Wednesday, June 09, 2021


Democrats in D.C. appear paralyzed right now -- they're engaged in futile attempts to negotiate a bipartisan infrastructure bill while they're unable to pass election reforms because of Joe Manchin's opposition to their main reform bill and because of his insistence, along with Kyrsten Sinema, on preserving the filibuster. What's wrong with Democrats? Why don't they fight harder? Why do they always try to appease obstructionists?

They do it because many of their voters insist. A commenter directs me to this story from NBC's Sahil Kapur:
New focus groups conducted by a prominent Democratic pollster warn that many voters "have trouble describing a clear positive vision of what the Democratic Party stands for."

The study ... led by Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and requested by the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, indicated that the party needs to achieve more legislative victories or it could lose key voters in the midterm elections next year.
Lake's focus groups included "swing voters, who oscillate between parties, and Democratic surge voters, who need some extra motivation to turn out." A Democratic congressman, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, observed some of the groups.
Pocan ... said voters wanted the two parties to get along and find common ground — with a caveat.

"They did say they want us to work together, but they instantly moved on to, 'But you got to get things done,'" he said. "They're not going to give us a lot of latitude to say we couldn't get it done because of the Republicans, especially when Democrats are officially in charge of everything."
But this is an impossible demand. Republicans don't want Democrats to get anything done. Democrats can either negotiate or act -- negotiation with Republicans never leads to action, because it's meant to lead to either gridlock or capitulation. The only reason for Democrats to negotiate is so they can say -- particularly to voters like the ones in Lake's focus groups -- that they really, really tried.

Lake's memo on the focus group has more:
Swing voters ... expect Democrats to be using their power to get things done but want to see more cooperation across party lines....

Swing voters are looking for candidates who are less partisan, independently-minded, and can work across the aisle to get things done. They don't want to see anything they perceive as too partisan or extreme - words that these voters largely associate with politicians using divisive language, rather than with progressive policies....

While surge voters agree with many criticisms of Republicans presented in ... contrast messages, it is still important not to appear too divisve, critical, or negative. These voters want messaging that feels positive and solutions-oriented.
The only way out of this, I think, is for Democrats to continue negotiating with bad-faith actors while harboring no illusions (which I think is what President Biden is doing on infrastructure) while they gradually try to acclimate Democratic voters to more direct attacks on the GOP (something few Democrats are doing now). Republicans weren't always as feral as they are now -- they were trained to be this way by Nixon and Agnew, by Reagan and Limbaugh and Gingrich, by Fox News and Alex Jones. Democrats shouldn't try to turn their voters into GOP-style rage junkies, but they could urge them to be a bit angrier. It may be all the party can manage with only 50 senators.

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