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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall writes, “In the 11 months from January 2020 to February 2021, Fox referred to critical race theory — which has come to be known as C.R.T. — 164 times, according to the liberal advocacy group Media Matters. In the subsequent three and a half months, from May through mid-August, as the contest between Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe for governor in Virginia intensified, the number of on-air references shot up to more than 1,900….There is clear evidence that this issue touched a nerve across a wide swath of the electorate, evidence that suggests that C.R.T. can simultaneously be a Republican dog whistle and a significant political liability for the Democratic Party. Fox News raised the salience of C.R.T., but it resonated beyond the network’s viewers….As [Youngkin strategist Kristin ]Davison recounted the story to [Politico writer Ryan] Lizza: Within three hours of the debate where Terry said “I don’t think parents should be involved in what the school should be teaching,” we had a video out hitting this because it tapped into just parents not knowing. And that was the fight. It wasn’t just C.R.T. That’s an easier issue to talk about on TV. That’s not what we focused on here; it was more “parents matter.” Launching that message took the education discussion to a different level. Edsall adds, “Nonetheless, the immediate political question is this: How should Democrats deal with the “weaponization” of critical race theory?…’

Among the responses, Edsall notes, “I asked Anat Shenker-Osorio, a California-based communications consultant who specializes in the development of progressive messaging, especially in techniques to counter conservative and Republican campaign themes. Her reply by email: ‘What Democrats need to do is recognize that this is simply Republicans recording a new cover of the same song. They cast a new scapegoat and remix, hoping to divide us along lines of race, background or gender identity, and distract us from their corruption.’ There are, she continued, “proven ways to best right-wing divide-in-order-to-conquer strategies”:Democrats begin by saying, for example, “No matter our color, background, or ZIP code, we want our kids to learn to reckon with the mistakes of our past, understand our present, and create a better future for us all.” Embracing the critical — and highly contested — value of freedom, by championing kids’ freedom to learn who they are, where they come from, and all they can become, is also paramount. Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard, had a harder edge in his emailed reply to my inquiry: “Democratic candidates should deal seriously and forthrightly with the cultural issues that clearly concern many voters.” Learning, he continued, “entails dialogue and pluralism and self-disciplined willingness to listen even to those with whom one may disagree strongly, which is why the far-flung efforts to erase or muzzle the 1619 Project, or critical race theory or other manifestations of anti-racist pedagogy must be rejected. Democrats should put themselves firmly on the side of open discussion, not compelled silence….”They should vocally eschew bad ideas such as the notion that there has been no substantial betterment in race relations over the past fifty years, or that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are unworthy of commemoration, or that Black people are incapable of being racist, or that speech that is allegedly racist ought to be banned. At the same time, they should vocally embrace what is difficult for any sensible person to deny: that racial injustice has been and remains a destructive force that must be overcome if we are to enjoy more fully the promising potential of our multiracial democracy….I agree.”

In their article, “Joe Manchin has a point: Means-testing would make ‘social infrastructure’ bill affordable,” at The Hill, Douglas J. Besharov, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and director of its Welfare Reform Academy and Douglas M. Call a lecturer at the University of Maryland and the deputy director of the Welfare Reform Academy, write: “Now that the physical infrastructure bill has passed, Democrats are working to shoehorn their social priorities into a shrinking budget target, pared down from an earlier $3.5 trillion to around $1.75 trillion. But instead of real cuts, it appears that they are aiming to simply reduce the number of years for which some programs are approved — to make them seem less expensive — without actually lowering their long-term cost….The idea is that, after enacted, public support will grow and Democrats (or the Republicans, should they win control next year) will extend the programs. But given the comments of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and others, that feels like a “riverboat gamble,” as the late Sen. Howard Baker called the Reagan tax cuts. Wiser policy would be to make the programs affordable by targeting them to families really needing help. In other words, as Manchin and others have pointed out: Means-testing would make the social infrastructure bill more affordable….For years, fixing the work and marriage disincentives in the EITC and other safety-net programs was stymied by the inability of advocates to find ways to pay for them. Now there is money on the table. Removing them might not be as dramatically sweeping as “a tax cut for all,” but it could be just the policy bridge needed to make a real improvement in the lives of struggling families — one that progressives and moderates could get behind.”

In “Biden has reached a critical moment in the battle for blue-collar voters,” Ronald Brownstein writes at CNN Politics: “In Republican-leaning states and districts, “Democratic candidates have to forcibly separate themselves from the Democratic brand” on cultural questions, says Andrew Levison, a contributing editor at The Democratic Strategist, a website that debates the party’s choices. He argues that “a reckoning does have to be done with certain elements of the progressive wing of the party” and that Biden should directly renounce some left-leaning ideas on race the way Bill Clinton did in 1992, when he criticized the rapper Sister Souljah. “Standing up for certain traditional cultural principles against the left might help Biden establish his own bona fides” for 2024, says Levison. “He can’t really ride on ‘Amtrak Joe.’ ” Levison, a long-time advocate of Black political empowerment and multi-racial coalitions for social reform, has recently written that “If Democrats could simply regain the white working class vote share that they won in 2008, this would be adequate to win many elections that Dems now loose. As a result it is not necessary for Democrats to try to win a large majority of all white working class voters and certainly not to try to win passionate Trump supporters. It is just necessary to regain perhaps 10-15% of the white working class vote that once voted Democratic and now goes Republican….In red state districts Democratic candidates need to proudly embrace white working class culture and then consciously and intensely attack their Republican opponents as being “extremists” who do not embody the decent elements of traditional American culture and values.”

6 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. pjcamp on

    1. The answer is easy — there is no critical race theory being taught in public schools. It is a purely academic interest among college professors. That answer has the virtue of being true.

    2. Regarding means testing and blue collar votes, what Democrats have is a middle class problem. Means testing will make that worse. Democrats take care of the working class very well. The votes they are not getting they are never going to get. But suburbs turning out to get rid of Trump tells you exactly where the gettable votes are, and what do they need? You can start with better subsidies for Obamacare.

    • Watcher on

      Yes, why are we listening to Douglas J. Besharov? Unstated is that he is aligned with the American Enterprise Institute. Doesn’t do much to convince progressives.

    • Watcher on

      Why are we even listening to Douglas J. Besharov? Left unsaid above is that he is part of the American Enterprise Institute, which is a pretty big omission.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    “How should Democrats deal with the “weaponization” of critical race theory?…’

    By calling that “weaponization” the dog whistle and code words it really is. Anything less is moral cowardice, which is less than the voters, the country, and the Democratic Party deserve.

    • fred sims on

      ” sir what do you think about CRT?'” well I don’t know much about it but what I’ve heard I don’t like” Do you know what it is? I don’t like what i’ve heard”. These folks have been lied to and you’re gonna have a hard time making them understand it. It’s like the joke about the man who wore garlic around his neck to ward off vampires. When told vampires don’t exist ,he says that means the garlic is working.


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