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The “Advice Clinic for Democrats” is Back in Session

People from all spheres love to give advice to the Democratic Party and its members. It is virtually a cottage industry.

James Carville is one person whom I do not mind giving advice. He does not hold back, and he is not always right, of course; but he cares, and he is smart, and he is one of the very few people who can match up to the election strategists who have worked for Republicans for decades. And he loves the Clintons, which for me puts him way ahead of most of the other Democratic pundits whom we see or read about.

Carville very recently said to Democrats in general, “Just quit being a whiny party, and get out there and fight and tell people what you did, and tell people the exact truth.” He said that “a lot of the Democratic base has not been told or informed of the things that President Biden and this Congress has accomplished.” He added, “You gloat, and you promote,” as a campaign talking points strategy. “You run on what you got. You don’t run on what you didn’t get. And the stuff you got is pretty good.” He mentioned the bipartisan infrastructure deal, lowering the rate of child poverty, and creating 6.4 million jobs.

Well, the right-wing media picked up the “whiny” part. But it is good advice, if anyone needed it. It is hard to follow it when the media leads every story with negative attributions about Biden, such as always quoting the one poll which had him at 33% Favorables, when all the other polls are around 43-45%.

There are all sorts of other written pieces giving advice to Democrats. If you wanted to look for them, you would see virtually every strategy suggested; from “trying to work with Republicans” (completely unfeasible and insulting to suggest), to not trying to pass any bills, to attacking Republicans more, to giving up.

I remember studying the literature on Encounter Groups, as part of my major field in graduate school. I even got to facilitate them. It was really stimulating and challenging. Basically, the classic encounter group has about eight people, none of whom have ever met. And over a week or so of two daily meetings of about three hours each, they interact, in a pretty much open way. The best facilitators interject only at times. There was a whole literature about encounter groups, from the days when they were very popular; and there is a general way that they proceed, given human nature.

One thing that happens early in a group, is that when one participant is brave enough to volunteer some sensitive things about himself or herself: vulnerabilities, fears; many in the group will start giving advice to that person. How they could improve their nature, or better handle things, in the eyes of the person giving the advice. It almost always happens. I remember one facilitator responding by saying, “Is this the advice clinic? Did Richard ask everyone to try to tell him how he should deal with this issue? I did not hear him say that.”

And of course a part of the reason why the people were eager to give advice, is that it takes any focus off them, at least for a while. Most people would rather be on the side of the advice givers, someone who supposedly has more maturity and wisdom than the person presumably needing the help, than being the one whom everyone is offering advice to.

So they all gang up, not in the most unpleasant way, but still forming a group which implies that they are further along in personal development than the poor person whom they think needs their help. It can be a moment in the encounter group where the members might then realize what they are doing, and why, and thus learn something about themselves, and the nature of groups in the workplace.

This is part of why there are all these pieces purporting to give Biden and Democrats advice. The other part is a kind of superiority, as if the Democrats are these pathetic people who just never do things correctly, are always in disarray, always failing. Republicans are eager to push those themes, and the media needs no encouragement to jump right in. Recalling President Clinton’s first term, he was mocked and criticized for everything, it was nonstop. It only changed a bit when Gingrich and his cohorts tried to shut down the government. Maybe Biden needs something like that, but the media is apparently not going to give him credit for much of anything.

It is undeniable that the upcoming elections look perilous. Not getting either voting rights bill through, is a major setback, but it is due to a wall of Republicans unanimously voting against them, along with two Democrats who keep saying that they support the bills, but not overriding the filibuster to do it. Which of course is of the same effect, but just papered over.

And on the Build Back Better, pretty much the same thing, although here we have one Democrat, Manchin, coming up with objection after objection, after he promised to vote for the bill, which maybe he never intended to do at all. So it is not “Democrats failing,” as much as it is “Republicans against democracy.” Same effect, but a much different framing; and framing matters when it comes to elections.

These are not positive things, but if put in proper context, they should not damage the reputation of Biden. Of course, not being able to deal with massive vote suppression is about far more than optics. Biden is going to have to do as much as possible to protect the right to vote; and various lawsuits filed by the very admirable Marc Elias might do some good. And it would certainly help if the media actually criticized the Republicans for trying to take away people’s right to vote, rather than mocking the Democrats for it happening, or trying to cloak that under the guise of giving helpful advice.

Not all the advice, particularly coming from long-time committed Democrats, should be ignored. Some of it could be useful. The hard part is figuring which part. And you can never run an administration where it looks as if you are going this way and that, trying to “fix what you are doing wrong.” That is always seen as a sign of weakness (it really shouldn’t be, but politics is a macho culture), and never gains you any points with the media people who freely dispense their demeaning advice. It is described as floundering, as a sure sign that you have no firm principles or direction.

So the media has its new theme: “What will the struggling Biden Administration do now?” I would favor Carville’s view that the Administration has actually done many good things, and they should not only emphasize them on a daily basis, but continually point out that Republicans have done nothing to help the country, and are trying to destroy the democracy, and take away the right to vote, while fomenting violence. Keep saying that, and some of it might get through. Listen to the smartest political veterans, but ignore the rest of those who love to act important by propounding advice.

Rightly or wrongly, the American voters mostly admire a stalwart quality, and passion. And they also respond to attacks on the other side. Keep going ahead, keep mentioning accomplishments and positive trends. And realize that the other side is truly your enemy, has been spending all of its time trying to destroy you. Do not play into it, do not mistake them for friends who want to work with you. And do everything you possibly can to enable people to vote. The “advice clinic” will keep doing what it likes to do, but they have to be ignored, even if it makes them more dismissive of you.

2 Responses

  1. He needs to slightly revise his old slogan, no it should be:

    It’s the Republicans stupid.

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