This was an excellent post, at least until it started advocating for “pandering.” Swap that with “attempt to understand and resist demonizing” and I’m on board!! I know I risk being perceived as a closet bigot on this threat for how often I challenge the “they’re all abhorrent racists” trope, and I come dangerously close to “what’s wrong with being racist?” But I genuinely believe a big part of the dynamic you describe is how racism/sexism/xenophobia went from “unacceptable, rude and ignorant” to “unacceptable, evil and vile.” Kamala would NEVER say anything about SFSB because she’s already on a knife’s edge with progressives over her career as a prosecutor and she wants to run in 2024/2028. But the fact is, what SFSB is doing is as rude/ignorant/evil/vile to conservatives as being skeptical of immigrants is to us. I only get worked up about this because I think it’s so important for the EXACT reasons you cite- Democrats’ legislative and ideological lurch to the left is absolutely what’s sending conservatives to the looney bin.

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I think a huge part of this is just aesthetics. You don't even actually need to change any policy positions (this is why I disagree with you about the Hyde amendment, ftr) because barely anyone actually cares and/or knows about policy specifics. The Hyde amendment, or smart border enforcement, or what have you, is just totally irrelevant to the vast majority of voters. They only care about/understand the broad strokes. Is Biden pro-life or pro-choice? How favorable is he to the immigration of undocumented people? Etc. In the universe we live in now, where lies are traded more than truth, you don't open yourself up to any additional vulnerability by taking a specific position.

Now, what DOES matter is the aesthetic consciousness that your movement engenders. Think of a (in)famous Biden line from the general, "Do I look like a socialist?" The implication of course is that he's an old white guy with a clean-cut, regular-folks demeanor, so of course he's not a radical leftist. This despite him being the most left-wing president on policy questions in decades.

I think many of the other things you mention, like Obama's rhetoric on immigration, are also part of this. You have to seem like you're a down-to-earth regular Joe (lol), not part of the swirling universe of academic, progressive nonsense. Toward that end, something like Kamala making fun of the SFSB would be very helpful. Of course, much of the progressive movement is about aesthetics as well (see the MA senate race, where the two candidates were almost painfully similar on policy but took entirely divergent aesthetic positions), so you're going to get a lot of blowback for that which will be dressed up as making X marginalized group feel unsafe or whatever, but that's actually a good thing. Nothing helped Biden more in the general than the fury directed toward him from the left.

Our coalition is a winning one. The combination of educated suburbanites and secular working-class folks just need to feel comfortable that they are in the drivers' seat, rather than the young, over-educated lefties.

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So, MY, this sounds like excellent advice, and I agree about the rationale.

If we make the protection of unpopular positions and groups the centerpiece of our electoral identity, then we'll lose elections, and lose the very possibility of winning elections in the future.

If we do popular stuff, we'll be able to address the structural threats to democracy, and in time, we'll get back to protecting the unpopular positions and minorities.

Now, I want you to pick an unpopular position or minority and make this pitch to them.

"Dear abortion advocates...." "Dear immigration advocates....." "Dear trans advocates...." or whoever it may be,

"... here's why we are going to abandon you for the next few cycles, and here's why it is for your own good."

Until you give the party explicit advice about whom we should abandon for their long-term good, this advice strikes me as correct, but weak-sauce.

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Isn't this a collective action problem for Democrats? Individual Democrats can raise their standing within the party by staking out a more extreme position, even if this harms the image of the party as a whole. Republicans face the same difficulties but just seem to be not as a good at managing it as Democrats. I don't know whether this is because of institutions within the Republican Party, the positions and intensity of belief within their primary voters, donors, and media organizations, or what. But I think most Democrats accept Matt's arguments here, but worry about getting outflanked.

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I agree with a lot of this --especially the last few paragraphs-- and would personally love to see the Democrats spend less time talking about Columbus Day and more time talking about Columbus, OH (and if they talked about Dayton or Cleveland, all the better) but it seems a tall order for the interest groups pushing all moral outrage all the time on all things to trim their sails even a bit and compromise to build a diverse, inclusive, coalition along the dimensions that would actually win elections.

