In his diary on March 6, “Why Wisconsin poses such a serious threat to Republicans,” Daily Kos’s Campaign Director, Chris Bowers, identified groups that voted 2:1 or nearly so for Democrats since 2006. He argued that mobilizing members of these groups through netroots would be a powerful force for Progressive issues.
This makes sense ... as far as it goes. Today’s Republican governors and state and Federal legislators are proving how the electorate was misled and mistaken in 2010. The GOP, abetted by plutocratic financing and goaded on by Tea Party macho, is handing us even better opportunities than we could have created for ourselves.
But there are voting groups who proved to be critically important in the 2008 election who do not fit those molds. If we are to reverse the shellacking Democrats took in November 2010, we need to broaden our horizons and our advocacy.
How shall the soldiers gird for battle
if the trumpet sounds an uncertain call?
Chris identifies two main collections of Democratic groups. To borrow his labels:
“non-whites, non-Christians, single women and the LGBT community”My wife and I are none of the above. We voted for President Obama. We marched for Health Care Reform. We volunteered to canvas and poll watch in 2008 and 2010. We traveled to the DC rally last October for labor and civil rights. We wrote letters to editors and elected officials. We gathered in downtown Chicago for snow-and-cold solidarity with the protesters in Wisconsin. We do not believe that Democrats are the Party of “everyone else.”
“If you don't fit into any of those four categories, and you are still a Democrat, odds are that you are an economic outsider of some sort. That is, you are either in a union or you are poor.”
“Crudely speaking, in the face of a straight, white, Christian, married, non-poor and non-unionized plurality, the Democratic Party is the coalition of everyone else.”
Of course, by ourselves, two individuals do not prove or disprove the validity of larger demographics. But Barack Hussein Obama won his world-changing election with a lot of help from people in these demographics:
- young white voters (under 30)How fortuitous! The influence of these groups will only increase, for they represent tectonic demographic shifts that tend to run against today’s Republican ideology. They give us hope for the future, theirs and ours.
- new and disaffected black and Hispanic voters
- college-educated whites
There was another group in the 2008 election, a critically important group who does not tectonically favor Democrats:
“Those who describe themselves as moderates, 44% of the electorate, voted for Obama by a huge margin, 60% to 39%. Obama also beat McCain among Independents by eight points, 52% to 44%, three points better than Kerry did in 2004.”November 4, 2008, was a seminal election. It produced the widest Presidential margin since Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in 1984, 24 years ago. (For nitpickers, George H. W. Bush beat Mike Dukakis in 1988 by 53%-45%, a fractionally higher percentage than Obama/Biden beat McCain/Palin.)
For more, see How Barack Obama Won, A State-by-State Guide to the Historic 2008 Presidential Election by NBC’s Chuck Todd and Sheldon Gawiser (Vintage Books, 2009)
In the run-up to 2012, we ignore at our peril the demographics that produced the turnout that won in 2008.
Of course, Progressives are energized by the interests of “everyone elses” and “economic outsiders” – as well we should be; these communities of interest are our vital base – but our advocacy has to resonate with those moderate and independent voters, too. If it doesn’t, noble as we are, we open ourselves to defeats in 2012.
Face it. Ardent Progressives can be purists. We are disaffected by compromises offered by President Obama and many in Congress, and we were hotly critical of giving in. We want it all. But Barack Obama is also the President of the 45.7% of the voting public who voted against him. Considering the Republican gains in 2010, it blinks reality to think those gains came about because our President was not Progressive enough. (In legislative bargaining, floor debates and on the campaign trail, Democrats were not bold enough. Guilty, to that!)
Progressives can be naïve. The credulous among us assumed that the House and Senate Democrats were Democrats who believed as we do. So we took them all for granted until, surprised by the Blue Dogs, we excoriated them for looking more like Republicans. To be sure, they deserved it. But how sure are we in a given district or state that there is a stronger Democrat who will run, run well, and get elected in 2012? If we aren’t darned sure of those things, let’s not succumb to the allure of primarying a Democrat, putting that seat at risk and jeopardizing becoming a majority? 2012 is not the year for Pyrrhic victories.
Progressives are idealistic. We overlook the maxim that Politics is the Art of the Possible. This is a basic law of political physics that Progressives cannot repeal. Yes, of course, aspirationally, we must advocate for better things than just what is possible today. But governance does ultimately come down to counting votes.
Some of us can be as extreme in our rhetoric as the Tea Baggies are in theirs. Hollarin’ ain’t pretty. It’s not compelling, either, to potential voters who sincerely believe they are undecided, middle-of-the-road, independent. And to voters who want to say they’re moderate, who don’t care for extremes of any kind. These people aren’t wishy-washy. They know what the MSM does not, that the truth is not to be found between two sides yelling at each other.
So what does that voting demographic in The Middle look for? Honest and understandable statements of values, examples of how we will translate these into action, a nod to the other side’s points that have enough reason in them to be rebutted reasonably. An understanding of the imperfections in us all, a sense of the community that we are all a part of, no matter what we believe. And answers that move the community forward.
Progressives, we can win in that environment.
Case in point: teachers. The financial issue is teacher pay and contributions to their benefits and pensions, like other wage earners. Fair. Accept that lot of people work hard jobs with long hours, have no benefits, no unions, and pay taxes. So, point to the concessions teachers might willing to make in good faith bargaining – have made in Wisconsin! - because teachers are taxpayers, too. Deficits affect their kids, too. And at the core, recognize all the jobs that teachers do, as mentors, disciplinarians, sometimes as confidants to parents as well as children. We need classrooms with workable student-teacher ratios, schools funded to provide basic supplies so teachers don’t have to pay for them out of their own pockets, school administrations that can afford training for professional advancement. Good schools benefit the community and repay its taxpayers' with a better quality of life and higher property values.
OK, we do use these arguments like this, but they take time, patience and somewhat receptive listeners. They take reasoning, too, just what fair people in The Middle have a right to expect! And they're better than epithets, talking points repeated and legends retold.
Such conversations broaden the dialog and have an appeal way beyond simplistic code phrases. Moderates and independents will listen better. We will win some of them over. We may convert a Republican or two in the process (as appears to be the case even though no Republican legislator seems able to admit it publicly in Wisconsin yet).
There was a sign at a recent protest in Miami over Florida Governor Scott’s plans to cut the school budget by 10%. The sign said:
RICK SCOTT HATESWhile I don’t much care for “hate” in a message either, that is an effective sign. Best of all, those Regular People, they vote!