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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

“Damage Control” Can Involve a Real Fight

In writing this week about the hole Democrats have dug in terms of their numbers in Congress, and the considerable value of stopping Republicans from disabling the public sector for many years to come, I should probably have made it clear that a mission of “damage control” does not mean surrendering to the opposition, adopting its rhetoric and policies, or even seeking compromise. It does mean scaling back expectations for what Democrats can accomplish on their own in the short term, and adjusting strategy and tactics accordingly.
Indeed, the extremism of the contemporary GOP makes fighting Republicans, and insisting on solidarity in that fight from other Democrats, pretty much unavoidable. And even when the Right is on the offensive, defensive tactics must include positive messaging that makes clear the stark alternatives being offered by the two parties
I guess my attitude on this issue is heavily influenced by being from the South, where Democrats have had a tough time lately, and where Republicans have long been as extremist as the national party has become more recently. Some people look at the supposed “conservatism” of southern Democrats from a distance and conclude they are triangulating compromisers with no fight in their hearts. But up close, partisan politics in the South are typically pretty vicious, primarily because they revolve so often around very basic issues of principle, like the existence of universal public education, the legitimacy of progressive income taxes, the right to vote, the right of workers to unionize, and the most modest forms of separation of church and state. These battles ain’t beanbag, and the stakes are very high for the people Democrats claim to represent.
So let’s don’t confuse realistic objectives with a willingness or unwillingness to “fight.” We all know the most important fights are when you feel you have your back against the wall.

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