Monday, August 10, 2020


I've believed for years that Democrats are far too nice to the Republican Party -- they won't portray it as the major roadblock preventing the enactment of broadly popular polices (on healthcare, the climate, guns, taxation, infrastructure, and many other issues) and they won't create a counternarrative to the GOP's incessant "Democrats are evil" messaging. Certain groups in the population -- non-whites, college-educated city-dwelling whites, suburban women -- have intuited that the GOP is the problem, but not because Democratic officeholders or officials ever say it is. Establishment Democrats won't say it because they endlessly dream of a return to an Eden where the parties get along and compromise. The new wave of progressive Democrats won't say it because they're nearly as critical of mainstream Democrats as they are of Republicans. Many of the media outlets we pay attention to have been frank about Donald Trump's moral bankruptcy, but can't wrap their minds around the nihilism and extremism of Mitch McConnell and his crew, or the heartlessness of vote-suppressing, COVID-denying GOP governors and legislators.

Does anyone in the Democratic Party get it? Does anyone know how to fight back? We know that the Lincoln Project is much better at smashmouth advertising than any Democratic operative. Similarly, Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center -- who used to work for ALEC and the Cato Institute before moderating his views -- seems to understand how to fight Republicans better than Democrats do, as he explains in this essay about his experiences as a centrist:
From the start, this has been an eye-opening experience—starting with my initial meetings with center-left policy analysts. Most of our meetings were spent discussing ideal policy design. To my frustration, discussion about the politics at hand was largely sidelined. While this model can result in excellent policy ideas, it also leads to a lot of wasted time. If a policy idea is not politically viable, or the challenge of a heavy political lift is not carefully considered, you’re asking politicians to blow up political capital to no positive end. Too many liberals seem to think that good ideas sell themselves....

On the flip side, when I was on the right discussing policy with allies, the politics occupied most of our time, and the policy design (to my frequent frustration) occupied a meager remainder. While that often led to poorly thought-out policy ideas, it also led to politically promising initiatives.
Democrats have had decades to study the right-wing infrastructure that's been eating their lunch, but they still haven't constructed anything comparable.
I am also struck by how ineffective liberals are at building the institutions necessary to stand up a political movement. Where is the liberal version of the Federalist Society? ALEC? Americans for Tax Reform? Club for Growth? CPAC? What has the left built to advance its agenda that equals the NRA? Or the extensive Koch web—which in turn, breeds right-wing activists in college, advances their work in graduate school, and embeds them in high-level political networks throughout the nation?
And this is critical:
... conservatives invariably attend to policy initiatives designed to cripple Democratic power. Right-to-work statutes, public-employee contracts, campaign finance regulation, the promotion of conservative judges: all are top priorities for a right that understands the long-term political advantages that accrue from hobbling muscular Democratic constituencies and the future scope of liberal lawmaking.

Democrats, on the other hand, rarely spend political capital on these matters. And when they do, they lack the infrastructure to execute those operations.... Consequently, the right has slowly but surely stacked the deck in American politics.
And Taylor is correct when he says that Democrats desperately need a simple story to tell Americans.
Conservatives overcome the public’s tilt to the left by campaigning on a compelling, easy-to-understand mythos about American identity and its foundation in liberty, which (the right argues) is sacrificed by excessive government power. It’s a powerful creed....

Democrats have great difficulty producing a simple, compelling creed to rival this mythos, and lack the institutional organs necessary to pound a liberal creed home to the public. Consequently, they invest huge sums of money in marketing research and communications strategies premised on granular surveys of public opinion to inform their meta-narratives in any given election.
Can't anyone on our side play this game? Some people can, but it often appears that none of them are actually Democrats.

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