Democrats and that deer-in-the-headlights feeling
Many Democrats seem to feel that their part is in a deer-in-the-headlights posture as the fall elections are coming straight at them. The first couple of days of the January 6 hearings show that the Democrats can do decent messaging when they put their minds to it. But their minds often seem to wander from that task.
Bernie Sanders sounded the alarm last week: Burgess Everett, Bernie to Dems: Change course before you nosedive in November Politico 04/09/2022. Sanders stated the problem succinctly: "You really can’t win an election with a bumper sticker that says: ‘Well, we can’t do much, but the other side is worse.’”
Elizabeth Warren made a similar point in April (Grayson Quay, Democrats must 'deliver' or lose big in November, Elizabeth Warren says in op-ed The Hill 04/18/2022):
There has long been a couple of distinct but overlapping divisions in the Democratic Party. (For convenience, we can date it 1980 and the subsequent absorption of the "Reagan Democrats" into the Republican Party.
One is a left-right, corporate/progressive divide. Ryan Grim chronicles some of the most important moments in that history in his book, We've Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement (2019).
The other divide is a temperamental/attitudinal one, between those who think Democrats should actively fight politically for their own side and those who blather on about bipartisanship. Beto O'Rourke getting up in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's face after the Uvalde massacre was an example of a Democrats who's not distinctly in the progressive camp but was actually willing to fight in a way that many Democrats including some nominal progressives are not. Michigan's secretary of state Joyce Benson has distinguished herself the past couple of years in fighting aggressively against and warning consistently about the dangers of Republican voter suppression and election subversion. That's something that both progressives and be-aggressive-against-the-Republican groups can get behind enthusiastically.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is probably the best example of a Democrat who is both a corporate hack and would much rather surrender to Republicans than fight them.
What Sanders and Warren are emphasizing is actually basic, deliver-the-goods politics.
But now they are saying it in what is now the 13th year of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling being in effect. Immediately after the ruling, then-President Obama said in his regular weekly address, "This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. ... I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest."
Whether Obama and other Democrats did all they could to overturn the Citizens United decision is a good question to ask. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom et al, More money, less transparency: A decade under Citizens United Open Secrets n/d; John Nichols, The Senate Tried to Overturn ‘Citizens United’ Today. Guess What Stopped Them? The Nation 09/11/2014)
It would be difficult to argue that the Democrats have given overturning Citizens United the priority one might think if they regarded it as so serious that they "can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest."
Corporate interests are very well represented in both parties. But the voters for both parties are obviously not all oligarchs. So the Republicans rely heavily on issues like low taxes, hostility to "gubment," and conservative culture-war issues like opposition to women's rights and gun-cult fantasies to mobilize their voters. And the organization at the local level is also important - another basic of normal politics - both to create a bench of future candidates and to get out the votes for elections.
The Democrats appeal to voters on a variety of issues that enjoy majority support among voters nationally: women's rights, civil rights for ethnic/racial minorities, adequately funded schools and local governments, expanding health insurance coverage, support for higher wages and workers' rights including unions, opposition to gun proliferation, support for policing that is both responsive and responsible.
But the Republicans are simply more intensely focused on their base's red-meat issues than the Democrats are. I periodically quote what I call The One True Thing David Frum Ever Said: "while Republican politicians fear their base, Democratic pols hate theirs," (Gibbs on the Left FrumForum 08/10/2010)
Women having the right to abortion is not a danger to corporate profits. It doesn't raise taxes on the wealthiest. So that is not a issue about which business lobbyists need to focus for to protect their profits. But the Republicans focus on and often deliver on that issue that they have actively promoted for decades as an issue for their base. And they make sure their base sees and recognizes that they are doing that.
As with the Citizens United issue, or police reform that is an issue of particular concern to Black and Latino voters who have tended to support Democrats at higher rates than Republicans, the Democrats don't show any similar zeal. And they often seem to take the attitude of, "Well, where else are those voters going to go?"
The Republicans don't look like they are going to have much trouble turning out their voters in November.
The Democrats haven't done much as a national party to shore up their local party structure and get-out-the-vote operations, though there is still time to make progress on the latter. And there are some definite factors that should help the Democrats, like the amazing fact of full employment at the moment. For decades, that has conventionally been assumed to be a huge help the President's party.
But it really is a problem that the Democrats control the Presidency, the Senate, and the House, but they are regularly in the position of explaining why they can't seem to get much passed. And constant appeals to bipartisanship with a Republican Party that is opposing them in the bitterest terms sound not just naive but disingenuous. And to many of the partisan Democratic voters that they really need to turn out to vote in November, it sounds like weak excuse-making.
And the Republicans really are working on ways to peel off some Democratic votes among minority communities, and not by moderating their policies: Alexander Sammon, The RNC’s Ground Game of Inches The American Prospect 06/01/2022.