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I don't understand which 80% of the immigration paragraph from Obama's book you consider bullshit. He makes three statements. First, immigrants are coming over the border from Mexico without our permission. Second, due to social media, Skype etc it's easier than ever for new immigrants to maintain cultural ties to their country of origin. And third, this is causing resentment among many Americans. These are just facts, and I thought the controversy was over what to do about it. Republicans might range from send them back to provide a path to citizenship to those already here, while Democrats might range from path to citizenship to open borders. But I don't think anyone is arguing that people aren't entering the country illegally.

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The Obama bit definitely reminds me of an earlier thread, where there was some debate between those of us who read his books, listened to his words, and decided he was a moderate centrist we could happily support - and those who focused more on identity & rhetoric and thought they were getting a very progressive Black president. And then he won by combining those camps, really.

I do think there's some political magic there for others to consider... And I've heard some GOP hot-takers argue that Trump's 2016 win was executed by combining the hardcore wackos with enough GOP centrists who thought he was just kidding about the crazy stuff. GWB made the same move more quietly, pocketing the religious vote without much discussion so he could campaign as a centrist (ah, the "Compassionate Conservative" tag! Those were the days.)

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I have to launch into a diatribe about gerrymandering. Does it exist? Sure. Is it meaningful? No. Instead, I fear, it's an escape for Democrats to whine about how the system is rigged against us and the American people really want the Democrats to control the House, were it not for those terrible Republican state legislatures.

Let's go to the facts.

In the past 16 House elections (1990-2020), the Democrats have won a majority of the two-party aggregate vote in House elections eight times, and the Republicans have won the popular vote eight times. The Republicans won a majority of the House seats in all eight of their popular vote victories. The Democrats won a majority of House seats in six of the eight. The two times they lost a majority of the seats were in 1996 (when they won 50.03% of the 2-party vote) and 2012 (when they won 50.6% of the 2-party vote). One of those was a coin flip and the other *may* have reflected Republican success in the post-2010 redistricting.

That's a pretty weak basis for complaining about gerrymandering being so unfair. Instead what I take from this is: Democrats have to be popular! Win a majority of people's votes and you're highly likely to take the House. The Republicans didn't cheat their way into a House majority (OK, maybe 2012); they were more popular than the Democrats!

Maybe 2022 will be different, and be more like 2012. But most of 30 years of history is against that. That 30 years says: win the argument among the majority of the voters, either by making their lives better or getting them to believe that the other side is worse, and you're highly likely to win the House.

(Caveat to this: in many of these elections, especially in the 2010s, the Democrats have tended to win a smaller % of seats than % of the popular vote, which *may* reflect gerrymandering. But so what? They still got a minority of the popular vote and therefore lost the House. With "fairer" districts, they still would have been in the minority. You've got to be popular to control the House.)

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Yes. A lot of this. I'm definitely in the minority here that I think the current R-skew is far more a function of our current coalition + policies rather than an inherent structural disadvantage. It's interesting tho, I find our '08 immigration platform seems pretty sensible, I can't find what's "80% bullshit" about Obama's immigration statement, and I don't get what's been "precious" about his description of Iowa and Ohio (e.g., Obama won Iowa by 10% points in '08 ... 10). Maybe a better description of my politics is an '08 vintage Progressive focused far more on class struggle.

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The theme of "Democrats should do things that are popular to win elections" has come up a few times. I keep thinking about this Josh Barro column from a few years ago that spells it out in ways that are blunt but feel accurate.


> As I see it, Democrats' problem isn't that they're on the wrong side of policy issues. It's that they're too ready to bother too many ordinary people about too many of their personal choices, all the way down to the hamburgers they eat.

Some of the progressive unpopularity is because of policy, but a lot of it is simply tone. You may say, "Well, all the crazy stuff is coming from random people in the media and culture." Josh's point is "What's not your fault can still be your problem." I think Matt's right that elected Democrats can address some of this stuff just by distancing themselves from the divisive shit certain progressives say—but a lot of it is tied up in the culture that Democrats have little control over.

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Matt likes to troll leftists by accurately pointing out that despite their professed hatred of The West Wing, Bernie Sanders is a very Bartlet-esque figure and their model of persuasion through bold moral consistency is very much in line with the show. I think the reluctance to moderate on positions in response to Republican aggression (a reluctance which to be clear is not restricted to Sanders leftists) is another example of West Wing thought. There’s a politically macho idea the show constantly bought into, that when your opponents are being unfair and ruthless, moderating in response would be craven, whereas if you stick up for what’s right the public will reward you. It’s psychologically attractive but unfortunately naive. (I’m not saying the show invented this attitude—it goes back at least to Capra—but it’s a prominent reflection of it.)

