After the 2012 election, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus released a document he referred to as the “Autopsy Report.” It’s a little strange of a name, since an autopsy is performed on something that is already dead, but I can forgive the semantics. As much as Reince and I disagree on almost everything political, he hit the nail on the head with this report. The authors presented months-long research offering 219 suggestions to fix the obvious problems in the GOP, and like Republicans, the party moved forward with the easy suggestions while ignoring the ones with larger implications. An example of the latter: after declaring that it’s time for the GOP to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, and having a bi-partisan bill pass the Senate, the GOP-led House has been sitting on it for over a year. They didn’t listen, and they will once again pay the price in the 2016 Presidential election cycle.
The thing I respected about Reince’s document is the brutal honesty. He didn’t sugarcoat anything, instead laying the blame squarely on himself and the entire Republican establishment that had lost touch with the needs of the people. He didn’t seek to change the Republican platform, but he wanted to change the way that platform was communicated. I still think the guy is a weasel, but I truly respect his efforts.
In the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats experienced a similar fate, getting demolished across the board. Rather than copy Reince and his autopsy report, what follows is a simple do/don’t do list for the Democratic Party moving forward. Some of these ideas have already been expressed elsewhere, but there will be a few originals that I hope you will take the time to consider.
What To Do, and What Not To Do
1. As was pointed out early and often after the election, you cannot push away a President from your own party and expect your party, and by extension, you, to maintain credibility. It was clearly evident that Democratic candidates did not want to be seen with or compared to Obama. And why? Not because of anything that Obama did, but because his approval ratings were below 50%. In politics, it seems that behind every decision, there is a poll, and the consequence of so many polls is bone-headed decisions by people who don’t understand how to read them.
The profoundness of this treachery was on full display in Kentucky, where Alison Lundergan-Grimes was battling Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell for U.S. Senate. Nearing the election, Lundergan-Grimes was still hanging within the margin of error in the polls, spreading belief that a strong GOTV could push her over the top.
Then she was asked if she voted for Obama…
That’s just plain hard to watch. Not only does she look like she’s searching every part of her brain for an answer that will pass without actually being an answer, but there’s something even more important there. She signals to voters that Obama is not respected by his own party, which tells voters that the top Democrat is not respectable, which tells voters that all Democrats are not respectable. I don’t agree with everything Obama has done, but I respect him, and I’m proud to say that I voted for him in both 2008 and 2012. I also voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004. I regret those votes, but I own them, and you will never hear me deny them.
The hardest part of that video is that I respect the idea of not disclosing your vote to maintain confidentiality, but the attempt to deflect threw that concept out the window. If she had simply said, “I think everyone’s vote is their own business, so I respectfully decline to answer that question,” she may have had some ground to stand on. I would have accepted that answer. But did you notice she wouldn’t even say Obama’s name? He’s just, “the President.” That didn’t stop her from name-dropping Hillary Clinton, though. If you can’t or don’t want to answer a question, then step up and say that. We’re all sick of the deflections. Which brings me to number 2…
2. Enough with the deflections - Answer the question or don’t answer the question, but I’m sick of every question being twisted into a talking point. Yes, this has worked in the past, but for Republicans, because voters don’t expect much more out of them. We’re supposed to be the liberal elites…so answer the damn question. If you can’t answer it, that tells me you’re either hiding something about your answer, or you’re not smart enough to even have an answer. This has always been glossed over by the Republican voter because they expect it; we have a responsibility to rise above it. Speaking of liberal elites…
3. It’s time to accept and embrace the terminology that is used to describe us in a negative light.
They call us the liberal elite, and they mean it as an insult! Think that one all the way through. I’ll even give a short intermission to really let it sink in.
On with the show. If you’re elite, and a Republican calls you elite, then why would you try to hide from being elite? When you enter the voting booth, do you seek out candidates to vote for because they’re less elite? Would you prefer mediocrity from your elected officials? Because that’s what we’ve been getting ever since we tried to catch up to Republicans on the Good Ole Boy Scale.
