Voter turnout for the 2018 midterms was the highest ever at 53%. In the most energetic midterms ever 47% sat on the sidelines. Reasons are many but always seem to circle back to,“My vote doesn’t make any difference, nothing will change.” The midterms are upon us again and if the hard core right wingers are not to gain control of Congress, it’s up to others to see that the 2018 record turnout is surpassed by a healthy margin. However, I suspect that centrist and progressive leaders, who represent the vast majority of Americans, have been working against themselves, me included with some of my columns.
Far too much effort has been expended trying to find ways to understand and talk with the trumpian core, hoping to dissuade them from dedication to bizarre conspiracies. The core has been reduced in number and now barricade themselves behind locked and bolted doors. No amount of pounding on those doors will make any difference. Behind their fortress walls and to their hearts’ content, they blast their views over the airways and internet.
In the meantime centrist and progressive leaders have all but ignored the vast numbers of those opted out, tired of the noise, wanting only a little tranquility in what appears to be an un-tranquil land. They include the 47% who did not vote in 2018 and many of whom are tagged by pundits as suburban housewives. It’s a lousy misnomer for a group of women and men living in every quarter of the country, many having voted for Obama and then Trump. They are the ones with whom centrist and progressive leaders must be talking – talking WITH, not talking to.
That talking with should be happening all day, every day, even in the most conservative strongholds. Pay attention to what Stacy Abrams & Co. are doing. Engage in “boots on the ground” organizing. Find out what makes the non-voters anxious, what kind of life they want, what issues are important to them. Do not give them a consultant created list of possible issues. Let them speak in their own voices. Forget all that push-pull stuff. Ask them and listen.
Do not tell them all the wonderful things your candidates can do for them. Use their answers to explain how your candidate can help them realize what they want. Commit a new Congress to be a deliberative body able to seek and find agreement that works for the good of all. Most Americans want strong leaders, especially strong leaders in Congress who will speak boldly and work together. They want democracy, not dictatorship. They want performance, not bluster.
For two decades, the driving message from the hard core right wing has provoked fear and tagged government as the enemy of the people. That message has been morally corrupting and institutionally corrosive making out centrists to be flaccid pushovers and progressives as elitist socialists. Only “boots on the ground” can convince vast numbers of election bystanders that centrists and progressives are the ones who care and will act for them to build a better future.
Many well intentioned people will object that the hard core trumpians have a right to say what they think. We have to be nice to everyone. Freedom of speech is a constitutional right but that lays no obligation on anyone to listen. Nor is it mean spirited to call out the danger they pose to our democracy with their weird, fantastical conspiracies, violent white supremacy, heretical “Christian” nationalism, and desire for anti-democratic strong man rule.
Biden is not up for re-election. Members of Congress are. Pundits will try to make it about Biden. Centrist and progressive leaders have to make it about each candidate in each race and the things that matter to their targeted constituents. Single issue protagonists will try to highjack the agenda in each district. Candidates can’t let that happen. Having and sticking to a game plan is essential with frequent breaks to assess, adjust and reset.
We don’t need a 53% turnout in November. We need a 60 or 70% turnout.
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© Steven E. Woolley, 2022