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Obama's approach on immigration, affirmative action, and other issues in the Audacity of Hope followed a pretty standard format: here's my center-left policy position; here are the strongest arguments by those who disagree; here's a consensus reframing of my center-left policy position. For example, he ended the immigration section like this: "Ultimately the danger to our way of life is not that will be overrun by those who do not look like us or do not speak our language. The danger will come if we fail to recognize [their] humanity[.]”

Obama in “Audacity” approaches issues not like an activist or politician, but more like a judge. He sought consensus where possible, and didn’t let his political decisions speak for themselves, but backed them up with the reasoning showing how he arrived at them. Showing your work — the values underlying your political beliefs, the counterarguments you took into account, and so on — is a double-win: it makes a stronger case for your ultimate position, while providing voters who may disagree with the opportunity to at least recognize commonality in the underlying values you share. (I wrote an extended post reflecting on this this last year here: https://joeldodge07.medium.com/the-audacity-of-hope-in-2020-b081e2d18cc6)

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A major problem -- and I don't know the solution -- is Democrats don't control their own messaging. Right-wing media does. Maybe that's a bit of an overstatement, but every day Fox, Rush, Tucker, etc. scour the country for the silliest, most strident liberal or leftist, then portray that person as the face of the party. Assisting their efforts, Democrats are not nearly as unified as Republicans (despite Republicans' recent kerfuffles), and have trouble sticking to any given talking point. So while Democratic leadership might *want* to talk about pandemic relief, or the minimum wage, there's always someone talking about a hot-button social issue that draws attention away from core concerns. The culture wars are just way sexier that boring old public policy, even if the latter is more important, in a material sense.

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I live in Missouri and have been trying to get Dems to think about winning elections for a long time. But I am just an educated commoner. Tried getting involved with local party, they say, we would love to have you on board but you can't do anything other than make phone calls because all the committees are full. State party did the same thing.

I am a social scientist and a data analyst but the only thing Dems can come up with is the literal worst possible task for me because I am not already part of the apparatus or family of the apparatus. So we are stuck with a party that seems to think Scott Sifton will beat Roy Blunt and they have been badgering me with ads talking about Blunt and Hawley being the literal end of the world.

I just don't see this particular situation changing. Why would it? D's win urban, R's win rural, they both walk away with money and power. Term limits pop up and they get state or federal jobs or consulting gigs to perpetuate the cycle.

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Democrats have definitely been pandering on trade, though! I will die on the hill that pro-trade is the leftist view and anti-trade is the conservative view, because people interpret the question not as capital vs. labor but as “is it disloyal to do business with foreigners”. I’m not actually sure in practical terms how useful being trade-skeptical is in winning elections though - it might play differently in the Sunbelt vs. the Midwest.

All I know is I would like all liberal pundits to be as honest with us and themselves as Matt is about when what we’re doing is necessary pandering to win elections, and not pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining. I agree Democratic politicians need to moderate to win and winning is important, but you will never convince me it actually is disloyal for me as a private citizen to value a foreigner’s life as highly as an American’s.

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I will concur with some of the other posters here and argue that immigration skepticism is not a tell-tale sign of racism. Not all Trump supporters are racists, not all Republicans are evil (in fact there were at least 17 Republicans in Washington who stood up for Democracy). I could argue Mitch McConnell is not anti-democracy, and I will say his two pro-democracy speeches (one on 1/6 the other this past Saturday) were quite strong defenses of our institutions. Which is to say: the current liberal attitude of demonizing anyone who may disagree with them is a poor way to expand the tent.

This attitude also creates a self-reinforcing tendency to harden around dogma instead of listening. How can you agree to temper your economic policy when the other side is defending the 'White Supremacist, neo-colonialist, economic model which keeps all People of Color down? There is no room for pro-life voters when their religion is racist, and anti-feminist. Americans genuinely concerned that progressives will tear down their cherished country's origin story are simply ignorant bigots when you view the entire American project (and American heroes like Lincoln, Washington, etc) as suspect.

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