Ed. Note: As I was writing this, all major media outlets called the election for Joe Biden. Congratulations to he and Kamala Harris. Now the real work begins.
While the news agencies are still wringing their hands over the inevitable call to project Joe Biden as the next President, House Democrats are already engaged in scapegoating over the election.
The preferred folks to blame? Progressives, the squad, and anyone else that might have a national platform.
It started the night after the election, with this bangup convo from Claire McCaskill of Missouri:
It was followed up with this profanity laced call to Democrats by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) a former CIA analyst.
Spanberger definitely has some points, but there’s a lot more going on here she only partially acknowledges.
Message or Messengers
No Democratic member who lost on Tuesday ran on “defunding the police” or “socialism”.
Their opponents spent a ton of money painting them as “those people”, just as they did in a State House race right here in Shelby County.
One of the companies that produced this garbage is so proud of it, they feature it on their website.
This is a feature, not a bug of the right wing political machine. They’ve been doing it since before the 1994 GOP Contract on America, and have continued unabated.
Why do they do it? Because it works.
It works in vulnerable districts with members who don’t spend a lot of time brand building. It is particularly effective for first term members, who have to spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising just to stay viable.
The “othering” is part of a culture that’s been a feature of America for all of the nearly 49 years of my life.
That “othering” is predicated on the lie that fuels the outrage fire.
Outrage culture has become a feature of our society. People are trained thanks to social media and politically motivated “journalistic endeavours” to act reflexively to information. Facebook and Twitter didn’t cause this problem. They just move that outrage faster.
The GOP understood beginning in the 1980’s (and maybe before) that using outrage to drive decisions works in their favor. This formula has continued on in the form of Fox News and now a ton of other copycat organizations that use the word “news” to hid their real purpose: political propaganda.
GOP political organizations have consistently used dog whistle language to portray their opponents as something they are not.
They “flood the zone” with shit then leave it up to the member to clear their name, which is impossible because another attack is right around the corner.
The answer isn’t to become a captive to this problem (which has been the democratic strategy since the Willie Horton Ad of 1988).
The answer is to flood the zone with your brand long before the campaign even starts. Like, starting right now. So in 2022, when many Democrats are running in new districts, people know you better. This strategy makes suspect attack ads less effective.
Knowing is the whole battle
That’s right: knowing your district. Knowing the people in your district. Talking to people who don’t vote regularly (easy targets for misleading ads). Talking to young voters. All of these things are simple. Be present in the community…not just the community you support, but the whole community, and it makes it much harder for outsiders to paint you as the problem.
I recognize, this is much harder in rural districts, where distance may be not only real, but real culturally as well. But there’s a funny thing that happens when you talk to someone face to face. When you listen to them. Most of them start to like you (unless you’re a total piece of shit, then maybe you need a new career anyway).
In 2012, I talked to thousands of voters. A ton of them were “independents”. Most of those independents were actually white Republicans who didn’t vote in primaries. I talked to them anyway. I put signs in some of their yards. I periodically still check in with a few of them.
There is power in knowing the people in your district.
Of course, no one can know everyone. That’s where community ambassadors are helpful. They know their neighborhoods better than anyone. You get a network of these folks, and it makes your field operation much easier in the run up to the General.
This works whether you’re a member or not. City Council, County Commission, State House and Senate. Knowing your people, and them feeling like they know you, is the surest path to some immunity from false attack ads.
Socialism is only a bad word if we allow it to be
I’m not sure why the Democratic Party hasn’t put together an ad with the face of some GOP leader on the body of the Queen of Hearts. Instead of saying “Off with their heads”, the character would say “You’re a socialist!”.
It would show just how ridiculous this whole socialist name calling gambit is.
If you’re running for office and worried about being called a socialist, then maybe you don’t have the stones to be an elected official. Being called a socialist is one of the nicer things people will call you.
If you are called a Socialist, turn that shit around on the GOP.
If you’re asking:
Do I care about access to affordable healthcare? YES!
Do I care that people have an opportunity to make a decent living? YES!
Do I believe that every child is due a quality education? YES!
And you’re done. You’re a socialist. You care about people.
Own that shit.
You don’t have to say you’re a socialist. But if everyone knows you care about the way big problems are solved, they won’t care if you are.
The Elephant In the Room
There’s a multi-billion dollar industry in right wing propaganda.
If you have a cable package, you’re helping fund it.
It’s called Fox News.
Nearly 91% of households in the US have Fox News on their TV dials.
And even if only 30% of that 91% (27% of households) watch that rotten garbage, that’s more daily message penetration than ANY person running for US House can overcome.
If you’re a Democrat, and Fucker Carlson or Shithead Sean gets wind of your vulnerability, they will target you. They will start the socialist attacks, then the GOP’s text message discipline will get the nut jobs and gun toting thugs out to your next event.
That’s how its working.
There’s a coordinated effort between Fox and the GOP campaign establishment.
If you don’t see it, you’re not paying attention…or benefitting from it.
You have to be more disciplined than they are. Discipline is something Democrats aren’t good at.
But through that discipline, both with outreach, message, and policy, you can sustain your brand despite the attacks.
The funny thing is, when people don’t know who wrote the policy, they like Democratic policy better.
The thing that hampers Democrats from a marketing perspective, is we all have an opinion on how to do things.
That fractures the message.
So when someone says “Medicare for All” and another person says “socialized medicine”, they’re saying the same thing, but one is talking about a program, and the other is using a right wing talking point.
On this, we are our own worst enemy. This is where I break from Rep Spanberger.
Just get in a room and decide how you’re going to say shit.
Its really that simple.
New things come up like “defund the police”? Sit down and agree on how to talk about it in no more than two or three sentences.
“We need to rethink public safety in America. Police, like so many public institutions, have become a catch all solution for problems that are far outside their wheelhouse.”
Or, as Kamala Harris said it on “The View”:
Noting that many cities spend “more than one third” of their budgets on police, Harris said she thought the actual task was “reimagining how we do public safety in America, which I support.”Via The Nation
Incidentally, that’s also squad member Iilhan Omar’s view.
Not so radical, huh?
You don’t have to be a master storyteller to be an elected official and tell people who you are and what you stand for. You just have to do it…regularly.
Waiting until the Labor Day before the General is too late.
You have to do it, like every week.
Make a habit of not only BEING present, but presenting YOUR VIEW, YOUR STORY, AND YOUR MESSAGE consistently on every channel available.
Which, coincidentally, is exactly what AOC talks about in this thread.
The DCCC, which is an incumbency protection racket as much as anything, hamstrung its own candidates by keeping qualified digital buying orgs out of the loop.
The DCCC has been making boneheaded moves like this for 4 decades.
They’re not protecting incumbency, they’re imperiling it by being petty.
But that’s a story for another time.
The bigger point is, this whole “blame the libs” argument rests on angsty privilege these very same whiners most likely deny exists.
If you’re losing because of right wing talking points, you have no one but yourself to blame for not building your brand into something strong enough to withstand the attacks.
IF you’re a first term Rep., that’s a serious challenge. Its what has to be done to hold on in a competitive district in a Presidential year. I’m sorry no one bothered to tell you that until after the election.
Maybe this time we’ll learn from our mistakes.
But I won’t count on it.