Weak tea


It will take more than fear of Donald Trump for Democrats to win this fall. They need a message. This article from Harold Meyerson after monumental losses in 2014 summed it up:

What, besides raising the minimum wage, do the Democrats propose to do about the shift in income from wages to profits, from labor to capital, from the 99 percent to the 1 percent? How do they deliver for an embattled middle class in a globalized, de-unionized, far-from-full-employment economy, where workers have lost the power they once wielded to ensure a more equitable distribution of income and wealth? What Democrat, besides Elizabeth Warren, campaigned this year to diminish the sway of the banks? Who proposed policies that would give workers the power to win more stable employment and higher incomes, not just at the level of the minimum wage but across the economic spectrum?

Bernie Sanders has focused on the banks this year, but Democrats as a party have failed so far to send a message to families working without a net that their concerns and anxieties have been both heard and felt, and that Democrats have a plan to address them. They need to forcefully answer the “cares about people like me” question.

They need to connect.

Alec MacGillis provided this anecdote from 2012:

The day of the 2012 presidential election, while reporting on the south side of Columbus, Ohio, I came across a 50-year-old man named Matt Bimberg who was waiting for the bus. He was a middle-aged white man with a Detroit Tigers cap in a mostly black neighborhood, and was returning home from a warehouse job as a forklift operator. He got the job thanks to a three-week training course paid for by the U.S. Department of Labor, and for that reason decided to vote for Barack Obama after having voted for John McCain in 2008.

“My line of thinking was that under Romney and Ryan, it would be more a trickle-down administration,” he told me at the time. “Their thinking is to give that money to corporations and the rich in tax breaks, and some will trickle down. But it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Romney reminds me so much of Reagan’s theory of supply-side economics. It scares me.”

MacGillis’ point (allowing for off-year falloff in the vote) was that Democrats forgot that message and failed to tell people whose side they are on in 2014.

Matt Taibbi references a comment by Hillary Clinton that connects the subprime crisis to the problems of race in a way that Sanders never seemed to. Taibbi admits that the press (and he himself) overlooked practices at the heart of the financial crisis. Subprime “was fueled by a particular kind of predatory lending that targeted a very specific group of people.” Poor and minority people, to be exact. Predatory lending practices that target black families have made a comeback (they never really disappeared).

The point is not that targeting those practices should be a key campaign issue. It is that the left focuses so much on technocratic issues and spends so much time trying to impress voters with how smart we are that we miss the gut reality people live on the street. Therein lies the disconnect. Donald Trump doesn’t suffer from that problem. He doesn’t know enough to. It is why his supporters believe Trump says what they are thinking. What Democrats end up offering is technocratic, weak tea to struggling people who need something stronger if they are going to be energized enough to come out and vote for them. Voters want to hear how Democrats understand and care “about people like me.”

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)


  1. Jeff Mclarty says:

    Ya know, I gotta say that in most cases the answers to the problems have a distinctly technocratic flavor. It’s simply a shame that talking about small business incentives, development zones and carbon caps is so boring to people.
    It also should be noted that Hillary’s people came up with her brilliant line to counter the attack she was under because she supported her Husband’s dreadful policies that specifically targeted minorities, not because she is any sort of diversity hero. In fact, she is pretty much the opposite.
    So what I’m hearing is, we gotta dumb it down and cover our past transgressions with populist rhetoric we don’t really mean. Sounds just like the Clinton years.