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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

At Vox Jonathan Allen explores reasons why “Hillary Clinton’s move to the left could help her win the general election“: “Here’s the gamble Clinton’s taking: targeted policy shifts will activate key Democratic voting constituencies early in the campaign without alienating swing voters. If it works, African Americans, Latinos, gays and lesbians, and straight white men (the group that seems to like her the least among Democrats) will see her as a true champion and remain energized through the general election. Her campaign views the risk of pushing away independents as minimal compared with the advantage of rallying Democrats…”Over time, the landscape has shifted on so many of these issues that now Democrats don’t have to hide from them,” one campaign official said. “The data is pretty clear: the independent voters are on our side on issues like gay marriage. So leaning into them comes with a benefit, not a cost.”
I doubt any of today’s presidential candidates would do very well on this test, particularly if subjected to a similar level of scrutiny as that experienced by Clinton. And then there’s the relevant follow-up question that should always be asked: “Compared to who?”
Ronald Brownstein addresses the topic in his National Journal article “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Need Americans to Trust Her,” noting, “For all those convinced that the serial allegations of ethical impropriety swirling around Hillary Clinton will puncture her prospects of winning the presidency next year, there’s a relevant precedent to consider: On the day Bill Clinton was reelected by more than eight million votes in 1996, a solid 54 percent majority of voters said in exit polling that they did not consider him honest and trustworthy…It’s possible that voters have since grown less tolerant of perceived ethical missteps, such as the questions Hillary Clinton is facing over her private State Department email account and the Clinton Foundation’s fund-raising practices. But it’s more likely that empathy, faith in her competency, and ideological compatibility will count more than integrity in shaping voters’ verdict on Hillary Clinton–just as they did for her husband.”
“…If American schools did a better job teaching about history and government, students most likely would grow up to be more engaged adults. Alas, the latest testing by the National Assessment of Educational Progress — aka NAEP or The Nation’s Report Card — found that just 18 percent of eighth-graders scored “proficient” or better in history; 23 percent scored proficient or above in civics. In short, close to 4 in 5 middle schoolers don’t know much about history, while 3 in 4 don’t know much about their government,” writes Debra J. Saunders in “Want more voters? Teach more civics and history” at The herald of Everett, Washington.
In Amy Chozick’s NYT article “As Middle Class Fades, So Does Use of Term on Campaign Trail.” she observes, “A social stratum that once signified a secure, aspirational lifestyle, with a house in the suburbs, children set to attend college, retirement savings in the bank and, maybe, an occasional trip to Disneyland now connotes fears about falling behind, sociologists, economists and political scientists say…Rising costs mean many families whose incomes fall in the middle of the national distribution can no longer afford the trappings of what was once associated with a middle-class lifestyle. That has made the term, political scientists say, lose its resonance…”We have no collective language for talking about that condition,” Dr. Elwood said.”
Democratic candidates, not Republicans, take note: Some good tips in Mark Leibovich’s New York Times Magazine article, “Crying Gotcha” for handling trick questions.
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson write at American Prospect, via Moyers & Company, “The GOP isn’t moving back to the center. The “proxy wars” of 2014 were mainly about tactics and packaging, not moderation…The far right has built precisely the kind of organizations needed to turn diffuse and generalized support into focused activity on behalf of increasingly extreme candidates…Those organized forces have two key elements: polarizing right-wing media and efforts by business and the very wealthy to backstop and bankroll GOP politics. Pundits like to point to surface similarities between partisan journalists on the left and right, but the differences in scale and organization are profound. The conservative side is massive; describing its counterpart on the left as modest would be an act of true generosity…The Republican base generates an exceptionally strong gravitational pull, and that pull takes politicians much farther from the electoral center than do the comparatively weak forces on the left of the Democratic Party.” As for the Democratic response, Hacker and Pierson urge, “As difficult as it surely will be, there is no substitute for restoring some measure of public and elite respect for government’s enormous role in making society richer, healthier, fairer, better educated and safer. To do that requires encouraging public officials to refine and express that case and rewarding them when they do so. And it requires designing policies not to hide the role of government, but to make it both visible and popular.”
The dean of conservative political columnists has a one-word description of Mike Huckabee’s presidential candidacy: “Appalling.”
But there is an inherent weakness in conservative messaging. Jonathan Chait addresses “Why Conservatives Use Novels to Justify Inequality,” and observes “Abstract thought experiments and references to old novels are a more attractive way for conservatives to frame their defense of existing economic privilege than engaging with the actually existing debate over inequality.” Their overall message strategy is to avoid relevant statistical realities because they tend to favor progressive arguments.

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