DEMOCRATS ON THE COUCH
An Outside-the-Beltway Solution to D.C. Dysfunction
The story behind the person behind “Democrats on the Couch.” She’s not your typical D.C. strategist. Turns out, it’s a damn good thing.
I’m an accidental activist.
Like all activists, I have a principled streak that runs deep, and my willful zeal for “what’s right” drew me into work I couldn’t not do. Unlike others, I’ve approached activism from a completely different angle — that of strategist.
How I arrived here, doing what I’m doing was entirely incidental — born from a Democratic Party need that wasn’t being met, and from my unique background that gave me a perspective those in the Beltway didn’t have.
Before 9/11, I was apolitical. I woke up to politics with the Twin Towers collapsing in flames along with my naiveté. Suddenly, all was not well in my fairytale world. More to the point, all must not have been well in American government to become a target of such a vicious and utterly devastating attack.
I began to pay attention.
While I woke up to a passion for politics on 9/11, I woke up to righteous outrage when it was revealed that G.W. Bush and his administration had waged war in Iraq under false pretenses, claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that were an imminent threat to America. It was a devious and immoral con for a covert political agenda that had dire consequences for over a million Iraqi civilians–easily classifiable as a war crime of the highest order.
Then, to add fuel to the fire burning inside me, Bush and Cheney were re-elected as president and vice president of the United States. I thought: How in the flippin’ hell did this happen, in this country?? They and the other caught red-handed criminals of the Bush Administration were not only spared from indictment, they were re-anointed, as if by divine right, to lead our country to god knows where.
It made no sense. It wasn’t right, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it…
The Hoodwinking of America
I began studying and became obsessed with Republican campaign strategies and rhetoric. Thanks to the work of George Lakoff and others, “family values” was pinpointed as the powerfully persuasive propaganda that propelled the Republican agenda from the Reagan years forward, peaking in 2004 with the re-election of G.W. Bush.
The fight for family values was folded into a general culture war narrative that painted Republicans as moral patriots out to protect our nation from an amoral, anti-family, anti-religious and anti-American force — the Democratic Party. Their concocted “culture wars” were an ingenious divide-and-conquer strategy that served to defeat Democrats time and again by pitting Democrats against America’s heartland and the values they hold most dear.
During Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, the Republican Party super-charged the culture war by exploiting the hotly controversial issue of the time — same sex marriage. They incited fear and divided our nation into warring factions by claiming gay marriage (which the Democratic Party supported) would demolish traditional family values, families would disintegrate, and civilization would be destroyed. (Yes, they actually said this.) The message: If you care about your children, their moral upbringing, and our country’s future, vote Republican.
This cunning rhetoric did two things that helped Bush get re-elected. First, it took the focus off his administration’s dirty deeds and the diabolical war that was raging in Iraq. Secondly, it drove “values voters” to the polls in droves. From rural gun-owners to suburban soccer moms, parents of our nation’s children were joined together by that which they most valued — the welfare of their children and the moral tone of the culture in which they were raising them.
Once again, the Republican Party stoked fear and rallied citizen through deception. But this time the contrived weapons of mass destruction were gay lovebirds wanting to marry, and the lies involved my area of expertise — healthy family life. As a family therapist specializing in child development, I saw right through the Republican Party’s complete hoodwinking of the American people, and had had it. Not. On. My. Watch.
Even though I’m as straight as the hair on my head, I was not going to silently stand by as gay people were being scapegoated as immoral threats to our country, especially by an administration so corrupt it was literally getting away with murder. No siree. No more pointing fingers at gays, Democrats, or secular values as the moral evil to be conquered for the good of all Americans.
While the Democratic Party did not know how to get out from under the role of moral villains that was sabotaging them at the polls again and again, I did. I decided to call Republicans out on their deceit and set the record straight, once and for all. This led me to write: Saving America’s Grace: Rethinking Family Values, Moral Politics, and the Culture War.
This book deconstructs the Republican Party’s fraudulent moral narrative from every angle, including what real family values ought to entail, and what moral values in politics and our culture ought to look like. (Clearly, Republicans aren’t the role models here.) The book was prescient, addressing the lack of moral character in our political culture before Trump even stepped foot in the White House. However, what Saving America’s Grace did not do was provide a moral narrative to be strategically used by Democrats.
The demand for a moral narrative was mounting. Media contacts were telling my publicist it was this that they wanted. Democratic Party leaders and pundits had repeatedly admitted they needed a moral narrative, yet no strategist had provided it. And all the while, Republicans were whoopin’ Democrats’ @ss in election after election due to the lack of it. Then Donald Trump landed in the White House, and I had really had it. Beside myself with indignation, I began to write a moral narrative that could be used by the Democratic Party.
Campaigning in the Midst of Deep Divides
As I started to dig into the issues from a campaigning standpoint, the weaknesses within the party and between the party and the public’s opinion of the party began to surface. I realized Democrats needed more than just a moral narrative. They needed strategies to address the underlying weaknesses and divisions that decades of culture wars have created, as well as insights into the kind of leadership necessary to unite our country and actually “walk the talk” that this moral narrative espoused.
That’s when my 5-point strategy was born, infused with a narrative that grounds the party in a meaningful and stirring cause while tackling the grave disconnect between the Democratic Party and Middle America. The overall strategy can be best summed up as a “unite and conquer” plan, and as it turns out, my clinical expertise as a family therapist could not have been better suited to the task…
Consider: We have political parties brawling like the most dysfunctional of families, complete with all the classic characteristics. Power struggles. Poor communication. Triangulation. Blame. Contempt. Criticism. Stonewalling. Zero empathy. Disregard for the harm being inflicted upon those depending on them to function well. And like helpless children in troubled families, neglected citizens have been acting out their anger and despair the only way they know how — by joining in the brawl going on around them.
We’re all swept up in the dysfunction, from politicians in the highest offices to media personalities and outlets with the greatest reach, all the way down to citizens in the smallest towns, which, quite frankly, was the Republican Party’s goal all along — to divide and conquer the majority by getting Americans to turn on each other. Well we have, and while it might be good for the Republican agenda, it’s killing our democracy.
The candidate and party that can best handle the politics of division by uniting Americans around a common cause will be the candidate and party to capture the faith, loyalty and support of American voters, and get our country back on track.
Granted, it’s no easy task to unite those pitted against one another… this is where my insights and training as a family therapist come in handy.
Being able to see all sides of an argument, manage heated conflicts, and resolve hostile divisions resulting from competing needs are just as critical to navigating today’s highly polarized political environment as dealing with family discord.
I apply a hybrid approach that combines psychological insights with traditional principles of political communications strategy.
While getting deep into the issues of the day and drawing on historically relevant facts and lessons, I offer advice on how to: 1) unify the Democratic Party; 2)become the “Party of the People” once again; 3) handle “identity politics” that are alienating Middle America; and 4) effectively communicate to inspire and bring American citizens together.
The strategy proposed here gets to the heart of what successful political campaigns are fundamentally all about — reaching people–and explains how to do it through all the fire and fury.
It’s my pleasure to offer political consulting with a counseling touch, providing a guide on how Democrats can build rapport, bridge divides and meaningfully reach people. It’s the only way for the Democratic Party to get back in favor with Middle America, rally voters to hold our politicians accountable, and create a unified movement to save our democracy. Then, we just might be able to make America, America , a country with a government of, by and for the people, not the powerful. Let’s get to it.