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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

The ‘Hillbilly Elegy” fuss gets a new round of buzz with the Netflix movie, which dodges the major political arguments in J.D. Vance’s book. While some critics have faulted the book for its political distortions, Stanley B. Greenberg has the most nuanced takedown at in his new article at The American Prospect. As Greenberg writes, “The book’s cascading errors begin with its failure to appreciate how exceptional Appalachian white history and culture actually are, and how dangerous it is to equate Vance’s hillbillies with today’s white working class. Yet that is the equation Vance makes at the very beginning of his memoir: “You see, I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember.” Vance’s equation reinforces conservatives’ and President Donald Trump’s mistaken conviction that coal mining and West Virginia are the epicenter of America’s working-class life….The pace of cascading errors grows with the classless and benign history Vance presents, one that erases from the Appalachian landscape the powerful business actors who seized the timber and mineral rights, fought the coal-mining unions, and created an economy of poverty. Outside companies had long since claimed the rights to the timber, the land, and the coal beneath it, rendering the region’s population—all their resources owned by outsiders—dependent on coal companies and shuttled into company towns….Maybe Vance’s hillbillies would not be helped by new and better job opportunities, higher wages, less outsourcing, investment in building infrastructure, expanded child tax credits and income supports, housing vouchers, nutrition programs, unpolluted rivers and air, consumer protections, affordable child care, paid family leave after bearing a child, and universal health insurance. Before we assent to Vance’s indictment, we’d do well to try out such policies….Vance’s book suggests a dysfunctional culture has left these people and communities disabled and our medicine cabinet of governmental remedies empty….The problem with those judgments is that you have to erase a lot of history and a lot of experience with policy outcomes to get there. Working-class families and communities are indeed in trouble, but a lot of factors contributed to it. The culprit was not bad choices. It was not lack of personal responsibility or a government that was clueless about how to get to a better economy and society. We are not powerless to address these ills.” Read all of Greenberg’s article for an insightful understanding of working-class politics on the eve of the Biden Administration.

In his Washington Post column, “Team Biden has to show that foreign policy elites got the message,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes that “the incoming administration needs to ponder why President Trump’s nationalism took hold. Part of it was voters’ sheer exhaustion with foreign military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. But over many years, there was also a rising and justifiable suspicion in our nation’s struggling communities that foreign policy elites didn’t really give a damn about how their decisions affected the lives and livelihoods of their fellow citizens….Some of this had to do with trade policy. The loss of manufacturing jobs to China after its 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization helped foster the Midwestern backlash that culminated in Trump’s electoral-college victory 15 years later. More broadly, there was little in the foreign policy conversation that related diplomatic statecraft to the construction of a decent society at home….Here is where Biden and his colleagues can take a cue from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Sanders spoke of a foreign policy based on “shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people,” while Warren argued that “Washington’s focus has shifted from policies that benefit everyone to policies that benefit a handful of elites.”

“Joe Biden marked an unexpected and unwanted milestone this month when he won a clear popular-vote majority in the presidential election but saw his party suffer substantial losses in the House of Representatives.” Ronald Brownstein writes in his article, “Democrats’ Real Liability in the House” in The Atlantic. “That unusual combination of results—the first time it’s happened in more than 120 years—crystallizes the core challenge Democrats face in translating their consistent victories in the popular vote into congressional power….But even as Democrats have improved their position inside the nation’s largest and most economically vibrant metropolitan areas, their support in exurban, small-town, and rural regions has collapsed. While Bill Clinton twice won about 1,500 counties (roughly half the counties in America), Hillary Clinton carried just less than 500 (roughly one-sixth). Though Biden won the popular vote by at least 3 million more votes than she did, he only slightly expanded her geographic reach: So far, he’s carried 509 counties, based on the latest count from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program….For Democrats, the surest way to defend their House majority may be to rebuild their capacity to compete in at least a few more small-town and rural districts. That proved impossible with Trump polarizing the electorate so sharply along cultural lines. The future of the House Democratic majority may depend on whether Biden succeeds in his uphill quest to lower the temperature of partisan conflict and narrow the nation’s gaping political divides.”

A.P.’s Astrid Galvan writes at Talking Points Memo that “President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign credits its success in Arizona to the immigrant-rights and grassroots organizations that have been mobilizing Latinos for nearly two decades. The fruits of their labor — in triple-digit heat, no less — paid off in this traditionally conservative state, where changing demographics and suburban voters turning out to oppose President Donald Trump also worked in Biden’s favor….But what that means for the future of Democratic candidates and how the party can capitalize on these gains will be tested in 2022 and 2024 — especially because there wasn’t a blue shift in statewide races or in some other parts of the country with large Latino populations….A coalition of longstanding grassroots organizations known as Mi AZ started knocking on doors in July, eventually hitting 1.1 million homes, even in the hottest summer on record in Phoenix. They made nearly 8 million phone calls and managed digital and broadcast campaigns. Their work is nothing new. In 2016, groups involved with Mi AZ helped get a minimum wage increase passed and then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had long targeted immigrants, voted out of office….Driven by years of anti-immigrant propositions and legislation — from banning bilingual education 20 years ago, forcing college students without legal status to pay out-of-state tuition in 2006 to SB 1070, the infamous “show me your papers” law from 2010 — these groups have built a network of activists and voters who turned out in huge numbers….Latinos also now account for 24% of eligible voters in Arizona, compared with 19% in 2012, according to Pew Research Center….Antonio Arellano, interim executive director for Jolt, a Texas advocacy group that aims to grow Latinos’ political power and mobilize young voters, said both parties need to invest more in their outreach efforts if they’re going to win an increasingly large and diverse constituency….They have to hire people who come from and reflect their communities and stop treating them as a safe bet, Arellano said. “The parties know what they need to do, they’re just not doing it. They have outdated strategies,” he said. “The Latino electorate is incredibly young. In order to connect with them, they need to modernize civic engagement, and that requires an investment… What we’ve seen is that Latinos are an afterthought.”

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