Opinion: Democrats can’t reap what they never try to sow

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(AP)

Last year, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the various PACs that supported her spent well over $1 billion, much of it to buy a heavy barrage of TV ads in swing states at a point late in the campaign when many beleaguered voters had already tuned those ads out.

And as we all know, she lost. Democratic hopes to take control of the Senate were dashed as well, despite tens of millions of dollars raised and spent in that effort, and if you follow the news, you know the country is paying a heavy price for the Democrats’ failure. So this week, some 400 members of the Democratic National Committee are coming to Atlanta to pick a new party chairman and to talk over what went wrong and how to fix it.

There’s certainly no shortage of valid theories, ranging from a failure of grassroots organizing to a lack of enthusiasm among minority voters to the selection of a candidate who epitomized the Washington establishment in an election cycle when voter disgust with that establishment was palpable. All of that was true to at least some extent.

But let’s talk a few minutes about one particular aspect of the 2016 campaign, the inability and even unwillingness of the Democratic Party to take its economic message to white, working-class Americans. In this election, Clinton lost white voters without a college degree by almost 40 points, which is 14 points worse than Barack Obama did with that group in 2012.

When you ask how the Democrats lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, that’s a big part of the explanation. And that failure is particularly egregious because the needs of that particular segment of the electorate match up so closely with what ought to have been Democratic policy and the Democratic message. Democrats may never win that particular voting group, but there is no reason to accept a loss on that kind of scale.

It set me to wondering how that particular problem might be addressed, and here’s a few thoughts:

1.) If you wait until the campaign season to start outreach to these voters, forget it, because you’ve failed already. In the overheated, increasingly tribalistic atmosphere of an election, trying to change minds or alter loyalties is all but hopeless. So take some of the enormous resources expended in campaigns and invest them much earlier, as in right now, in a sustained, issue-driven outreach that speaks to real needs and real problems, and direct that outreach where you’ve been weakest, geographically and demographically.

Again, don’t wait until the election. The election season is when you reap what you should have been sowing for years, and for the most part the Democrats have done no sowing in these particular fields for years and years.

2.) Take your message back from Donald Trump, who stole it from you. Then beat him about the head with it, figuratively speaking, because he more than deserves it.

Trump won the GOP nomination because he didn’t shy from engaging in what Republicans in any other year would decry as class warfare. He raged against the elites, he promised to defend the little guy, the working person, against a system that is so rigged against them that they can’t possibly win. He promised to defend social programs and take on Wall Street, and for a while there was even promising to raise taxes on the rich.

Once in office, he has done the exact opposite. The very Wall Street insiders whom he used to attack have now been handed control of the U.S. economy. The fat cats are getting fatter. Goldman Sachs stock is up $70 a share since Election Day because he is giving them all they could ever dream of getting, and institutions such as the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, put in place to protect the little guy from the predators who rig the system, are being gutted or dismantled.

So tell people that. Tell them now, while they can watch it taking place. Tell these voters that Trump and other Republicans are taking their health insurance away so they can finance tax cuts for the rich, because that’s exactly what they’re doing. Explain how the refusal of state leaders to expand Medicaid has put rural hospitals out of business and forced doctors to relocate to larger communities where they can actually get paid. Remind them of the meth and opiate epidemics ravaging their towns, and the fact that Medicaid could help pay for the drug treatment programs that might save their child’s life.

Remind them as well that Medicaid pays the bill for two-thirds of the elderly in long-term care in Georgia. Ask them to imagine their lives if Medicare and Social Security are privatized. Some of the strongest support for public schools in this country comes from rural areas and small towns, where teachers are still respected community leaders, where the schools are valued employers and where education is understood as essential for those who want to better themselves. Then point out the well-organized, well-financed network that is attempting to undermine public education across the country.

Oh, and trade. Remind them that Mexico and China are two of our biggest export markets for agricultural products, and that a trade war will gut rural economies.

3.) These voters are not going to come to you looking for information, not in this divisive political climate. They’re also not reachable through the traditional media. You have to go to them. If they’ve retreated into their own little information bubbles, follow them there. Reach out to them through their existing information-delivery systems. You can buy your way into their bubble, and you can do so pretty cheaply.

Buy ads on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and other talk-radio formats in rural and small-town markets;  buy time on Fox News in small cable systems. Advertise on county music stations and Christian stations, and if you do so, honor your audience. As the old saying goes, put the hay where the cows can reach it.

