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Going to the Heart of the Matter

I will say that of all the so-called “Never Trump” Republicans who are journalists or “pundits,” the most articulate and forceful has been Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post. She was a consistent advocate for the Bush era policies, but actually seems to have evolved, first to a vehement critic of Trump; and now continuing, to strongly support Biden, and attack the leaders of the Republican Party. Right now, I think that she is one of the best political journalists out there.

Today, she writes that Biden needs to sharpen his attacks on Republicans, so as not to allow them to dominate and control the news cycle. She notes that Biden is trying to pass his bipartisan infrastructure bill, so is loath to attack Republicans at this point; but that, “His reticence simply gives Republicans dominance of the airwaves and the social media, without extracting any measurable goodwill from them. Without an aggressive White House message, Democrats–who do not enjoy a captive media akin to the right-wing echo chamber–tend to fall into hand-wringing and infighting.”

She says that, “On a range of issues, Biden has an opportunity to convey just how greatly GOP extremism and irrationality threaten the lives, prosperity, and political rights of Americans. He would be foolish not to take advantage of the moment.” And, “It would also serve Biden to reset the debate on the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. Neither has passed yet, because Republicans en masse insist that big corporations pay little or no taxes, oppose reducing drug costs and expanding Medicare coverage (which both garner around 60% or more support in polling), and resist other popular programs such as free community college and subsidized child care.”

Finally, “Biden needs to remind voters that this grievously unfair system is what Republicans WANT. He has allowed the debate to descend into a battle of top-line numbers, rather than a debate about values, and where we should direct our tax dollars. Biden should make clear this is a stark case between a party which favors the rich and its donors, and one that actually tries to aid the the poor and middle classes. With such unappealing positions, Republicans should be on defense–but they will not be put there unless Biden goes for the jugular.”

This is well said, I think, which is why I quoted from it at length. We have discussed this a great deal, because it is so crucial. We know how much Republicans dominate the airwaves, and thus frame the terms of many debates. We also know that they have no intention of helping Biden or the Democrats, and that all they want is some “cut” on Biden, which they can pound away at, like boxers, so as to win what was a losing fight. They think they have found this in Afghanistan, which is why they went all-out in criticizing the withdrawal; and with the media’s help, lowering Biden’s approval ratings

Today, we see that a flight out of Afghanistan, allowed by the Taliban, will carry 200 people, at least some of them Americans of dual nationality. So maybe the withdrawal was not the incompetent disaster that many portrayed it as? Republicans only cared about the effect of the outrage, not the logic of it, or the aftermath. It is all a propaganda game for them. It is very unfair, but it is the terrain, so Biden has to deal with it.

Matthew Dowd is another decent Never-Trumper, though he was, as many of them, a political strategist for Republicans, helping them win elections, before now hoping that they lose, and criticizing Democrats for not being more effective in stopping them. So one looks somewhat askance at this, but I do think he is sincere, and realizes how awful his party has become. Dowd often says that the Democrats are effective in talking about policies, but ineffective in talking about values. He seems to mean that Republicans are able to come up with simplistic slogans, or to convince people that “the battle is about X,” when Democrats should have their own pithy slogans about why it is really about Y.

There is unfortunately also some truth to this, which is largely the fault of unperceptive voters, and of course the Republican propaganda machine. Ronald Reagan, by his own nature, and his handlers “skills,” was able to convince a whole generation of voters that Republicans were for such unassailable concepts as “freedom,” “patriotism,” and “opportunity.” The freedom and opportunity were mostly given to the very rich, of course, who got a massive tax cut, while unions were almost destroyed. And the various wars and foreign involvements which were entered into in his and the Bushes’ administrations, were sold as patriotism, and standing up for American values. The failures of all of this, are things which Republicans simply deflect away from, and which the media conveniently forgets, when it attacks Biden for extricating us from a twenty-year debacle in Afghanistan.

Republicans have run on “values” for over a hundred years. “Anti-Bolshevik,” then “Anti-Communism”and “Anti-Socialism.” “Law and Order.” “Get government off your backs” (that was one which actually was cover for cutting taxes on the wealthy, and cutting social programs, but was somehow sold as helping average Americans). Now it is still all those, plus “Freedom,’ “Stop Cancel Culture,” “Don’t let government tell us what to do” (this, while they seek to ban the right to abortion, and virtually ban the right to vote for all but themselves). It just emphasizes the power of simple-minded slogans and themes.

As much as I dislike that kind of simplistic sloganeering, Democrats need to do some of it, and have needed to for decades. One of the reasons that we do not, is that we realize that the issues are far more complex than that. The other, is that our party is made up of so many different groups, by identify, or viewpoint, that almost any general theme we came up with, would be disagreed with by some of our own people, thus essentially diluting it to ineffectiveness. But we should keep trying, despite the few Democrats who would be eager to go on television shows to say that they don’t like the tone of it.

The key issues can actually be boiled down to effective themes, such as “Helping only the wealthy,” vs. “Helping the rest of the people.” That was what Franklin D. Roosevelt so masterfully put at the forefront of the consciousness of American voters, though of course the Great Depression was a more than significant factor. Before that, people kept electing Republicans who said that “The business of America is business.” And we did have the “Solid South,” the loss of which was inevitable, but very damaging to us electorally.

