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Budowsky: What JFK would tell Democrats about midterms and Joe Manchin

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) addresses reporters after the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.
Greg Nash

While Democrats face uphill challenges in the midterm elections, and Republicans face risks greater than discussed by mainstream media, here is a strategy for Democrats to win the midterms that might well be suggested by President Kennedy if he were with us today.

Liberal and moderate Democrats, who are 98 percent to 99 percent united on the issues addressed here, might consider that JFK’s political greatness was that he was both a starry-eyed idealist and a cold-blooded realist.

As JFK’s close friend and high aide Kenny O’Donnell told me when I was younger, almost the entire Kennedy vision and plan was enacted into law during his presidency or the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.  Literally.

Kenny told us that on many early mornings in the White House Kennedy would meet with Robert Kennedy and him in the Oval Office and ask: “How are we going to change the world today?” And whatever the issue was, whether it was enacting Medicare or civil rights or creating jobs, JFK — who remains hugely popular in West Virginia — would tell them they should do things that help people, let people know exactly how these things will lift their lives and mobilize these people to actively support them.

With Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) the obstacle to these noble purposes, a temptation for many Democrats might be to suggest Academy Award slapper Will Smith meet with Manchin and work his charms. JFK would tell us there is a better way.

Here it is.

The 98 percent to 99 percent of Democrats in Congress who back critical provisions originally proposed in the pending and delayed reconciliation bill should launch a powerful and aggressive JFK-style public campaign to voters across West Virginia in support of the major ideas waiting to be passed.

The most important goal for Democrats today is to enact proposals that help voters in real ways, which every voter clearly understands, and which inspire approval and support from those voters — who would appreciate and support the Democratic president and Congress who fought for them.

As of today, Democrats will enact a bill to dramatically lower the price of prescription drugs, which will be widely popular with large numbers of voters. They will enact a significant increase in support for alternative energy that protects the earth and makes the world less dependent on Russia. They will enact a significant tax increase for those who can well afford it, some of which will reduce the deficit, which all 50 Senate Democrats support, leaving money to finance efforts to directly help middle-income and poor Americans who are hard-hit by inflation.

Through the JFK-like public campaign beginning with West Virginia voters, Democrats can advance proposals to lower the cost of child care, improve education, improve life for women and workers, help rural America or other goals. JFK, the realist, would warn us: We cannot achieve everything now. We must choose which plans to champion today, and get the rest tomorrow. JFK, the idealist, would inspire us: We can achieve significant new, widely understood and highly popular plans in the coming ten weeks.

This JFK-like plan would involve massive and saturation ads on West Virginia television, radio, newspapers and social media. These ads would clearly describe how the selected plans would make life better for West Virginia voters, and would only mention Manchin at the end, suggesting voters urge both West Virginia senators to back them.

I am reliably told that some of the pending ideas have privately polled very well in West Virginia. This saturation public campaign would inspire public polling that would dramatize support in West Virginia and could be replicated across the nation. 

This would help Manchin fulfill his commitment to help West Virginians whose lives are lifted by these plans. It would send a powerful message throughout America that it is Democrats who battle for a land of realized hopes, better lives, and shared dreams for all Americans.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Build Back Better Act JFK Joe Manchin John F. Kennedy Robert F. Kennedy Robert Kennedy West Virginia Will Smith

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