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Democrats Don't Fight Hard Enough, And Their Voters Let Them Do It
Fear Leads To Paralysis
As someone who has frequently criticized elected Democrats for failing to stand up to the right or being ineffective far too often when opposing the right, one of the strangest types of criticism I’ve heard is the term “do something,” used by those defending the party.
Somehow asking a political party to fight - representing the constituents it was elected to represent - is asking too much? “Do something” is the bare minimum one could ask of a political party or movement, and for some that seems to be too much.
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But it also gets to the heart of what feels like a huge problem within the Democratic Party itself.
The party is not good at fighting. When it comes to the day in, day out rough and tumble world of American politics, the Democratic Party is a debate team in a world built for street gangs. Whether it is dealing with the elected Republican Party, conservative activists, Fox News, or the mainstream media when it reliably echoes right-wing narratives, the party is repeatedly caught flat-footed.
Democrats have not seriously adapted to the political and media world of the 21st century. The last major shift in Democratic techniques came about during the Clinton era, when politics began shifting to a daily news cycle from the slower cycles of the past. Even then, not everyone in the party establishment was willing to adapt to communications techniques like faxing and talking points. But it eventually happened.
But now, the fight is not merely a twenty-four game. It’s minute by minute. It requires speed and repetition, and most importantly: Simplicity.
Yet far too many Democrats operate as if it is perpetually 1996. That would be bad enough, but the Republican/conservative opposition has adapted. The right eats and breathes internet-era communications and shaped by Fox, they communicate directly to their base and the wider world in easy to understand soundbites. True, the content is garbage, racist, misogynist, bigoted, and all of it — but it is effective, and that’s the whole point.
Defenders of Democratic stasis will say yes, but things are clearly not that bad. Democrats still win elections, so that proves that the problems and deficiencies being highlighted from within the wider liberal tent are overblown.
My response to that would be to point out that most of the recent Democratic Party wins have only come about after Republicans were allowed to run wild, to the point where hundreds of thousands were killed.
Democratic election wins in 2006 and 2008 came after George W. Bush invaded Iraq based on lies, leading thousands of American soldiers to their deaths. The invasion caused the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqi people, directly from American bombing but also from the chaos and instability that ran wild after America failed to secure the region post-Saddam.
Democratic wins in 2018 and 2020 came after Donald Trump implemented policies that abused migrant families, barred Muslim travel, banned transgender military service and allowed a virus he referred to as a “hoax” to kill hundreds of thousands.
Meanwhile the three Democratic presidencies since 1992 have been plagued with constant problems in communicating party ideals, and particularly the two most recent Democratic presidencies - Obama and Biden - have faced the nearly identical problem of losing the daily and hourly message war.
I believe that a big element of this is the way Democratic officials and their voters buy into the notions promoted by the right and the mainstream media that the country is inherently right-wing. Instead of looking at repeated popular vote victories for the party’s center-left positions and candidates as validation, too often Democrats operate as if millions of voters hadn’t given them a permission slip to operate.
This leads to operating out of a defensive crouch, refusing to take the fight to the right both in policy but even in day-to-day rhetoric. It isn’t that these fights have to magically be won in a 24-hour window, but there is little to no effort given to even winning an argument.
And the party’s most diehard voters, who seem to share leadership’s sentiment that they have no business really being in control, become defensive of criticism that the party should use the power it has to full capacity.
The defensiveness becomes self-fulfilling while the right continues to hammer away. And the public at large notices this dynamic. They see Republicans proudly pushing their position while Democrats allow the right to seize the terms of the entire debate. Voters, understandably, then become confused as to where the Democrats truly stand. So why bother vote for them, they ask?
For those who truly understand politics, the “why” is obvious. This is a two-party system and the right has fully embraced fascism. No matter how flawed the Democrats may be, they are not fascists, and so they rightly are the beneficiary of the anti-fascist vote.
But that argument is not enough to attain a majority of votes most times, and especially without the boogeyman of George W. Bush or Donald Trump, it falls on the elected party to show voters it has a pulse and will fight for them.
In other words, if Democrats want to keep getting elected they have to “do something.”
By arguing against “do something” out of a misguided notion that critics are aiding the right, voters end up undermining needed changes that would attract increased support for the Democratic Party at the ballot box. It enables and empowers the right, allowing them to continue to erode the core of the country.
Democratic leaders need to get better at politics, and their most devoted voters owe it to the country to stop reflexively defending them when they aren’t getting the job done.
Follow me, Oliver Willis, on Twitter @owillis
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