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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Why Dems Need More Focus on Secretary of State Races

Looking toward the midterm elections, Louis Jacobson provides a well-researched update, “Secretary of State Races: More Important Than Ever in 2022, and More Complicated, Too” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. As Jacobson writes,

Next year, 27 states will hold elections for secretary of state. With former President Donald Trump continuing to make election fraud the centerpiece of his effort to return to the presidency — despite the lack of any evidence — the outcome of secretary of state races in 2022 will loom larger than ever, because in most states the office oversees election administration….Trump has inserted himself directly in some of these races by endorsing primary candidates in several states.

Handicapping these races is more complicated than usual because if some of the more aggressively pro-Trump candidates end up winning the nomination, they could enable a more promising outlook for Democrats in the general election.

In Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, the general election for secretary of state is likely to be competitive regardless of who the Republican nominee is. In addition, another half-dozen races could be competitive, including Democratic-held seats in Colorado, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Jacobson shares insights on each of the 27 races, and concludes,

Several states will hold gubernatorial races in which the winner will be able to appoint the secretary of state.

Two big prizes, Florida and Texas, lean towards GOP holds, while one smaller prize, Maryland, is a good prospect for a Democratic flip. In addition, a few states have their legislature choose the secretary of state, and among those are Maine and New Hampshire, which could have a competitive fight for control in one or both chambers (Democrats control both chambers in Maine, while Republicans control both in New Hampshire).

The biggest prize for a secretary of state appointment, however, could be Pennsylvania. The Keystone State is another highly-competitive Trump-to-Biden state where Trump and his allies sought to overturn the election results. Democrats are all but decided on their gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, while the Republican primary field is large and wide open: It includes candidates with varying degrees of fealty to Trump, including former Rep. Lou Barletta and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has sought an Arizona-style “audit” of Pennsylvania.

With American democracy under unprecedented assault, the integrity of the nation’s Secretaries of State, who will be responsible for enforcing voting rights in the states during the midterm elections, has never been more important. Jacobson’s article provides an excellent update on these races.

Teixeira: The Common Good – An Idea So Crazy It Just Might Work!

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

John Halpin explains in his latest at The Liberal Patriot:

“Is it any wonder that the Democratic Party’s brand is in the toilet these days? Voters don’t have a clue what Democrats are talking about half the time but sense that it has little to do with them or their values.

Much of modern progressive-left discourse sounds like a dreary small group discussion in sociology class. “Systemic problem this” and “structural change that” with no clarity whatsoever about what is being discussed, why it matters, and why anyone should care. Contemporary progressive language often seems designed to alienate and confuse people rather than find shared priorities and connections across disparate groups….

According to Pew’s data, Americans draw ideas about what is right and wrong in the world from several sources—religion among them for one-third of Americans, along with common sense (45 percent), philosophy (11 percent), and science (9 percent).

American values rightly emerge from a nice blend of all these sources.

But rather than listen to another strange Democratic speech on systemic inequality or a 10-point plan about a complicated new social policy that few people understand, it would be nice occasionally if religious Democrats just said: “We believe everyone is equal in the eyes of God and under our Constitution. Our policies are motivated by a desire to secure the common good for the entire nation and equal dignity and rights for all people.”

What would a Democratic politics motivated by concern for the common good look like? As Ruy Teixeira and I outlined way back in 2006 in a report for The American Prospect entitled, “The Politics of Definition”:

“Securing the common good means putting the public interest above narrow self-interest and group demands; working to achieve social and economic conditions that benefit everyone; promoting a personal, governmental and corporate ethic of responsibility and service to others; creating a more open and honest governmental structure that relies upon an engaged and participatory citizenry; and doing more to meet our common responsibilities to aid the disadvantaged, protect our natural resources, and provide opportunities rather than burdens for future generations…

A primary goal of the government in this approach is to ensure basic fairness and opportunity: the civil, legal, and economic arrangements necessary to ensure every American has a real shot at his or her dreams. Common-good progressivism does not guarantee that everybody will be the same, think the same, or get the same material benefits in life; it simply means that people should start from a level playing field and have a reasonable chance at achieving success.

