If Republicans are a threat to democracy, try moving to the center on culture to beat them
This is great advice but I think at their core, progressives (as opposed to liberals) are dispositionally opposed to implementing it.
The borderline religious nature of modern progressivism—you don’t have to look hard to find analogous shibboleths, taboos, sacred texts, chosen tribes, etc—makes it unwilling to compromise in the name of pragmatism. I grew up in an evangelical church and similar arguments would occasionally break out among the congregation about how to “grow” the church, either in furtherance of the gospel or just to help ensure sufficient future tithing revenue. One might reasonably suggest toning down the constant mentions of eternal damnation for unbelievers (doesn’t poll well), propitiation by the blood of Christ (kind of icky), regarding premarital sex as a deeply greivous thing (turns out young people enjoy it), and insistence on literal interpretation of scripture even where that seems pretty strange (God created the world in seven literal days? Jonah was literally swallowed by a whale?) but these arguments failed to grasp the crucial point that for the devoted, orthodoxy is more important than growth.
It seems to me that for a critical mass of progressives, this same sentiment prevails, indeed for the most zealous progressives I know personally, so much of their identity is tied up with oppression and victimhood narratives that I think they would find durable majorities utterly intolerable. What would suit them best is a system in which they could continue credibly claiming to be an oppressed minority (and reaping the energy that comes from this stance) while in actuality operating the levers of power that are only available to cameral majorities.
The modern Republican Party has managed to achieve precisely this (a base that feels stricken and discriminated against, even as they rule!) due to the quirks of population distribution vis-a-vis the Senate. Progressives rightly recognize this as a tail-wagging-the-dog dynamic, but I don’t think they are opposed to that dynamic per se, I think they just feel that in a just world they would have control of the tail instead, without ever having to soil their hands with that damned spot, compromise.
As an Old (old Gen Xer), I am stupefied that this argument has to be made, but Matt makes it very effectively and I'm glad he's doing it. I am a center-left rustbelt native, and while I now live in NYC I've been locking down in my home state of Michigan during the pandemic for family reasons.
I used to work in policy in DC when normal people didn't know what things like "cloture" were, and I've been hearing my whole adult life that Democratic domination was just around the corner; demographics and revulsion over Republicans' meanness and stupidity would deliver us. Most of the Youngs I worked with in New York dismissed my fears that Trump would win in 2016, then they took the position that if Bernie had got the nomination, the Dems would have won. I didn't believe it then, and having spent a fair amount of time back in the rustbelt, I sure don't believe it now.
I'm staying in a small blue area in a wider red region. Every time I venture out, I see Trump flags still flying. The closest town with a real grocery store has both a strong civic/philanthropic/genuinely Christian culture and the most overt displays of racist symbology I have ever seen. I am sickened by these things, but I am also exasperated that the left spends so much time in circular firing squads, renaming schools and cancelling Dr. Seuss.
Do the work, people! Run for local office, then state or national if you have those aspirations! But try actually governing and/or implementing any kind of policy before you denigrate compromise.
It seems to me there's a potential path to victory for Democrats that involves giving up *nothing of substance at all.* As Chris Hayes said, the vast majority of the Republican party platform is social grievance with absolutely no policy or legislative fix. It's just old man yelling at clouds stuff. So..... What if a Democrat played along? On paper at least, they could assuage these kind of grievences but then pursue quite liberal policy. This is essentially Matt's point, but I think there's a chance Democrats don't even give anything up to do this - nothing besides silly dunks on Twitter that is.
Unfortunately many Democratic voters are just as committed to performative, grievence-based politics as Republicans are and will never go for this.
This is a solid list. I have a very particular personal history, and I'll try to explain it as briefly as possible: I'm originally froma college town in Kentucky. I went to work on the floor of a factory in Kentucky in my early 20s (mid-90s) because I grew up poor, was seriously (religiously) debt averse, so I decided to do this ad a means up saving up money to pay for law school. Not the kind of thing you could do over a single summer, even then. I ended up helping to organize a union, then I got elected to the first bargaining committee. When that was finished, I actually left the manufacturing environment and became a union organizer.
I was only (relatively) briefly a union organizer, then I moved into another sphere of lefty politics (that, being non-labor, was staffed almost exclusively by what a small band of us secretly referred to as "trust fund babies"). I did that work for nearly a decade, moving all over the country. Then I ended up geographically near someone that I worked with in the factory. He had started on the floor, moved into salaried engineering, and been successful, moving to work at other plants. I was probably on my way to a similar experience when I left that place; they were actually trying to move me into engineering, but I was working a ton of overtime and (a) the salary-without-overtime would've been a huge pay cut for me and (b) I wanted to see through the union thing.