4.) Explain all this in plain, blunt, nonpartisan terms. No exaggeration, no condescension. Make no claim that cannot be fully substantiated, don’t get personal and don’t force people to retreat into tribal emotions. If possible, find spokespersons for your message who have credibility in the communities that you’re attempting to reach. And remember that voters won’t have faith in you if you don’t have faith in them.

Put another way, appeal to voters’ hope and to their better natures, not to fear and hate. Give them a fact-based, rational explanation for their problems that serves as an alternative to the subtle and increasingly not-so-subtle appeals to racism used by some on the right. On immigration, to cite another example, talk to people in small towns and rural communities about the Mexican immigrant families that have put down roots there, the people who have earned a respected place in that community through hard work and honesty but are now threatened with deportation.

Those connections are there; they run deeper and stronger in smaller communities than in cities and suburbs, where it is possible to withdraw into enclaves. And many people want to honor those connections.

Such an approach may not win a lot more congressional seats, at least not initially. Remember, that’s not your goal. You’re not trying to win a particular race, in a particular election cycle. You are planting little information seeds, seeds of doubt and curiosity. And by doing so, maybe you raise the political cost for a local congressman who is inclined to retreat into right-wing extremism; maybe you create room for that politician to moderate, to compromise, if that’s her intention. Maybe you open ears and minds just a bit.

Again, this kind of outreach does not need to be expensive. Run some pilot projects. Pick a dozen red congressional districts around the country, try this low-key, sustained informational approach and see whether it moves the polling needle. Adjust as necessary.

I come from a white working class background. I’ve spent most of my professional life covering politics here in deep-red Georgia. And I get frustrated when I read or hear liberals complain that certain voters just don’t recognize their own self interests, when in fact no real attempt has been made to expose that audience to your argument, in terms that hit home with them.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

1856 comments
See_ATL
See_ATL

Jay. Read up on what is killing rural hospitals. Google the Hitech Act and ARA. Talk to folks in the medical industry before you make leaps into the emotional unkown of simplifying their demise as a pure function of Medicare/Medicaid. The regulatory burdens are too great for a small bed hospital to survive. The capital infrastructure required to conform with the regulations are too costly. I know economics and finance are hard concepts to grasp in a world of ideals and emotions, but pull out all the facts so that real solutions can be found to the real problems, and not just portions that can be used as a political ax. That may be a good one to add to your list, as most folks on the left and right are sick of such tactics.

Starik
Starik

@See_ATL Maybe rural hospitals should become outpatient clinics; stabilize serious cases and send them to regional hospitals with specialists and equipment to handle them.

HDB0329
HDB0329

"No exaggeration, no condescension. Make no claim that cannot be fully substantiated, don’t get personal and don’t force people to retreat into tribal emotions".......didn't that just work for Orange Foolius and the Cons??...he LIED, got PERSONAL..and made white people become TRIBAL............

theboges
theboges

The owners of the AJC are among the richest families in the world.  I doubt your paycheck has ever bounced. 

You cannot help the working class, black, white or yellow, without creating an environment for capitalists and the investor class to receive a reasonable return on their invested capital, i.e., Wall Street.  Strangle capital inflows with regulations on operations (EPA), accounting (Sarbanes-Oxley/Dodd-Frank), labor relations (Obamacare, union rules, pension requirements, minimum wage increases) and countless others and you will see capital dry up and be hoarded as cash (read:  2008-2016).  The message that Trump is sending capitalists is:  this is over.  They, in turn, will free-up their stored cash and invest in plant & equipment in the U.S. and hire those working class folks.  Why?  Because returns on productive capital exceed those on cash and they will benefit.  Call it greed, or call it intelligence or common sense, whatever.

How many jobs have you, Jay, been offered by a poor person?

HDB0329
HDB0329

@theboges ...if those poor people create the DEMAND for the product that the rich produce.....then MANY poor people have created the jobs........

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

So, I see on Twitter that members of the intelligence community are saying Trump will die in prison. Man, that's harsh.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

I was rather amused by President "Pinata's" comment... 

"The U.S. cannot deport non-Mexican citizens into Mexico" or something to that effect.

While I understand his argument, I was wondering if he had a problem with them crossing THROUGH Mexico from Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, etc and over our southern border into the U.S.

Then there are his own citizens that cross over.

One of those good for thee but not for me pronouncements.

