The Democratic Party is a fascinating creature. It’s broadly reflective of cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity in the nation. Bipartisan debates and decision-making prized in the American political tradition are alive and well within its ranks, including nearly the full spectrum from left to right. Only extreme right wing libertarians are excluded. Why excluded? Because anti-democratic; autocracy is more to their liking.
For all its “big tent” democratic qualities, the Democratic Party clings to the merest thread of control in Congress and has a hard time making inroads at state and local levels. Too many of its candidates are skilled at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, even as they showcase the advantages of popular Democratic politics. It leaves the trumpist controlled GOP salivating at the probability that they can recapture control of Congress in the midterms while cementing their control of a majority of state legislatures.
What do Democratic candidates have to do that is different from what they have been doing if they want to win?
Three simple things.
First, ignore Trump, trumpy candidates, and trumpy rhetoric. Responding to it gives them control of the messaging; it puts them on offense with Democrats on permanent defense. A well known hockey rule applies to politics: the team that makes the most shots on goal will probably win. You can’t make shots on goal playing only defense. Rebutting right wing campaign rehetoric with reason and facts is to dive down rabbit holes from which there is no escape. Knock down one lie and the next one is rolled out for public consumption. It puts Democrats on the defensive with GOP operatives calling plays. Democratic candidates need to run with messages aimed at voters, not against Trump & Co. But messages aimed at voters must be framed in the right way.
Second, frame every message to celebrates the American virtue of individualism. Telling voters that the Biden agenda provides trillions in worthy benefits is just so much glib tax and spend palaver unless it is framed as providing resources needed to strengthen and enhance the virtue of American individualism by strengthening the foundations that make it possible.
A proposed $3 trillion bill to underwrite the essentials of a strong society was ridiculed as wasteful, budget busting spending. On the other hand, $7 trillion in bloated defense spending goes without challenge. Why? Opponents of the Biden plan said it would entice voters with goodies to buy into an expanded welfare state weakening American individualism.. Unquestioned defense spending is sold as essential to securing America against enemies of the freedom of American individualism.
The virtue of American individualism has a curious internal conflict. It struggles to admit there is such a thing as a common good that extends beyond family and nearby likeminded neighbors. It’s uncomfortable with too much importance given to the need for building up communities of equitable justice that would upset the established equilibrium.
Third, frame every message about the value of Democratic policies as tools to promote and enhance the American virtue of self-reliance.
Americans in general, rural Americans in particular, and many immigrant Americans, anchor their understanding of what it means to be American in the virtue of self-reliance. It’s the go to virtue Conservatives have traditionally used to constrain government programs as welfare for the undeserving that subordinates American self-reliance to liberal fantasies about the common good. The voice of reasonable constraint is not a bad thing in itself, but today’s right wing libertarianism has taken it to an extreme that wants to limit government programs to a few generous benefits available to business and industry.
They’ve labeled Biden’s agenda as nanny state welfare socialism that will destroy America’s virtue of self-reliance that prides itself on taking responsibility for one’s self, free of government interference or handouts.
It’s been very effective. Ironically social and infrastructure programs of long standing have become foundational as aids to individualism and self-reliance; the just rewards hard working, tax paying Americans have earned. The undeserving need only to work harder if they want more.
Biden agenda initiatives must be presented to the voting public as tools essential for self-reliant individualism to succeed in the 21st century. It’s the only way Democratic candidates can win in the midterms. It’s the only way to preserve a vibrant democracy of conservative and liberal voices challenging each other in good faith. It’s the only way the fiery brands of autocratic extremism can be extinguished.