My acquaintance had me come interview for engineering-adjacent work. I had already been considering leaving the political work because I thought I might not want to be a workaholics for the rest of my days (we used to say " it's not a job, it's a lifestyle ") and I didn't want to die almost as poor as when I was born. Then they offered me a job, and it was for an amount of money that sounded almost supernatural to me at that point in my life. So I went back, have been unbelievably fortunate and now make a living that no sane person would see as working class. No, I still haven't been to law school.
Anyway, I still spend most of my time on plant floors. I work with both customers and suppliers, so I'm on lots of plant floors and I'm in all the break rooms. Maybe not surprisingly, even with my now-background, I'm still more comfortable there than among the chamber of commerce types with whom I'm in business. And, please believe me: 'economically conservative' is a thing that barely exists among the working class. And not because of Trump; this was true for at least the last few years of the Obama administration. I hear people talking about how we have to tolerate Manchin and Kaine rolling back banking regulations because of all the economic conservatives. That's nonsense. They simply vote for rolling them back and then no one mentions it again because, let's be real, most Democrats don't want to talk about it either.
But culturally conservative is still very much a thing. And it's not as 'regressive' as we say. There are studies that show most Democrats being *more* sympathetic toward other races than their own. Um, that's the unusual thing. I'd almost bet that it's a world-historical first. Last summer, a politically motivated group took over a section of a major American city. The cops just stayed out until they surrendered, which didn't happen until people got murdered. This event virtually doesn't exist outside the conservative echo chamber. Before you hand-wave that, consider if a conservative-sympathetic group did a similar thing, would there ever be a day when it didn't come up on MSNBC? Even CNN?
The Paper of Record did one lonely story from the perspective of people who had businesses destroyed last year (I keep waiting for poor Nellie Bowles to get run out of there), in the midst of a billion dollar property destruction event. That seems strange. I think that's objectively strange. By the way, have you ever tried to get an insurance company to pay up when your ability to pay your bills depended upon their doing so quickly? Neither have I, but merely thinking about just made me instinctively flinch.
At least have of black Americans want more police. Among lower income black Americans, like the people who live in the property destruction zones, that number is well over half. Why doesn't their perspective exist in the media that I consume? That's odd, right?
Democrats have largely become a boutique operation culturally, and the market that they serve isn't black Americans. It's trust fund babies. That's a problem. It's unfortunately the kind of problem that, if you'd like to even discuss it, I'm afraid you'll need to leave Vox and set up shop with Substack. Our information ecosystem won't even countenance the point of view that most Americans have. Hand-wave if you will, that's a legitimate political problem.
As a gay who works in a city for big tech but is from rural Pennsylvania and I 100% agree. I think a lot of people in my life now, on some level, don't entirely believe conservatives exist and that if we just advocate for liberal culture louder we'll win.
And we will, eventually. Demographics and the arc of the moral universe seem to be on our side. However, for that to be in any way relevant, we need to maintain power so we can make sure that the US is still a democracy 10 years from now. And that, unfairly, means pandering right-of-center in the mean time.
Since vague cultural issues seem so important in elections, a candidates image seems really important. Looking like a moderate seems more important than actually supporting moderate policy.
So wave an American flag. Act a bit out of touch with the latest whatever. Don't say "Latinx" or "cultural appropriation". Use the language of your constituents, not your college educated volunteers. And most importantly: stay off twitter.
Amen. However, one problem is the nationalization of congressional elections. Here in Oklahoma, moderate Democrat, Kendra Horn, managed to win the 5th District seat in 2018, which had lower turnout than in 2020. She was then defeated in 2020 by Stephanie Bice, a Trumpy conservative who tied Horn to the usual liberal characters (Nancy Pelosi, et al.). Plus, there was defund the police, socialism, AOC, and other progressive bogeymen/women for Bice to run against in 2020. Until the national Democratic Party cleans up its image, even moderate Democrats are going to be defeated in red states.
To me, the lesson of this past election is that the Democrats as currently constituted (a neoliberal ruling class + professional class + racial minorities + unions) will never win consistently, and the current reprieve from right-wing insanity is only temporary.