Republicans somehow managed to control the Cold War narratives. Commentators now say, “Republicans were always known as the party of strength in international affairs.” Why was that? Because they talked tough, while always calling Democrats weak and cowardly? Because of the “brinksmanship” of the 1950’s? Because they pushed the idea of the “domino theory,” where if Vietnam fell, so would the entirety of Southeast Asia? Because they got us embroiled in a series of foreign wars in which we accomplished very little? How does this equate to a historical pass by the media and the pundits, as “the party which is known as strong on foreign policy”?

Similarly, we keep hearing that “Republicans are known as the party of law and order.” Only because they keep calling themselves that. Oh, they yelled about students protesting the Vietnam War. But when it comes down to attacking the capitol, they suddenly pivot to their “freedom” slogan, where the people trying to kill and maim members of Congress and police officers, are heroes. It is all a game and a propaganda technique; and the real tragedy is that so much of the media, and too many of the public, just accept it.

Democrats should campaign as the party of respect for law enforcement and law, while labeling the Republicans as the party of sedition and insurrection. Not wanting to upset Republicans or their mouthpieces, is not a sufficient reason for not doing it. Give the voters some clear delineations to give them a shorthand for why they are voting for Democrats.

Similarly, Democrats want to protect a woman’s right to choose, while Republican are taking it away. We have said that for years, but apparently not enough people really believed it. Now they will, tragically enough. Democrats are the party of health, vaccines, and science. Republican are anti-science, and would sacrifice health and the planet to their own greed. These are easy cases to make, and we cannot shrink from emphasizing them.

President Biden is a nice man, and he never wants to offend anyone. This is a good attribute, but it must be subsumed to the need to win elections on a large scale, and reverse the political power which the Republican Party has gained. And do that, you have to attack the other side, label them, give people an effective shorthand view of them, which will override any overly complicated discussions of the exact value of an infrastructure bill. Republicans revert to their usual false theme of, “We will save you money.” Democrats should forcefully contend that Republicans want to destroy the middle class; or at least say that America desperately needs a major investment in people and health. Otherwise, the media narrative will be that both parties are willing to spend money, but Democrats want to spend more than Republicans are. That is literally true, but ignores the essence of it.

Biden has been in politics a long time. He got into office doing some of what Obama did; talking about no blue states and no red states, and good relations with Republicans. Where has that gotten him now? Where is what in earlier eras was supposed to be general bipartisan support for our foreign policy, particularly regarding military involvements and withdrawals?

Republicans are terrorists who want to win at any price, they are not a loyal opposition. I don’t think that Obama ever figured that out, or more likely. is someone who so much valued his personal popularity, that he was unwilling to risk any of it, even when the stakes were the Supreme Court, and the sanctity of the 2016 election. This is a losing strategy, only effective for personal goodwill. We have let Republicans get away with misleading slogans, and lies, and slanders and obstruction and gamesmanship for far too long. Let the people know what is at stake, and in direct and powerful terms. If it upsets the Republicans, or their media arms, that is too bad and a risk we absolutely must take to save our democracy.

P.S. I don’t want to throw away the chance, after using the phrase, to note that “The Heart of the Matter,” by Graham Greene, is one of my favorite novels of all time.

4 Responses

  1. Lunch Bucket Joe from Scranton needs to engage in some class warfare before it’s too late. Like yesterday.

    He should begin by talking about the infrastructure and reconciliation bills and the many ways in which they will help the American people. Give specific details. Sell it! Let Americans know that Republicans in Congress and their filthy rich donors don’t want you to have the nice things that are in these bills. No, they want you to toil away for slave wages all your life while they continue to get richer off your hard work. They don’t care if you don’t have enough money to pay your medical bills or put food on your table. They don’t care if you can’t afford housing. They don’t care if your children drink poisoned tap water or go to school in buildings that are unsafe. They don’t care if your disabled adult child can’t receive home health services. They don’t care if your elderly mother loses all her teeth and can’t afford dentures. No, the Republicans in Congress would rather give trillions in corporate welfare to their filthy rich donors than see you and your families live good decent lives. But we won’t let them get away with that will we? We’ll pass the infrastructure and reconciliation bills to bring fairness and prosperity to the American people.

    Let’s give people hope. They are desperate for it. If Lunch Bucket Joe has lost the common touch and can no longer talk to the average American, send out surrogates who can. I’m not talking about Kamala or Mayor Pete here.

    • Well said. Yes, we need that kind of forcefulness.

    • Great post and comment.

      I am not sure who Democrats can use to deliver a clear and forceful message. I like Senator Booker a lot and he might be capable of it. But most of our Democratic leaders can’t do it.

      • Perhaps Sean Patrick Maloney or Tim Ryan, both hard-hitting Democratic Congressmen. I did not like Ryan when he was trying to battle Pelosi for Speaker. But he seems better lately, and he is running for the Senate seat in Ohio which Portman left. He does seem to speak to the middle class in a forceful way.

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