCarthy’s false accusations generated
I’d just add a few points. First, Andy Schmookler has written insistently, here and elsewhere, about the rise of a radical, extremist force in U.S. politics — the Tea Party of course, but more broadly the Republican Party, exemplified as it is by ignorance, fear, greed, intolerance, anger, and other “lesser angels of our nature.” The question is, what do we do about it? Clearly, the first step is to call it out for what it is. The second step is for Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans to turn out at the polls to reject it.
Second, many of us have called out the media for their brain-dead, cowardly “both sides” false equivalence “reporting,” but one thing by now is clear: the media is FAR more intimidated, even terrified, of the right wing than of the progressive center (or the “left,” such as it is) in this country. Why do I call it the “progressive center,” by the way? Because, on issue after issue, progressives are in the (large) majority. I challenge you to find one major issue where progressives are NOT in the majority, whether it be huge majority support for clean energy and climate action; 92 percent of gun owners support universal background checks; Majority support SCOTUS gay marriage decision; 7-in-10 Americans Support Goals of Obama’s Immigration Action; 56%-36% advantage for the pro-choice side in the abortion debate; 32%-50% unfavorable view of the Tea Party; only 32% of Americans want “Obamacare” repealed (“Fifty-six percent favor keeping Obamacare with perhaps ‘small modifications,’ while 10 percent would leave it as is.”), etc.
Third, here in Virginia, we just had an example (by the Mark Warner for Senate campaign) about how NOT to get the Democratic “base” excited to vote. Recipe: a) “dis” the base at every turn; b) even use the phrase “Democrat Party” just to demonstrate how much contempt you hold us in; c) constantly prattle on, falsely, about how it’s “Washington” or “Congress” that’s “broken,” how “both sides” have to “compromise,” blah blah blah, instead of calling out the Republicans/Tea Partiers for their almost 100% responsibility for said problems; d) cozy up to extremist forces like the NRA, anti-environmental forces like the coal and oil industry, etc.; and e) spend a huge amount of your time campaigning in deep-“red” Virginia (formerly known as “Warner Country”), instead of focusing on the urban/suburban “crescent,” where most Democratic votes come from.
Finally, of course, Democrats need to give people strong reasons to vote FOR them, not just against the extremist Republicans. Sure, the latter should be reason enough in theory, but in practice it isn’t. Regardless, Democrats need to stand for something, and it’s basically what Elizabeth Warren (and Jim Webb, with the egregious and utterly unacceptable exception of the environment) have been talking about: social justice, economic fairness, fighting for working people as opposed to coddling the wealthiest 1% or even 0.1%, for criminal justice reform, for voting rights, for civil liberties, for “equal pay for equal work,” for science, for the environment, for “protecting Social Security, Medicare and pensions.”
Have Democrats been doing that? Put it this way: how much of that kind of talk did you hear in Virginia in 2014 from Mark Warner? John Foust? Uhhhh. Did you hear it from Mary Landrieu (about to lose by a landslide) or the other conservadems who also lost badly? Uhhhh. Can we all please not repeat that same mistake yet AGAIN in future elections?