The Matter of Message: Republicans Win On Bias and Fear While Democrats Eat Their Own

06/23/2017 11:31 am ET Updated Jun 23, 2017
Jason Rosewell

I cannot believe that Democrats are claiming that the sole cause of their electoral problems is Nancy Pelosi and her San Francisco residency. ~ Joy Reid

Nor can I. But that’s how this goes. The caterwauling has begun. Or, rather, continues.

Another special election down, and, despite it being tougher than expected for Karen Handel to win in uber-red Georgia, and as with journalist-assaulting Greg Gianforte in Montana and Trump-toadying Ralph Norman in South Carolina, Republicans eked out victories by pushing their well-branded, easily translatable Republican message:

Fear, bias, greed, and conservative Christian theocracy.

All of which translates into the toxic stew of popular GOP platforms: travel bans, border walls, aggressive deportations, police profiling, gun stockpiling, increased military spending, and saber rattling. The gutting of the Affordable Care Act, with decreased Medicaid to ”disincentivize” the poor, disabled, and sick while aiding the wealthy. The diminishing of environmental protections while denying climate science in a false claim to save antiquated jobs. Pushing against LGBT rights, civil rights, women’s reproductive rights and equal pay. Marginalizing disadvantaged citizens as losers, people of color as thugs, immigrants as “bad hombres,” and Muslims as terrorists, while stoking the bias of whites terrified of shifting racial majorities to the point that “fear of other” becomes the GOP rallying cry: “make America great again!”

It’s a powerful message. A simple message. It doesn’t demand translation or interpretation; it doesn’t require wisdom, compassion, or the ability to see a bigger picture. It doesn’t employ nuance, comprehend American history, or grasp the inexorable evolution of national demographics. It evokes lockstep enthusiasm, soundtracked by some nostalgic marching tune and powered by fear of losing the “American dream.” If one can be persuaded by that fear, by the conservative (discriminatory) spin on Christianity, by racial and ethnic bias; if one is gullible and myopic enough to embrace the propaganda of Fox News, the seeded messages of Russian interventionists, the virulent hate-speak of online trolls, then one will likely vote Republican.

So, yeah... that’s an effective message.

The Democrat’s? Not so simple. Not so defined. But the fact is, they can’t be. The very nature of liberal politics — freedom of individual thought, action, expression, and belief; the promotion of progress, the big-tent welcome to any and all — is antithetical to the notion of one easily branded message.

Democrats don’t march in lockstep. Which is a good thing, an admirable thing. They may share a vast majority of core principles and foundational aspirations, but within that core you’ll find myriad convictions about how liberal, progressive, Democratic goals are achieved. Hard to march in lockstep when social democrats rally wildly behind Bernie and Elizabeth, centrist/moderate Dems pushed for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama; some hang on to Joe Biden while others eye new vanguards like Kamala Harris, Adam Schiff, Jon Ossoff, Tulsi Gabbard, Linda Sanchez, Eric Garcetti and Kasim Reed, to name a few.

Democrats are, without a doubt, a more eclectic, diverse, independent bunch than Republicans, so, yes — to all caterwauling “where’s the Democrat’s message?” — what do you think it should be? And how are you productively advancing it?

Frankly, I’ve been put off by the Monday morning quarterbacking since Georgia’s election; the finger-pointing, temper tantrumming, blame-gaming, and stereotyping that’s sprouted up — and not just from snarky journalists attempting relevance, or Republicans chortling over their wins. No, by Democrats, progressives, liberals, who are mad, dammit, that red states like Georgia, Montana, and South Carolina didn’t just tumble into the blue after their elections went viral with online petitions and VoteBlue donations from out-of-staters.

They’re hissy-fitting that the DNC sucks, Nancy Pelosi is useless, Bernie Sanders woulda/shoulda won, Hillary Clinton should sit down and shut up, Obama is still trying to be president, we’re all a bunch of whiners, we don’t know how to win; we’re bleeding heart pussies who can’t get the job done, and so on. Michael Moore screeched on Twitter: “...get a friggin' clue. The DNC&DCCC has NO idea how 2 win cause they have no message, no plan, no leaders, won't fight &hate the resistance.

To which I tweeted back: “How is that helpful?? Why are you (& others) so bent on stereotyping an entire group w/insults & generalities? THAT's part of the problem.”

And it is. A big part of the problem.

Because in one fell swoop, Moore’s tweet emblemizes why Democrats lose on style points: the finger-pointing, poop-throwing, blaming, demonizing, generalizing, insulting, and bad punctuation do not inspire. They do not motivate. And they definitely do not unify.