The country is in big trouble and needs big change. In the long historical view, big change requires big margins reflecting a national consensus. A margin of 51% won’t do it. Roosevelt and Johnson had 60% margins and supermajorities in both Houses. They could get big things done in spite of intra-party differences. Today, with the fecklessness of the Left, the only place for liberals to find the votes is to the right. This involves (for this liberal) letting go of our anger at people who had the nerve to vote for Trump and thinking about how to join these other citizens where they are at. That is, to have some tolerance which is in short supply in our times.
“ Say you don’t think it’s fair to call people racist when they worry about crime or illegal immigration — these are things lots of folks worry about, and the government owes them solutions.”
Anecdotal evidence here, but (as I frequently write in these comment sections) all the people I know that are concerned about illegal immigration are immigrants themselves. It’s a little bit funny that a US citizen would call us racists.
I wish more liberal pundits were like Matt and could consider separately their policy preferences and their opinions on how to win elections. Too many automatically assume that candidates with their policy preferences are most likely to win elections. The best example of that liberals who were intent on defeating Trump and yet supported Warren's candidacy. (Fortunately, most Democratic voters were wiser).
As a moderate (“Never Trump”) Republican in Texas, this is 100% spot on. That little list of positions at the end of the piece would likely be enough to win the state. Just throw on a few popular left of center items like marijuana and Medicaid expansion and you’re good to go.
This is an excellent take. The democrats need to understand that wokeness and cultural progressivism are deeply unpopular, and these things will lose them elections.
What IS popular is true economic progressivism. That is, structuring our society so wealth is distributed fairly and more proportionally to effort and innovation, providing high quality public services like postal banking, and strong regulations against predation and abuse of the weaker by the stronger. Strengthening our society's institutions.
The combination of Wall Street economics and wokeness is an absolute loser and the most unpopular position it's possible to take. People hate the entrenchment of dynastic plutocracies (note the use of the word 'elite') and the feeling that there's an unbridgeable gulf between the working man and the ownership class.
Note current Republican messaging: they're pinning on dems the labels of cancel culture, anarchy, language policing, elitism, and unfair promotion of chosen identity groups, while positioning themselves as the champions of the working class.
If the dems don't act hard to counteract this, they're going to be SCREWED.
One big roadblock to this is money. It takes millions of dollars to run a race House or Senate race, and that means you have to find thousands of rich people willing to give you thousands of dollars and/or you need to be able to tap into the national network of small dollar donors. Neither group is interested in a socially conservative/moderate Democrat. I've worked in Democratic politics in the South for a long time, and I can tell you that the political graveyard is full of very moderate Dems who (authentically!) talk the way you mention here, who could not raise two nickels to fund an actual campaign.
I disagree with this take, because I’m hoping that the Stacey Abrams approach (increase turnout while staying true to your true values), is the path to getting red states to turn purple. Matt’s approach is too disingenuous in today’s world in my view - too much playing games and second guessing, I.e., I’m going to say X even though I really believe Y. I think one reason Trump was and is so popular within the GOP is that he says what he believes (at any given moment), and even though he says horrible things, people are attracted to that kind of genuineness. In today’s world being a hypocrite is worse than whatever policy position a person may have - e.g., liberal politicians telling people to stay home during COVID, and then going to restaurants and family gatherings themselves. That’s what the populace will remember - the hypocrisy, not the good policy position. So I just think that people - even politicians - need to say and do things that are pretty close to their true, heartfelt beliefs, while being open to different views and compromise. What Matt’s describing, in my view, is the politics of the past and “triangulation”. In this new media and digital world, that kind of disingenuousnous is not going to fly-too transparent. One thing about Biden is that he also seems pretty genuine-I think in the end, people liked that, no matter what his policies were and are evolving to be.
Can we stop shooting ourselves in the foot by allowing horny old men like Cuomo to hang around? Yes, Republicans are worse, but they are also more shameless and don't think sexual harassment is real, so they can obviously get away with it in ways we can't.
Seriously, do an investigation and vetting the way we would any senior executive in corporate America, and be more proactive in terms of not elevating to power people who do things like that.
Again, nuance - this isn't about going after people who did minor things (Franken) - more these cases like Cuomo where the rumors were around for years.
I should note that when you talk about the chart of top Democratic overperformance, it gets a bit confusing when you start talking about Sara Gideon and Elizabeth Warren, but we don't see them on the chart.