Democrats need to get better at politics, fast
It isn’t that Democrats have done nothing popular. They just haven’t advertised it. In fact, they’ve buried it. Democrats have forgotten what they grasped in 2020 when they united behind Joe Biden: the overriding obligation to win.
When voters are dissatisfied with the state of things, they punish the party in power, and Democrats seem poised for a thumping. This may be bad news for the health of democracy, but it is understandable as a matter of electoral politics because Democrats have forgotten what they grasped in 2020 when they united behind Joe Biden: the overriding obligation to win. That’s right — not to pass generational reforms, not to save the planet, but just to govern in a fashion that prevents the QAnon-indulging, Putin-friendly, truth-optional, insurrectionist party from returning to power.
It isn’t that Democrats have done nothing popular. They just haven’t advertised it. In fact, they’ve buried it. Included in the American Rescue Plan was one policy that really was life-changing for many Americans — the child allowance. Parents of 60 million of America’s 73 million children began receiving a check from the IRS of $300 a month for young children and $250 a month for older ones. Under Biden, child poverty reached its lowest rate in American history.
Have you heard about this dramatic accomplishment? Biden mentions it from time to time, but it should have been shouted, broadcast, trumpeted and crowed over. Sadly, the program has now lapsed, a victim of Democratic infighting.
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Nor have Democrats talked up the good economic numbers. With the exception of the inflation rate, the economic story is remarkably good. The unemployment rate dropped from 6.2% when Biden took office to 3.9% today. Skeptics might attribute that mostly to the waning of COVID-19, but that shouldn’t stop politicians from bragging. They get blamed for things they aren’t responsible for, so they might as well take credit for things they didn’t really affect. Hiring is robust, wages are rising, unemployment is low, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is at 35,000.
How about that bipartisan infrastructure bill? All of the lead pipes in America are going to be replaced, saving God knows how many kids from brain damage. The legislation will begin the important process of mitigating the effects of climate change by building dikes, dams and other infrastructure. It will repair roads, bridges and airports, and do much more. Have you heard about it?
Yet the dominating story of Biden’s first year-and-a-half was that Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema were traitors who stood in the way of a different bill that was never described in any way except as a price tag. A bunch of progressives wanted to spend another $2 trillion. Ninety percent of the attention has gone to what Democrats were (unrealistically) shooting for rather than what they achieved. So they drowned their own accomplishments in a miasma of recriminations.
Nor have Democrats competently pushed back on “defund the police” and “abolish ICE” and other left-wing slogans that Republicans have employed to great effect to tar their whole party. Yes, Biden had a good one-liner in his State of the Union address. “Don’t defund the police. Fund the police.” But it should have been said 3,000 times, and not just by Biden but by Vice President Kamala Harris and his cabinet members and leaders in Congress and surrogates of every kind.
They used to be better at this.
As someone who was on the other side for decades, I well recall that when Paul Ryan supported a plan that would permit Americans to funnel up to 40% of their Social Security taxes into private retirement accounts, interest group ads depicted him as a ghoul who was willing to wheel Granny off a cliff. I also recall the Obama campaign commercial that falsely pinned responsibility for a woman’s cancer death on Mitt Romney’s firm.
All of that was scurrilous, and I would never — truly never — suggest that Democrats lie about Republicans. But why can they not tell the truth?
Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is out with a plan that explicitly calls for raising taxes on 57% of American households. Could Democrats make something of that? And if not, what are they doing in politics?
Finally, at least one reason that Democrats are perceived to be out of the mainstream is that the right-wing information ecosystem relentlessly “nut picks” the most outlandish things any Democrat says or does and magnifies it out of all proportion.
By contrast, Democrats have utterly failed to elevate the profiles of sinister figures like Reps. Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn or Lauren Boebert. Where are the Democratic ads pointing out that the way you get in trouble in today’s GOP is by standing up for the rule of law and the Constitution (see Cheney, Liz and Kinzinger, Adam), but not for attending a conference organized by a Holocaust-mocking white supremacist? We used to say “the ads write themselves,” yet the Democrats can’t seem to manage it.
Get better Democrats. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast.
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