Remember when we were called “tree-huggers”? I actually don’t recall being called one; I was a Republican back then, so I was calling other people tree-huggers as a not-so-thinly-veiled insult. But now that I see things from the other side, I have to wonder…would I have used that term as an insult if liberals had embraced it? In many ways this is analogous to the term Obamacare. At first, it had a negative connotation and you saw the President constantly trying to push the Affordable Care Act name. And he failed miserably, so he changed tactics and embraced the term. EVERYthing about the topic of Obamacare was flipped around, and Democrats started praising Obamacare, using the name Obamacare. The logic is fairly simple: ignore that something is there and people will wonder why you’re ignoring it, but embrace it in a positive light and people will see it for its positive effects. Trees are good. People like trees. So hug them and be proud.
There are many other important terms that could stand to get a better impression, but none more important than the flinging of a term deeply rooted in our history. Socialism.
We have tried our hardest to deny it, but deep down, most Democrats, and even most Republicans, know that a lot of our most popular programs in this country are socialist. So why is it such a taboo term in blue circles? I blame Russia. Seems like the easiest thing to do. But that’s not the whole of it, because this is our fault. If we’re being compared to Marx every time we bring up universal health care, that’s not Marx’s fault, that’s our fault for allowing it.
But let’s talk about Russia (or the former Soviet Union) for a minute. The biggest misconception of the entrance of “socialism” or “communism” into Russia is that it failed due to its principles. The ultimate failure of socialism is that, like capitalism, it relies greatly on the honesty of those in power. With greed at the top, both of those systems will ultimately fail, and because socialism is designed to spread wealth and equality, the gut-punch for those within the system finding out that they’ve been swindled is that much stronger. In a capitalist society, we expect and even reward greed, so finding out that our economy was crashed by millionaires and billionaires seems like just another day.
The point is this: if Republicans are going to call us socialists regardless of the extent of socialist tendencies, then we might as well start working on informing people of what it actually means.
4. Candidates – We need candidates that can see levels below the surface, explain a world that isn’t black-and-white, and connect with people in a way that makes those people want to go to the voting booth. When a candidate makes a statement on an issue, it has to make you feel like the candidate explained something that you strongly agree with but haven’t been able to put into words. It has to enlighten you to the spectrum of possibilities and the depths of the human mind.
I’m done hearing candidates sputter on about being pro-life or pro-union or anti-gun or anti-death penalty. I’m no longer interested in hearing from candidates that take these uncompromising positions because it fits with the party platform. I want to hear a candidate truly struggle with making those decisions. And I want them to explain that struggle to me, because there’s a decent chance that I’ve carried the same struggles. To fight yourself on a concept, to truly examine and reflect on a topic and suffer the anguish of not being able to come up with the perfect answer. That is what I want to hear. That is who I want to represent me. Because that struggle tells me they actually care.
5. Focus on apathetic voters – They’re not permanently gone, I promise. They’ve just lost hope. So let’s give them hope. We need to latch on with any campaign to get money out of politics, even if it means raising a ton of money in order to prevent us from raising a ton of money. Fire with fire. We need to force real debates, not the garbage of the last few decades with poll-tested, scripted answers to softball’d questions. I say we jump on board with run-off elections so that 3rd and 4th party candidates actually have a shot without ruining it for the major party candidate that they more closely align with. We need to set standards on how easy it is for a candidate to lie and get away with it. And we need to apply those same standards to ourselves.
We have spent so long wondering how independent voters could possibly be undecided when the two major parties are so far apart on nearly everything. Well, I submit that they just don’t care, because they see a system that can’t possible succeed on its present course, and they don’t think it matters which puppet wins the election.
I also believe they have a hard time identifying with either candidate in an election because their views don’t follow strict liberal or conservative rules. Maybe someone doesn’t like “entitlement programs” in general, but they think Medicare serves an important purpose, and they think a food stamp program could be successful with a few changes. Perhaps the independent voter feels that we have a Constitutional right to own guns, but they also feel that every purchase should have a background check and certain regulations of what weapons can be owned outside the military. Maybe they think homosexuality is a sin, but they don’t understand why our government cares.
These are the voters that are coming. Gen X and Gen Y are already here, and Millennials are just hitting voting ages, and they have a very different view of up or down, fear or love, right or wrong. And they’re smart enough to see bullshit. Perhaps it’s time we stopped trying to give it to them anyway.