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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democrats Need To Address Issues Like Terrorism and Crime

After noticing, along with everyone else, that the first two days of the Democratic National Convention were extremely light on discussion of certain issues like terrorism and crime (they did spend a lot of time on the former on Day Three), it occurred to me that perhaps an old vice had returned to the American political scene. So I addressed it at New York:

[T]here is some evidence in both parties that a bad old habit is coming back: the tendency to talk predominantly about issues of most concern to the party base, and where the party’s policy prescriptions are relatively popular, and refuse to talk about anything else.

For many years, Democrats avoided talking about national security partly because they thought they looked and sounded weak on the subject, and partly because they figured if voters were absorbed with “good Democratic issues” like education and health care and wages they’d forget to worry about threats to the country. Republicans had a mirror-image delusion, trying hard to ignore “their” issues to the benefit of “our” issues.

One of the reasons Bill Clinton did well politically is that he refused to play that silly game and talked about crime and national security and, yes, even welfare dependency. You can make a good argument (on welfare policy, anyway) that he made the mistake of adopting conservative policies to address these problems. But he recognized something very simple: When politicians refuse to talk about something voters care about, voters fill in the blank with whatever distorted attributed positions the other side suggests. So when Democrats ignored crime as a “Republican issue” and Republicans accuse them of hating cops and sympathizing with violent criminals, a lot of voters had no real reason to conclude otherwise.

Republican George W. Bush (or his “brain,” Karl Rove) got this basic point, insisting on offering conservative prescriptions to improve education, to cover prescription drug costs for seniors, and to deal with the problem of undocumented workers. He even addressed Social Security, though his desire to “reform” the program and improve its solvency by simply reducing benefits was a little too apparent.

The issues discussed at this year’s Republican convention were remarkably straitened. One of them, climate change, was naturally ignored because most Republicans don’t even believe in it. But big areas of economic policy, education policy, health-care policy, environmental policy, food and nutrition policy, and on and on, were at most paid lip service in Cleveland. And even on issues they did address, they often exhibited a cramped perspective: By refusing to acknowledge the issue of police misconduct toward the minority citizens they are supposed to correct, their silence encouraged the impression that they thought police should be able to do any damn thing they want, and that the odd beaten or murdered African-American John Q. Citizens was just the price to be paid for keeping crime under control. Is there any wonder Republicans continue to struggle with minority voters?

But Democrats are making the same mistake if they minimize discussion of terrorism specifically or national security generally, or of immigration enforcement, or of crime policy. On the racially fraught subject of policing, Republican charges that Democrats don’t give a damn about police or even public safety gain traction they do not deserve from a convention where murdered police officers and their families are rarely mentioned.

Again, refusing to cede ownership of entire issue areas to the other party does not mean accepting their policy prescriptions; indeed, it means denying false choices between, say, strong and proactive policing and the liberties of citizens who ought to be presumed innocent when walking the streets or driving their cars.

Political parties ought to have something to say about any issue voters legitimately care about, if only to show they are listening. And any ideology worth having doesn’t let its acolytes fall silent when an inconvenient topic comes up.

2 comments on “Democrats Need To Address Issues Like Terrorism and Crime

  1. CLK on

    I disagree, I think Democrats need to stop protecting their donors and point out the damage done by the obstruction, diversion and sabotage of the government by the GOP and Tea Party. Both parties talk about jobs being sent over seas, but never point out the culprits, big corporations and greed of investors. Unemployment is not something that our president no matter the party can really address unless the cause is addressed corporations and their drive for control. We have corporate farms running rough shod over small farmers, corporations maintaining slave like conditions in the chicken processing plants and even some cases sending many raw materials and products to China to be processed and then returned to the US. That is a Congress issue, but the corporations own the politicians especially the GOP.
    I stopped listening to Hillary’s speech when she got to the whole platform promises because we all know that unless the Democrats open their eyes and speak out about the obstruction of the GOP nothing will change we will still have the demagogues McConnell and Ryan sabotaging movement forward an any of the issues that will actually help unemployment, instead they spend our money and time chasing phantoms of wrong doing everywhere but in their own ranks. They spend our money on pandering to special interests like religion and racial purists by inserting amendments like short order cooks satisfying customers.
    Hillary would have been better served talking about bringing these corporate thieves of our jobs under control. Talking about investment bankers and hedge fund managers taking over companies and raiding the retirement funds from seniors. That is what people need to see and hear. Obama didn’t run Bain Capital which took over companies and drained assets destroying the hopes of so many.
    Hillary would be better served addressing the unrest and unemployment in Virginia by pointing out that it wasn’t Obama who outsourced their jobs or even on Obama’s administration.
    Until those issues are aired loudly and often and mounting a major push to clear out the ALEC elected local and national politicians we will never have jobs in this country or parity. We have third world pockets in this country because of the corporate greed and take over.
    Crime comes from the anger of poverty, hunger, abuse domestic and social. If we address neighborhood issues I would bet that would lower crimes of hate and violence.
    Terrorism worldwide is about religion, unless we accept that and address the destruction of the balances it will continue. Frankly, our interference in the Middle East with Iran, and Afghanistan has only made things worse and may never be fixed. War will never bring peace.


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