Starik
Starik

@FIGMO2 Mexico has lots of law enforcement problems; too many to concentrate on their southern border.

gotalife
gotalife

At least conservatism believed in democracy.

kitty72
kitty72

Practical suggestions, Jay. Good idea. Dems have to do something. As much as it seems rural voters are voting against their own best interests the best way to get them to understand is to show them how the Dems vs the GOP will serve their interests. Although I think this go around they will see how the GOP does NOT serve their interests as minority farm workers disappear, more rural hospitals close and nothing gets done because the GOP has no real idea what to do.

Resist Trump
Resist Trump

@FIGMO2 @Resist Trump

I saw your response.  My non response is what a real 'ignore' looks like. It was ignored because either you don't understand what happened, or you do but are choosing to lie about it. I'm now done with you and this particular topic.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Resist Trump @FIGMO2

You're done with me?

So we're off again?

schnirt

A question.

Does tahini have to be stored in the fridge once opened?

DownInAlbany
DownInAlbany

4.) Explain all this in plain, blunt, nonpartisan terms. No exaggeration, no condescension. Make no claim that cannot be fully substantiated, don’t get personal and don’t force people to retreat into tribal emotions. If possible, find spokespersons for your message who have credibility in the communities that you’re attempting to reach. And remember that voters won’t have faith in you if you don’t have faith in them. Jay, you're faithful are failing miserably at following your advice.

goatdiddler
goatdiddler

@DownInAlbany "Make no claim that cannot be fully substantiated, don’t get personal and don’t force people to retreat into tribal emotions."

Hubers... you're faithful are failing miserably at following your advice.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@DownInAlbany "Make no claim that cannot be fully substantiated


Like Obama wasn't born here or millions of illegals voted ?

Infinite Hope
Infinite Hope

Who's the better option for the DNC, Perez or Buttigieg?  The former is the stronger candidate if experience is taken to be a good thing, but the latter is impressive as well.

Astropig
Astropig

@Infinite Hope


"Who's the better option for the DNC, Perez or Buttigieg? "


Neither. it's Keith Ellison. He has shown that he can bring people together.He's been endorsed by David Duke http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/feb/13/david-duke-gives-ringing-endorsement-to-keith-elli/


And  is the BFF of America's favorite failed Calypso singer/Violent Islamist, Louis Farrakhan;


http://www.dailywire.com/news/13436/guess-who-just-endorsed-keith-ellison-dnc-chair-frank-camp#


Ellison is our guy.If Allah really hears prayers,I'm praying he gets the job.



gotalife
gotalife

BANNON BATTLE CRY

Finally told the truth about changing democracy to fascism.
Like Obama said, democracy is on the table and we don't get it back.

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

Not as sexy, but their support for weakening environmental protections, support for the nra, etc. Is also indicative of those that don't give a rats butt about life.

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

DIA is right. War and execution are not like abortion. War and execution kill people.

gotalife
gotalife

I will never forget Hillary going to w to get everything she wanted after 9/11 to rebuild her city and State.


Of course, they love her because she leads not follows.


The last fight was for first responders health care and she won that last fight.


New York should honor her with a monument.

WDE
WDE

@Infinite Hope @gotalife well I would think not, as in the Clintons minds there is NO such thing as too much money..no no the Foundation still has a lot of work to do.

Infinite Hope
Infinite Hope

@gotalife  Is the Clinton Foundation still doing beautiful and important things throughout the world....or has it served its purpose already?

honested
honested

Mortgage rates up AGAIN!!!


I guess the 'so-called president' really FIXED THAT!

Resist Trump
Resist Trump

@honested

Blame Obama (seriously). For bequeathing President Twit a good economy and solid housing market (on verge of bubble, if not already there).

honested
honested

@Resist Trump @honested 

Heck, I was getting  ready to refi just before the election.....

Then just after the election BOOOM!

All reasons to refi evaporated!

And a tiny minority thinks this fool will be good for legitimate business!

rimsky
rimsky

@Resist Trump @honested Some time in 2015 or 2016 quite a few economists predicted we aree bound for a downturn no matter who is the President.  From what is going on with the stagnating job market this down turn will be worse than the economists thought of.

goatdiddler
goatdiddler

@Resist Trump @honested Maybe I'll pick up a couple more... I'm gonna avoid Paulding county this time though, it's a nice area, but the people...

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@Resist Trump @honested  Chasing all of the non-documented out of the country is sure to reduce construction costs and help housing, right?