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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

You Can't Win a Fight by Avoiding It

Last week, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that made the rounds of lefty blogs. Titled Why Voters Tune Out Democrats, Greenberg made the case that Democrats need to make a push to transform both Americans' perception of government and to eliminate campaign finance laws that favor Republicans.

Those are, of course, the broad strokes; his actual suggestions are more detailed. But the core argument -- or, at least, what I took as the core argument -- was this (emphasis mine):

In analyzing these polls in the United States, I see clearly that voters feel ever more estranged from government -- and that they associate Democrats with government. If Democrats are going to be encumbered by that link, they need to change voters' feelings about government. They can recite their good plans as a mantra and raise their voices as if they had not been heard, but voters will not listen to them if government is disreputable.

Oddly, many voters prefer the policies of Democrats to the policies of Republicans. They just don't trust the Democrats to carry out those promises.


And why should they? Look at the deficit fight. Polling showed that voters were with the Democrats on taxes. "The rich are getting richer. Their effective tax rate, in recent years, has been reduced to the lowest in modern history. Nurses, teachers and firemen actually pay a higher tax rate than some billionaires," says Sen. Bernie Sanders. "It's no wonder the American people are angry."

Yet, when the people are on Democrats' side -- as they also were with the public option in healthcare reform -- the party routinely abandons popular opinion in favor of bipartisanship. And voters throw up their hands, asking, "Again?"

What got me thinking about all of this was a report showing that, despite just having a big win in Washington, the Tea Party is scared. Why? Because in one state in this nation, the Democrats are standing with the people in full populist mode -- and it's working.


Two of the nation's prominent tea party groups will merge for a Wisconsin bus tour in support of six Republican state senators facing recall elections...

The next round of recalls, scheduled for Aug. 9, is part of a summer long series of elections pitting six Republicans and three Democrats against challengers. An incumbent Democrat already won the first election in July.

If three Republicans can't keep their seats, then the GOP will lose control of the state legislature and Democrats could be poised to overturn Walker's budget reforms.

"I don't know that I would say that we are going to sweep all six races, but our polling tells that we have leads in three of these races an we are dead tied in three," Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Tate told Greg Sargent. "Independents are moving towards the Democratic candidates in strong numbers."

"Even if Dems don't take back the state senate in the end, it seems clear that the Wisconsin recall wars are shaping up as a dress rehearsal of sorts for the 2012 elections," writes Sargent. "Whatever happens, Wisconsin Dems have already succeeded in creating a true grassroots movement built around an unabashedly class-based set of themes that rely on a type of bare-knuckled class-warfare rhetoric that makes many national Dems queasy. In this sense, success in Wisconsin could offer a model for a more aggressive, populist approach for Dems in 2012."

Say it with me, "Us versus them" -- because that's exactly how Republicans see it. Pretending that they're interested in compromise is making national Democrats into a party of chumps. In one state, we have Republicans on the run -- immediately after a big electoral victory for them -- by dropping centrism and compromise and results for the sake of results. In Wisconsin, dems are standing with the vast, vast majority of voters who've never seen the inside of a corporate boardroom.

Remember, the Tea Party gained ground not because people didn't want healthcare reform, but because the Republicans pretended they were saving Medicare from healthcare reform. Once Republicans got elected and started attacking Medicare, the movement began to evaporate. It was a huge bait-and-switch and I doubt it left a good taste in many voters' mouths.

To wrap it all up, what Democrats need to do is embrace full-throated economic populism. The banner should be "Us versus them," because it is us versus them. Republicans are slowly dismantling the United States and selling it off for a pittance though privatization. They're taking Medicare and Social Security -- which you've already paid for -- and using it to fund tax giveaways to people who don't need the money. And, every step of the way, Democrats have been helping them. Even now, a brainless bunch of Blue Dogs are writing up a Balanced Budget Amendment bill -- despite the fact that the amendment is a thinly disguised move by the GOP to attack Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security with impunity ("We had to gut them. We didn't have any choice. The Constitution says we have to balance the budget!").

If the reality is us versus them, Democrats have been playing us versus us for far too long. Look at Wisconsin, see what's happening there. See Gov. Walker and Republicans and the Tea Party in full panic mode. Hear Wisconsin voters talk about their Democratic state senators not as ineffective, wishy-washy, go-along-to-get-along compromisers, but as working class heroes they're genuinely proud of.

In short my dear national Democrat, you get your head out of Washington and join us in the real world. Stand by the people, fighting side by side against corporations and special interests and astroturf organizations.

That's how you win, by fighting. Because that's your freakin' job.


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