Democrats are getting pummeled while they’re down — it’s time to punch back
Democrats are too polite for their own good. Too polite to understand the emotional connection that drives voters to the polls. Too polite to understand that either fear or fire is what drives a successful campaign. Fear of the other candidate or firing up your base with red meat. Voters won’t care about democratic policies if they do not believe that democrats actually care about them.
This isn’t trigonometry or comparative theory, this is a bare-knuckle brawl and the guy who reminds the teacher that the homework wasn’t collected at the end of class isn’t going to win elected office (except for maybe Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)).
Republicans have spent the last 30 years kicking Democrats in the proverbial teeth. Whether it’s Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stealing Supreme Court seats, Donald Trump flagrantly attempting to destroy institutions or the insurrection that took place on Jan. 6, Republicans continuously backhand Democrats who basically apologize for standing in their way.
It’s time for Democrats to do what the average person would do if they were punched, punch back. Timidness won’t fulfill the promise by Democrats to pass voting rights bills or reform the filibuster. Instead, timidness will continue to depress voter turnout, erode civil rights and allow corporations to have undue influence over our government. Taking the high ground may feel nice for those who can afford to spend time patting themselves on the back, but for everyone else, it reeks of indifference. Winning matters.
Our Democracy is under threat. That’s not an overreaction, it’s the truth. Republicans look like they’re playing checkers while Democrats look like they can’t even find the box containing the board games. It’s simple: Republicans don’t actually care about critical race theory or believe caravans are heading towards the border, but they do understand that nativism shrouded in grievance causes a visceral response that their voters care about. What the Republicans at the top of the party actually care about is cutting taxes for corporations and the donor class that makes up the top 1 percent. Culture war issues like abortion, immigration and racial division are just a means to an end.
Failing to aggressively take on Republicans operating in bad faith and call out their corruption isn’t just political malpractice, it’s a moral failure. It’s perfectly acceptable to loudly declare that our government’s policy decisions shouldn’t be for sale to the highest bidder. It’s perfectly fair to acknowledge that the same people who want to cut funding for healthcare or deny that climate change exists too often have a financial interest that conveniently never results in losing money. It’s perfectly fair to act like we’re in a fight worth winning.
Why should voters keep showing up, keep investing their emotions, keep fighting the good fight, if they don’t feel that same fight coming from their leaders? Jan. 6 was an attempted coup. That’s not hyperbole, that’s an indisputable fact. Donald Trump attempted to override the will of the people. That’s a coup, period. That’s not supposed to happen here.
Most importantly though, as Joy Reid and Bakari Sellers so perfectly articulated, why should Black voters continue to show up for a party that continues to fail to show up for them? Black voters consistently turn elections for Democrats, yet they continue to be treated like surplus voters. Failing to aggressively respond to racial red herrings like critical race theory, or pass a new voting rights bill, will have 10 times the impact that attempting to turn out the elusive white former Obama-Trump voter will ever have on an election.
We are losing. Losing our ability to protect our democracy, losing our ability to protect civil rights, and losing our ability to protect what’s left of what makes us who we are. Democrats may be in power now, but without a drastic culture change, we won’t be for long. That should terrify Democratic voters and honestly terrify any American paying attention.
Democrats don’t have to keep losing the messaging battle. We don’t have to cede ground out of deference to polite society. Politics is ugly and the consequences can be cruel. But everyone in Washington knows that the only way to play is to play for keeps.
Michael Starr Hopkins is a founding partner at Northern Starr Strategies.
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