Democrats Should Be More Like Republicans, Sort Of
Hello! I am pretty new to following politics closely, but even in my short tenure of awareness, it’s clear that the Democratic party is in a bad way. I’ve heard the numbers — roughly 1,000 lost state legislature seats (and that was in the good years!), a Supreme Court veering to the right, and losing what everyone thought should be a gimme election against a perverted moron that didn’t want to be President in the first place. More recently, special election results have come up frustratingly short, and it’s little comfort to know that liberal politicians are losing by less than what they used to lose by. It’ll be hard work to pull out of this spiral and some philosophical and organizational shakeups are necessary.
Fortunately, there’s a robust and thriving political party right next door that Democrats can try emulating — the Republicans! The GOP is a minority party with a shrinking base pushing terrible policy that everyone hates, and yet they occupy a majority of governorships, both houses of Congress, and their demented gasbag candidate has been getting steak grease on the resolute desk for 5 months now. They’ve accomplished this through a variety of tactics, most of which are cruel and nefarious and should be illegal, but these tactics are underpinned by philosophies that are no problem for the Democrats to co-opt. With that in mind, here are five Do’s and Don’ts for the Democratic party to start operating like its grotesque, ruthlessly successful counterpart.
DON’T DO THIS TACTIC: Being racist. This one’s a pretty easy no-no. Donald Trump ran on a platform of naked bigotry (sorry for putting the words “Donald Trump” and “naked” so close together), kicking off his campaign yelling about rapist immigrants that was, like everything he says, a loose mixture of lies and cruelty pasted together with bullshit. And he’s not alone! Steve “immigrants with canteloupe calves” King (R-IA), Kris “ACLU’s worst nightmare” Kobach, Steve “David Duke without the baggage” Scalise (R-LA), and a host of other Republican lawmakers make hay and win elections by holding a flashlight under their faces and gurgling about the dangers of brown-skinned people. Liberal politicians shouldn’t be racist for obvious, moral reasons (racism is bad!) and even if they wanted to be, they wouldn’t be nearly as good at it as conservatives, who have been practicing it for several centuries now.
BUT *DO* USE THE UNDERLYING PHILOSOPHY: Talk about what liberal voters are worried about. That conservative voters’ panic about marauding immigrant hordes and roving inner-city knockout gangs was created from whole cloth at Fox News is immaterial. That’s what they’re nervous about, and Republican politicians capitalize on that fear, promising to crack down on crime and arm border patrols with Abrams tanks. Democratic voters also have concerns, albeit ones based in reality rather than Sean Hannity’s imagination: health care coverage, finding full-time employment, leaving a habitable world for their descendants. Democratic candidates would do well to harp on these issues relentlessly (and, perversely, there are a lot more concrete fears to harp on with the current administration). The Clinton campaign opposed the #MAGA rallying cry with “America is already great,” likely hoping to capitalize on the broad support for Obama’s domestic policies. But being told everything is fine by a rich politician in fancy clothes can chafe for a voter beset by predatory banks, unjust law enforcement, and inequality levels surpassing the Gilded Age. People are nervous — speak to it!
DON’T DO THIS TACTIC: Catering to millionaires. The current version of the AHCA is almost comical in how blatantly it aims to line the pockets of people like Charles and David Koch, Robert Mercer, and Sheldon Adelson. This is because the GOP is fundamentally dependent to the largesse of these 1%ers, who (thanks to the Citizens United ruling) have an unbelievable amount of influence in picking and electing the candidates of their liking. There are more liberal millionaires and billionaires, too, but they tend to be weirdos who want to save humanity by building moon shuttles and solar-powered computers and shit. They tend not to be as interested in bankrolling local politics and, since they have a spectacular view from their homes on the wealth distribution graph, they’re not ideal champions for evening it out.
BUT *DO* USE THE UNDERLYING PHILOSOPHY: Bang the drum for public benefits. This is also fairly easy. The Democratic party wants to be the party for everyone. It should therefore focus its energy on laws and policies that benefit *everyone*: Medicare-for-all, a $15 minimum wage, public education and public spaces, like parks and libraries. As smarter writers than I have pointed out, universal policies eliminate the backbiting and jealousy that can arise from means-testing or income thresholds. If everyone is given the same service, you don’t get Medicaid envy or talk of “welfare queens”.