Nor does the incessant history-revising/dead-horse-beating of Bernie-crats over the 2016 election. Nor do the sexist denigrations of Hillary Clinton’s post-election appearances. Nor does the misinformed berating of the DNC (Rob Quist actually rejected Tom Perez’s offer to help to, instead, go with Bernie... do we blame his loss on that?)

Grown people with intellect, awareness, and the ability to discern should be able to assess the unique challenges of defining a unifying message for a diverse party, and, rather than raise pitchforks to drag Nancy Pelosi to the stake (I can’t decide what ratio of sexist and stupid makes up that meme), or buzz-killing the forward motion of liberals by insulting them (that’s for you, Michael Moore), the most important Democratic messages I see won’t fit on a banner:

1. Educate young voters on how to properly register, then get them to actually vote. Over and over during the Democratic primary, Bernie followers packed rallies, viraled away online, and made enough noise to rattle the roof, but at the end of the day significant numbers didn’t actually vote... and Bernie didn’t actually win. Some blamed the DNC for sabotaging their registrations, some claimed that cut-off dates eluded them; others simply didn’t place enough value on getting to the ballot box and voting. There was a similar issue in Montana with Bernie-rallied Quist voters. Every faction of the left — Dems, liberals, progressives, Bernie-crats — needs to educate, inform, and follow through on getting voters to VOTE. It ain’t enough to show up at the party... they’ve got to show up at the ballot box too.

2. Cease and desist the Bernie vs. Hillary kerfuffle: Why this is continuing to play out in spittle-flying fashion all over social media is beyond me. It’s a stunning waste of time and energy fed by a mix of wishful thinking, unsupported facts, unproven conclusions, rampant misinformation, inaccurate blame, cultish idealization, and an adolescent unwillingness to let go and move on. Ultimately it doesn’t matter who anyone thinks would’ve won or should’ve won; the bottom-line is, with the help of Russia, Wikileaks, badly timed Comey statements, potential state-specific vote manipulations, and a preponderance of fear and bias messaging from the GOP, neither candidate on the Dem side won... and the one who went up against Trump not only won the primary, but won the popular vote. Bernie vs. Hillary is a pointless, obsolete debate. Getting more Democrats in Congress and beyond is where our attention needs to be.

3. Cease and desist the demonization of Democratic leaders, whether candidate or representative. To do otherwise is not only counterproductive, it’s destructive to the Democratic message of progress. There’s nothing progressive about finger-pointing, stereotyping, sexism, ageism, or factionism. And while it’s not fashionable, I maintain that you can passionately support your candidates without ripping apart the other ones. The negativity that roiled the Democratic primary was horrific, truly repugnant in some cases, and it sabotaged intelligent, productive campaigning. We cannot afford that. So if you have a problem with Tom Perez, Keith Ellison, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or whoever might run on the Democratic ticket in 2018 and beyond, shake it off, focus your energy on the people you’re for, and save your ire for the Republicans.

4. Get civics back in school curriculums. The problem with #1 above is that too many young Americans come into their voting adulthood with minor or misguided awareness of what, exactly, government is. How it works. What their votes mean. They think — and are often taught by cynical adults — that government is “them,” out there, those people out to get us.They don’t see the correlation, the reality, that it’s our votes, their votes, that put “them” into office, giving “them” the power to push policy that affects us all. I was astonished at how many angry liberals ranted after the Georgia election that, “they get what they deserve,” as if somehow what Georgians deserve isn’t going to end up in Congress making laws, voting on Supreme Court justices, and supporting actions that impact us all. The interconnectedness of the roles we each play in designing and creating our government must be better understood so that young voters are more invested in getting and staying politically involved.

5. Seriously look at reforming, revamping, removing the Electoral College. I know; much has been debated on this issue, with many on both sides convinced it’s impossible, certainly unlikely, that any tangible change will ever be implemented. But when the main purpose of the Electoral College — to prevent “factions” from electing a president who is unqualified and potentially destructive to the greater good of the democracy — is negated to allow a person who embodies exactly what the College was supposed to protect our democracy from, it has lost its purpose. It’s impotent, irrelevant, and deserves to be disbanded. One voice, one vote.

So right there are four messages I see as constructive to the Democratic agenda. Feel free to add your own — I’m sure there are many. If we, within each of our various left-leaning factions, can then unify under those connected principles, differences be damned, we can then call it a “Democratic message” and move forward. And if anyone can distill it into some kind of catchy political logline (”Educate, Inspire, Embrace, and Involve”?) have at it. If we’re lucky, we might get Shepard Fairey to make the banner.

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Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Facebook, Twitter and Amazon. Details and links to her blog, photography, books, and music can be found at www.LorraineDevonWilke.com.
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