Internationally, common-good progressivism focuses on new and revitalized global leadership grounded in the integrated use of military, economic, and diplomatic power; the just use of force; global engagement; new institutions and networks to deal with intractable problems; and global equity. As in past battles against fascism and totalitarianism, common-good progressives today seek to fight global extremism by using a comprehensive national-security strategy that employs all our strengths for strategic and moral advantage. This requires true leadership and global cooperation rather than the dominant “my-way-or-the-highway” mentality…

Progressives should not forget that the common good is a powerful theme in the social teachings of many major faith traditions—Catholicism and mainline Protestantism, in particular, and in moderate evangelical and other denominations as well. The principle of the common good is drawn upon in these faiths to guide people towards more thoughtful consideration of their own actions in light of others; to compel political leaders and policymakers to consider the needs of the entire society; and to check unrestrained individualism that frequently erodes community sensibilities and values.

The goal of the common good in both the secular and faith traditions is a more balanced and considerate populace that seeks to provide the social and economic conditions necessary for all people to lead meaningful and dignified lives.”

These common good values, in turn, underlie Democrats’ efforts to advance affordable health care, support for the poor, family and environmental policies, and public investments. If Democrats lead with consensus values like these—religious or otherwise—then specific policies and messages will flow more naturally and persuasively for voters.”

The common good: it was a great idea then, it’s an even better idea now!

Tomasky: How Dems Can Close the Sale

At The New Republic’s ‘the Soapbox,’ Editor Michael Tomasky argues that “Democrats Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Tell Voters What the Build Back Better Act Is All About: The Biden agenda will make everyone’s lives a little bit easier and a little bit better. There’s no need to hide from a good deal.” As Tomasky writes,

Assuming the Democratic Party–controlled Senate passes some version of the Build Back Better Act this year, as Chuck Schumer has vowed it will, the new year will dawn with Democrats fanning out across the country to sell the Biden agenda (which House Democrats have already started doing with the version of the president’s social provision bill they passed last week, along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill).

Among the people I talk to, there seems to be a consensus forming that Democrats are going to have a hard time convincing voters about the generous array of wonderful benefits these bills will unleash before the midterm elections. People are in a sour mood, they say. Besides, inflation and the pandemic dictate everything, Donald Trump’s America is more fired up to vote, swing voters are going Republican, and too few of these programs are going to be up and running by next November.

On top of that, political science tells us that voters don’t often reward a party that passes transformative legislation. Voters are a cranky bunch. People are far more likely to use their votes to punish what they don’t like than to reward what they do like.

I suppose there’s truth to a lot of these observations. But I look through the reports on what happened to be in the bill, and I feel like I’m seeing a lot of stuff that Democrats can campaign on. Say you’re a Democrat trying to hold onto your seat in a purple district and you’re not Maine’s Jared Golden (in other words—you voted for these bills). You’re being challenged by some right-wing loon who’s carrying on about socialism and handouts and taxing and spending. Can’t that person say something that sounds a little something like this?

“I’d really like to know what particular things in the bill my opponent has such trouble with. Let’s start with Medicare. This bill adds hearing aids to Medicare coverage. The average cost of a prescription hearing aid in this country is $4,700. That’s a lot of money—for most seniors, a prohibitive amount of money. Now it’s covered. Is that a handout? In my opinion, it’s something that’s going to improve a lot of people’s quality of life. The bill also caps prescription drug outlays at $2,000 a year. Right now, there’s no hard cap, and there’s that infamous donut hole, which you know all about if you’ve bothered to talk to seniors. Maybe my opponent hasn’t. But it strikes me that saving seniors some money is a pretty good thing. Maybe my opponent doesn’t. And of course, insulin is going to cost $35, as opposed to the current $100. Is that what my opponent means by socialism?