DON’T DO THIS TACTIC: Gerrymandering and Voter Suppression. One of the dirtier, more openly racist practices of republican governments is enacting voter ID laws and shifting district boundaries to entrench themselves in positions of power. Both methods work to pull the ladder up behind elected republicans, making it harder to unseat conservative lawmakers. Democrats engage in gerrymandering as well, but it shouldn’t be a focus to stay in office.
BUT *DO* USE THE UNDERLYING PHILOSOPHY: Recognize that more voters is better for liberals. It’s an open secret that the more voters turn out for any given election, the better chance left-wing candidates have. If Democrats want to capitalize on this (and there’s no reason they shouldn’t), they should be relentless in pursuing GOTV efforts, voting rights for felons, automatic voter registration, and voting by mail. Anything that makes it easier to vote is a worthwhile endeavor — and it doesn’t need to be framed as partisanship, just enhancing the democratic process.
DON’T USE THIS TACTIC: Pushing political novices. Trump, perhaps like no elected official before him, dramatically lowered the perceived bar for aspiring candidates for office. Watching a know-nothing dope blunder and bluster his way into the most powerful position in the country has inspired a wave of people with no background in government work or organization into runs for office. While this may be a heartening sight in terms of political engagement, it’s not necessarily a great strategy to back candidates like David Yankovich, a blogger and property manager who threw his hat into the ring to contest Paul Ryan’s seat. There are many opportunities to cut one’s teeth in local government and get bureaucratic experience before leaping for Congress or a governorship, and most times, “outsiders”will not be granted the same leniency and press coverage as Trump. Additionally, Trump’s inexperience was not a bar to attaining his new job title, but it’s certainly hampered his ability to do anything with it — hence why some people worry that his impeachment would leave us with the same abominable ideology in larger, more capable hands. He’s a fairly good argument AGAINST putting greenhorns in office.
BUT *DO* USE THE UNDERLYING PHILOSOPHY: Abandon the concept of electability. An upshot to the 2016 election, small though it may be, is that many self-serious people in the DC orbit were disabused of the notion that candidates must be smooth, inoffensive Ken dolls for any chance of success. There is no insurmountable bulwark of Wonderbread nuclear families that will shy away from unrefined politicans or extreme ideals — the Overton Window of acceptability is governed largely by the present-day reality. If an unprecedented candidate wins a primary, well, there’s your precedent. No need to shy away from the Elizabeth Warrens or Keith Ellisons for fear of some mythical moderate voting bloc. It’s almost liberating.
DON’T DO THIS TACTIC: Lying. Many people on the left consider this to be the greatest unfair advantage in the arsenal of conservative politicians: just makin’ shit up. Stephen Colbert’s bon mot “reality has a well-known liberal bias” was cutting in 2006; at this point it’s bleak. The president who’s too lazy to work weekends has nonetheless kept up an all-out assault on truth and its purveyors. Republican Congressmen (and it is always men) are so committed to enabling him that their primary response to reporters is throwing smoke pellets and running. Conservative news outlets cheerfully peddle conspiracy theories. It’s a mess. But there’s no need to match the misinformation in kind — stop retweeting Louise Mensch, for instance, and double-check the story that claims Mitch McConnell bathes in puppy blood (it’s not that I don’t believe you, but it’ll hurt your credibility if it turns out the dogs were full-grown).
BUT *DO* USE THE UNDERLYING PHILOSOPHY: Leave the pragmatism to your opponents. One enervating trend among Democratic politicians is the steadfast refusal to promise more than they think they can deliver. Ideas like universal healthcare and prison reform/abolition are tossed aside because of predicted republican obstructionism. But given that the GOP has been fighting tooth and nail to dismantle the heavily-compromised health care law based on a Republican plan, what does it hurt to go to bat for idealism? Why not promise the moon, do all you can to deliver, and blame the right wing (who will doubtless be culpable) if you fail? In a climate where conservatives have plainly stated their intent to rebuke any liberal legislation, why not make that legislation as appealing as possible, so voters see Paul Ryan denying a great idea rather than a half measure? Let Ted Cruz quibble about the dollars and cents behind paid maternity leave — you’re putting the idea in people’s heads, allowing them to imagine it as a reality, and turning him into the bad guy when he says no. Make them refuse overwhelmingly popular policies while energizing your own base. Who knows? You might win.