"Beatings will continue until morale improves."
We've seen various iterations of this slogan play out here on Dailykos, where we are continuously treated to hectorings, threats, and outright insults about having to support Democrats in the midterms in November. Instead of taking concerns of voters and Democratic activists seriously, these concerns are instead denigrated, made fun of, and told that one is "aiding the enemy" to a sense in voicing these concerns.
The message is basically thus--"Don't want things to turn worse? Vote Democratic because the Republican alternative is worse!"
Is that the sort of message that gets activists and voters out to vote? Is it the one that gets these people on your side for the midterm campaigns?
In one short word---NO.
This was pretty much the message that the Democratic Party had in 2000, where it was about voting for the lesser of two evils, and then again in 2004, where the milquetoast Kerry, instead of taking on the Republican machine directly, used that message to no effect. Did it spur a lot of enthusiasm in the base, and appeal to independent voters? From my perspective, it didn't.
When 2008 rolled around, there was a very charismatic candidate, Senator Barack Obama, who ran on a message of change and hope. The implicit message was that in voting for him (instead of doing the usual voting against a Republican candidate as Democratic voters are told to do so these days), the voter would experience change that could be felt immediately and directly in their lives. The difference was that voters were excited, enthused, and ready to vote FOR Senator Barack Obama, rather than holding their noses to vote AGAINST Senator McCain.
See the difference there?
And now, even though there have been major legislative accomplishments such as health insurance reform, where children with pre-existing conditions are now offered insurance coverage (but with no guarantee of actually affording such insurance), and financial regulation reform---the financial impact are not felt by voters. Is health insurance more affordable for them? Not so, when premiums continue to rise, and government subsidies are more than four years away. This point does not diminish the "good" of such regulations taking effect, but it is very important to voters who see their premiums continue to skyrocket.
With regards to financial regulation, and the supply-sidism through tax cuts to businesses, voters are still wondering how it'll make their lives better when the unemployment rate continues to be high, and the increasing costs of everyday utilities and goods make it harder for them to make ends meet with their stagnant wages. Engaging in top-down policies focused at businesses (which are sitting on more than $1 trillion) doesn't work, especially when bottom-up policies have shown to work, and to be much more effective.
What voters are asking for are immediate effects to their economic situation, and to feel like the American dream isn't slipping away. Voters in upper-middle class families have worked for decades to achieve their dream, only to see it threatened by current economic situations. Should their concerns be denigrated because they're upper middle class? No---because we need their votes. We need to listen to them just as much as we listen to those who are solidly middle-class, lower-middle class, and the poor.
What all of them feel is the sense that the government is not there for them, that Wall Street, and other industries are being bailed out instead of Main Street. They need to see and feel that the Democratic Party is working to keep and strengthen the American Dream, and we can do that by highlighting strong progressive candidates.
It certainly doesn't help when many Democrats are reluctant to hold a vote on the Obama middle-class tax cuts because they also want to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Seeing many Democrats run away from taking the fight to Republicans on this issue doesn't help voters at all, and neither does it help our outreach to these voters. So, the question is, how do we get their votes? How do we keep the Democratic activists with us?
The answer is, we don't beat, cajole, hector, denigrate, insult, or ignore their concerns and needs. We have to empathize with them, understand where they're coming from, take their concerns seriously. Then we educate them about who their Democratic Senator/Representative is, why it's worth keeping that official in Congress, and the sort of legislative victories that Democratic official has done.
We give people a reason to vote FOR the progressive Democratic candidate, rather than scaring them into voting AGAINST the Republican candidate. That's how we do it by exciting them and giving them a reason to vote. This is the sort of message that worked very well in 2008, and should work again in 2010.
Switch the focus off voting for Democrats as a party or keeping the Democratic majority or Republican bogeymen (we all know Republicans suck), and instead switch the focus on how that progressive Democratic official can best improve the life of that voter, and what that progressive Democratic official has done so far for that voter.
For instance, there's Senator Barbara Boxer in California. She's stellar on the environment, and long has been an advocate for a woman's right to choose, and truly cares about the quality of education our children get in public schools.
In reaching voters about Barbara Boxer, or helping raise money for her, firstmost---educate yourself first, and then approach voters with your knowledge about what Senator Boxer does best. Ask them if they'd like to have her in office for six more years so she can continue on being an excellent progressive Senator because she fights for them, rather than for big special interests on Wall Street. And if they say yes, then ask them to vote for her in November, and to ask their friends to do the same as well.
When I say switch the focus off Republican bogeymen, does it mean completely taking the focus off them? No--you should rightly focus on the flaws of the Republican opponent that your progressive Democratic candidate is facing. But you should not make your message squarely about the Republican opponent because that doesn't give the voter you're seeking to reach a reason to vote FOR the Democratic candidate--instead, you are telling that voter to vote AGAINST the Republican candidate. That does your progressive Democratic candidate a disservice.
And now, in shifting from voters to progressive left Democratic activists. How do you want to get these Democratic activists who feel that the Democratic Party is no longer fighting for them on your side? You don't beat, hector, cajole, or insult them. Nor do you denigrate their views. That is a surefire recipe to losing the activism that person can bring to the table. In getting them on your side, understand where they're coming from, and take their concerns seriously.
Browbeating them does not help at all. Instead, validate their concerns by listening to them, and asking them if they'd like to help elect progressive candidates that would definitely fight for them. Help re-focus their pain and anger, and channel it into a positive energy by electing and re-electing excellent progressive Democrats. Don't ask them to help out those candidates such as Senator Blanche Lincoln--for them, it is more about improving the Democratic Party rather than weakening the party through conservative Democrats like Lincoln. Even though some of you may disagree with that, it is far better to have progressive energy focused on electing and keeping progressive Democrats in office, since that works out to everyone's benefit.
"Beatings do not improve morale--rather, it worsens morale."
It's all about electing better Democrats this election cycle around. And that is a positive message that Democratic activists can rally around, and carry to voters. If one truly believes that every vote counts---then voters and Democratic activists should not be insulted, denigrated, browbeaten, or ignored when it comes to addressing their concerns. And it is very much indeed up to each one of us in deciding whether every vote does count.