“Let’s see, what else.… There’s a lot of money in there for the states—not the federal government, the states—to build and stand up pre-kindergarten programs and childcare centers. The bill ensures that a family of four with income up to $300,000, which is about 98 percent of the population, will pay no more than 7 percent of their income on childcare. Is this going to create a society of layabouts? I think the opposite. I think affordable day care will give a lot of parents, mothers in particular, the chance to work or go back to school and better themselves so they can move up the ladder at work. I’m not seeing how this is bad.

“And how about the climate? There are a lot of tax incentives for companies and people to produce and purchase more renewables and to move away from coal. All kinds of things to encourage individuals and communities to invest in green energy. I guess if you think climate change is a hoax, you think all this is a waste of money. But most people don’t think it’s a hoax. Most people think it’s real. So, I think these are good ideas.”

Tomasky also has a “don’t”: “The one thing that was in the bill that I’d advise this candidate to skip is the lifting of the cap on the state and local tax deduction, which is, no doubt about it, a gift to higher-income taxpayers. But it was political reality that some moderates from high-tax states might have voted no if this wasn’t included—and another political reality that if it hadn’t been included and isn’t in whatever ends up passing in some way, shape, or form, some Democrats from swing districts in New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere would be much more likely to lose.”

Tomasky shares some more good messaging tips:

But there’s a lot more good news than bad. Democrats ought to welcome a debate about what they’ve done for the American people with their GOP opponents. Incumbents should defend their vote in terms like I’ve laid out above. And Democratic challengers to Republicans in winnable swing districts should clearly be able to say: Look at all these good things this person voted against.

In fact, Democrats should go even further. This is an old pet peeve of mine about how Democrats debate policy. Republicans talk about this stuff solely on the abstract level—it’s socialism and profligacy and so on. They do this because they know the programs are individually popular but the idea of big government is not. By the same token, Democrats do the opposite. They read the same polls, so they tend to emphasize the specifics and steer clear of the abstract.

I get it. But it leaves Democrats sounding like they’re just for individual policy programs here and there instead of a big-picture vision for the kind of society they want to build. This bill, whatever its shortcomings, contains a vision of society: a more humane place where wealth is being shifted back from the rich to the middle so that more people can fulfill their potential.

Democrats don’t really need to mention government at all. In the end, what these bills are seeking to do has nothing to do with the government anyway. The public sector is the means to an end. That end is creating the means by which people can lead more fulfilling lives and do so with greater ease at that. Democrats need to be willing to say as much, and they need to demonstrate a willingness to fight for it.

So much recent political analysis explains what many Democrats have been doing wrong, and that’s useful information. But now Dems have to regroup and attack. Tomasky’s article provides a promising battle plan.

Teixeira: The Anti-Politics of the Democratic Party Left

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Jon Chait, in an important article in New York magazine, analyzes the profoundly ineffective anti-politics of the Democratic party left, aided and abetted by donors and foundations who finance this nonsense. (Note: he also has some stern words for centrist Democrats who oppose very popular Democratic measures in the name of moderation.)

Here is perhaps the most important part of his argument:

“When confronted with the reality that the Democratic Party is losing Black and Latino moderates, the response on the left is often to treat their views as morally beyond the pale. “Yes, it turns out that a number of people of color, especially those without a college education, can see the allure of the jackboot authoritarian thuggery offered by modern Republicans,” wrote The Nation’s Elie Mystal. “A certain percentage of non-college-educated people are hostile to immigration. Sure. Does that mean Democrats should embrace beating migrants? A certain percentage of non-college-educated people are resistant to science. Sure. Does that mean Democrats should embrace horse dewormer?”

Obviously, nobody is proposing Democrats run on authoritarian thuggery. The question is whether any compromise with the center is acceptable. Obama competed for moderate views by promising that people could keep their private insurance even as he covered those who couldn’t get any coverage, that he would secure the border even as he gave amnesty to Dreamers. Reducing all these spectra of belief to a simple binary, then declaring the opposing position so horrific it cannot be accommodated, is not a political strategy. It is a kind of anti-politics.

