Can you hear us now?
Ben Jealous and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just showed Democrats how to win. Both backed single-payer health care, a living wage, criminal justice reform, a more humane immigration policy, and both ran grass roots campaigns that didn’t hew to the party machine’s middle-of-the road, center-right, corporate-campaign-driven spin machine. Both refused fossil fuel money. They’re not alone. Progressives kicked butt yesterday. Elsewhere in New York, Dana Balter beat a more moderate challenger, and in Colorado progressives swept the table.
This comes on top of progressive wins in purple Virginia, and polls show that even in the heart of red country, the issues that led to Connor Lamb’s victory were better health care, a more equitable tax system, and a commitment to protect Social Security and Medicare from Paul Ryan and the Republican’s impending assault.
Yet the party leaders in Congress and the DNC, continue to think they can ignore the progressive groundswell growing beneath them and run on how bad Trump is. Their underlying aim seems to be to win over a few Trump voters while preserving their corporate benefactors by running the same middle of the road campaign that’s lost them thousands of seats and millions of followers. Progressives are showing the old guard that the real game isn’t about converting a few Trump voters, it’s about getting some of 45 percent who won’t turn out to vote for mediocre corporate drones out to the polls. It’s about turnout.
But what do you stand for?
On the surface, it would seem that Trump is providing enough fodder for an anti-Trump campaign to work. Every day there’s another outrage – or two or three. The Supreme Court sabotages unions and upholds Gerrymandering … but wait, no time to dwell on that … they just upheld Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants … oh, and Harley Davidson, the quintessential American corporation, just announced they’re going to put a factory in Europe … zinggg … and how about the price of soy beans … Whoa … and Scott Pruitt, that cesspool of swamp stink, begged oil companies to suggest candidates for senior EPA posts … But hey, wait, the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the folks who have helped make renewable energy the cheapest source of new power, is about to be headed up by the Koch brother’s hand-picked oil cronies.
Drain the swamp? Hell, Trump is turning the whole country into a foul, fetid, stinking swamp. And the Democrats and the press just loves to tell you about it. Can’t say enough what a hypocritical, ADHD, narcissist, buffoons Trump and his administration are. They’re practically gleeful about it.
And so, with just over five months until the midterms, they’re still thinking they can ignore their increasingly progressive base, and use Trump and his cronies’ corruption and stupidity to make a great blue tsunami sweep across the nation.
They’re wrong. Dead wrong.
This strategy will allow Democrats will pick up few seats in the House – hopefully enough to take control, but the Senate is likely to stay out of reach, and nothing like a tsunami is likely, if all the Democrats can do is tell us how bad the Republicans are. There’s two reasons for this, and both have to do with turnout, and midterms are all about turnout.
Griping and whining about Trump will increase turnout among the passionately ignorant
No matter how well-founded the criticisms, Trump’s base isn’t listening. They’re tuned in to Fox News, I Heart Radio, Sinclair or one of their other propaganda outlets. Even those who get a portion of their news from the mainstream media (MSM) will get treated to a “balanced” presentation of events. You know, the old, “on-the-one-hand-this; on-the-other-that,” menu of false equivalence that the oligarch’s press just loves to shovel out. Something like, Trump may be ripping kids from their parents’ arms, but the liberals won’t let rich, white administration officials eat out at restaurants … so it’s a wash in terms of morality, right?
But it’s not simply that they’re not listening. Hearing the constant assault on Trump and his cronies is making them dig their heels in. Trump is actually getting more popular; the policies he’s implementing may be hurting his constituency more than anyone else, but to them it’s all a conspiracy. Besides, they’re not as interested in solving our problems as they are at throwing a Molotov cocktail into what they perceive to be the whole hostile political system that’s done nothing but screw them for decades now, while catering to the elite and to those “others” – you know, the browns, blacks and gays and lesbians and all those other, others. And who better to do that than Trump and his party?
Now some take solace in the fact that these people are still a minority. But Trump won with 27 percent of eligible voters, and he typically gets 40 percent or less in terms of approval in the polls.
Back to turnout. Angry, aggrieved voters are motivated voters. They will turn out to vote in the midterm and in the 2020 election as well. Which brings us to our second point.
If you don’t build it, they won’t come
Honest men and women may differ about the notion that “if you build it they will come,” but no one has ever suggested that if you don’t build it they’ll come. Yet that’s exactly what the Democrats are doing, at the moment. Quick, tell me what the party stands for … waiting; humming the Jeopardy tune, now; hurry … Buzzz. Oh, I’m so sorry. Times up.
About the clearest statement the leadership has made is that they will feature a PayGo bill in the next Congress. PayGo, for the many who can’t remember it, simply means Congress must pledge to offset any increase in the budget with either cuts somewhere else, or revenue increases sufficient to cover it. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this as a means of assuring some measure of fiscal sanity, but as a leading issue at a time when the vast majority of Americans wants to see government increase its role in health care; protect and expand Social Security; Medicare and Medicaid; make college affordable; reign in Wall Street and the big banks as well as a host of other progressive programs? It’s insane.
But if you’re not serious about backing an agenda based on values, PayGo is perfect. It’s value neutral, vague, and actually it plays right into the Republican’s playbook, which features endless yammering about balanced budgets when Democrats are in charge, record-setting deficits when they are.
Republicans have been playing this whole bait and switch game since Reagan. When they’re in power, they give giant tax cuts to the rich and corporations under cover of trickle-down and supply side claptrap, then use the resulting inevitable deficits to justify attempts to cut popular social programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, student loans and grants, and aid to children in need, among others. When Democrats are in power, Republicans scream about how deficits will sink the economy, and use it to keep them from enacting anything for the poor or middle class.
It’s bad enough that Pelosi, Schumer and the rest of the over-the-hill gang running the party seem to think preemptive capitulation is smart politics; but it’s far worse that it is – literally – a gift to Republicans, who could and should be on the ropes.
Because progressives are fed up with a party of, by, and for the oligarchy. And because voters are fed up, they won’t show up, unless Democrats get wise and embrace a national progressive agenda and back progressive candidates.