A message to Democrats if they want to win: It's about democracy, stupid – Gainesville Sun
President Joe Biden’s popularity numbers are in free fall and the Democrats in Congress can’t seem to agree. Democrats say that if only the progressive wing and the moderate wing of the party could compromise and pass spending legislation, all would be well.
They say that once something passes Congress and all the benefits of the legislation become apparent, Democrats will defy history and pick up seats in the 2022 congressional election and set themselves up to defeat Donald Trump (or some other MAGA accolayte) in 2024.
Hogwash. Even though Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections (losing two of them in the Electoral College), they still don’t realize that elections are rarely about policies or legislation. Elections, at least at the national level, are about values and culture.
In 1992 Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville, famously said, “It’s about the economy, stupid.” But it wasn’t about economic policies in 1992 any more than it is today.
What Clinton and Carville really meant was that they were on the side of ordinary Americans. As Clinton famously put it, “No matter who you are or where you come from, if you work hard and you play by the rules, you deserve the opportunity, the same opportunity as anyone else, to build a good life for yourself and your family.”
Starting in 1980, and even earlier, Republicans were able to push through policies that economically benefited almost exclusively the top 10% of Americans, and make them popular with enough of the other 90% to hold power in Washington for much of the past 40 years.
They did that by touting broad concepts like government as the problem and liberal policies benefiting the undeserving. They also rode cultural issues like guns and abortion to win the votes of tens of millions of Americans who would have been objectively better off economically had the Democrats been fully in charge.
Since 2015, under the banner of “Make America Great Again,” Trump and most elected Republicans have added illegal immigration and now “the Big Steal” to the mix to convince, mostly white Americans, that their way of life is under siege from Democrats who want to “replace” Americans with immigrants and impose socialism on America. Of course, back in the day, when America was supposedly great and the average (unionized) worker could afford a house, a car, a summer vacation and could send his kids to college the top tax rate was 70%.
So, if passing legislation that might benefit the vast majority of Americans won’t make Democrats popular, what will? The answer is fear and anger, which has always been the best motivator and predictor of voting behavior.
Luckily for the Democrats, they have an issue to scare most Americans to vote for them: the rising tide of authoritarianism that, unchecked, will quickly extinguish American style democracy. Already, in states like Texas, Florida and several other electorally competitive states, access to the ballot box has been made more difficult and, in some cases, the power of independent election boards to carry out and certify elections has been weakened.
Indeed, in some cases, a state legislature will now be able to overturn the will of the people and send its own slate of electors to Congress to turn the next presidential election their way — regardless of the actual vote.
If Democrats want to have a prayer of holding onto Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024, they need to hammer on one issue and one issue only: Donald Trump and the rise of authoritarianism. It is what Gov. Gavin Newsom did in California to easily survive a recall election earlier this year and it is what Terry McAullife is campaigning on now in the Virginia governor’s race.
Democrats need to make Trump, and what he and his fellow Republicans in Congress represent, the single issue. Then maybe they can return to trying to talk about and pass legislation to make our lives better.
David Shapiro worked for both Republicans and Democrats during a 30-year career as a consultant and journalist in Washington, D.C. He now lives in Gainesville.
Send a letter to the editor (up to 200 words) to [email protected]. Letters must include the writer’s full name and city of residence. Additional guidelines for submitting letters and longer guest columns can be found at bit.ly/sunopinionguidelines.
Get a digital subscription to the Gainesville Sun. Includes must-see content on Gainesville.com and Gatorsports.com, breaking news and updates on all your devices, and access to the Gainesville.com ePaper. Visit www.gainesville.com/subscribenow to sign up.