The Politics and Media of Understanding

This article on Democrats’ need to understand rural issues came across my feed today. I’ve seen hundreds like it since November.

The basic premise, which is not new is that Democrats’ basic problem is that they’re out of touch with the problems and solutions that matter to red state voters. Implied is that their opponents, the comic book villains that this week voted to gut healthcare for huge numbers of Americans that the opposite, must have their finger on the pulse of the American psyche because they’re in charge. Q.E.D.

I find that quite an optimistic thought. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the problem with our politics today was that Democrats’ ideas were just worse? That is the functional democracy I want to live in.

If Montana’s farmers were clamoring for tax cuts for the rich and wanted them paid for by eliminating healthcare for the poor, the fix would be easy. Those loser Democrats would simply move off of their radical focus on non-issues such as preexisting conditions, and move to the center.

But, when you ask Americans, they don’t want what Paul Ryan wants. They want the government to help them more, believe healthcare is a right, and while they don’t hate the rich (sorry, Bernie Bros), they want to pay for government with a progressive tax system.

When Americans use the word “government” pejoratively, it’s important to understand that they really mean the Republican caricature of government, not the reality. The reality is that Americans overwhelmingly approve of what the government actually does for them with their tax dollars. They certainly want it to work better (duh), but they don’t want it to go away.

If you’re skeptical of this idea, look at the federal budget (another way of saying, “the government”). We know the vast majority of spending is on is entitlements, military, and obligatory debt service. There, 90% of Americans say Social Security is an important program. Only 20% of Americans think cutting Medicare is a good idea. And if you think any Americans (including Democratic politicians) want to cut military spending in a way that makes Americans unsafe, feel free to stop reading now.

What’s left in the budget (government) to oppose is a rounding error. Good for performance art during elections, but not much more.

With respect to the “culture war,” often cited as the reason Republican voters vote against their economic interests, Americans are also fairly aligned with Democratic policies. They want the government to address climate change, support legally protecting gay rights, support current or greater levels of immigration, and even overwhelmingly support at least some access to legal abortion.

Democrats even go to church at rates that aren’t all that different than Republicans, and quite a bit more frequently than our three-time married, many times an adulterer, Republican president.

So, perhaps instead of continually asking why Democrats are out of touch with the Everyday Americans™️, The Media™️ should be asking how exactly we ended up here. How did we end up with a disconnected elite so clearly at odds with the desires of the American people achieving power with the explicit promise of saving Americans from a disconnected elite at odds with the desires of the American people?

I find that a fascinating question, but my suspicion is that no amount of soul searching and outreach to rural farmers or branding exercises by Democratic politicians will answer this question.