This anti-politics did not materialize out of thin air. It is the working assumption of a vast array of progressive nonprofit organizations and the millionaires who fund them. Over the past half-dozen years, several people who work in and around the nonprofit world have told me, the internal political culture at progressive foundations has undergone the same changes that have torn through elite universities, mainstream-media newsrooms, and private schools. An uncompromising version of left-wing political rhetoric has put the leadership of these organizations on the defensive and often prodded them to fund more radical organizations and ideas than before.

These groups have churned out studies and deployed activists to bring left-wing ideas into the political debate. At this they have enjoyed overwhelming success. In recent years, a host of new slogans and plans — the Green New Deal, “Defund the police,” “Abolish ICE,” and so on — have leaped from the world of nonprofit activism onto the chyrons of MSNBC and Fox News. Obviously, the conservative media have played an important role in publicizing (and often distorting) the most radical ideas from the activist left. But the right didn’t invent these edgy slogans; the left did, injecting them into the national bloodstream.

Twitter is often blamed for (or, alternately, credited with) facilitating the rise of the Democratic Party’s left wing. But an important and generally unexamined source of the left’s growth is the left-wing millionaires who finance it. A little more than a decade ago, David Callahan wrote a book, Fortunes of Change, describing a social and political evolution among the American rich. The rise of a knowledge economy had produced a growing class of liberal millionaires and billionaires, and this elite cohort had begun to work its will on the system by forming “a new progressive donor class.”

Reich: Dashed Hopes Fuel Drift from Biden, Dems

At The Guardian, former Secretary of Labor and political commentator Robert Reich addresses a question of current interest, “Why Are Americans So Unhappy With Joe Biden?” As Reich explains,

How can the economic and pandemic news be so good, and so much of Biden’s agenda already enacted – yet the public be so sour on Biden and the Democrats?

Some blame Biden’s and the Democrat’s poor messaging. Yes, it’s awful. Even now most Americans have no idea what the “Build Back Better” package is. It sounds like infrastructure, but that bill has been enacted. “Human infrastructure” makes no sense to most people.

Yet this can’t be the major reason for the paradox because the Democrats’ failure at messaging goes back at least a half century. I remember in 1968 after Nixon beat Humphrey hearing that the Democrats’ problem is they talk policy while Americans want to hear values – the same criticism we’re hearing today.

Some blame the media – not just despicable Fox News but also the corporate mainstream. But here, too, the problem predates the current paradox. Before Fox News, Rush Limbaugh was poisoning countless minds. And for at least four decades, the mainstream media has focused on conflict, controversy and scandal. Good news doesn’t attract eyeballs.

Some suggest Democrats represent the college-educated suburban middle class that doesn’t really want major social change anyway. Yet this isn’t new, either. Clinton and Obama abandoned the working class by embracing trade, rejecting unions, subsidizing Wall Street and big business and embracing deregulation and privatization.

So what explains the wide gap now between how well the country is doing and how badly Biden and the Democrats are doing politically?

In two words: dashed hopes. After four years of Trump and a year and a half of deathly pandemic, most of the country was eager to put all the horror behind – to start over, wipe the slate clean, heal the wounds, reboot America. Biden in his own calm way seemed just the person to do it. And when Democrats retook the Senate, expectations of Democrats and independents soared.

But those expectations couldn’t possibly be met when all the underlying structural problems were still with us – a nation deeply split, Trumpers still threatening democracy, racism rampant, corporate money still dominating much of politics, inequality still widening, inflation undermining wage gains, and the Delta variant of Covid still claiming lives.

Dashed hopes make people angry. Mass disappointment is politically poisonous. Social psychologists have long understood that losing something of value generates more anguish than obtaining it generated happiness in the first place.

Reich may be overstating the ‘good news’ about the economy, in light of concerns about inflation, however unmerited. Also, the frustrations of 31 million small businesses as they struggle to get enough employees and supplies in the wake of Covid-related disruptions may be increasing discontent. This could get worse in the year ahead. But it could also get better.

For those looking for an optimistic scenario in the 2022 midterms, Reich adds, “Biden and Democrats can take solace from this. Hopefully, a year from now the fruits of Biden’s initiatives will be felt, Covid will be behind us, bottlenecks behind the current inflation will be overcome, and the horrors of the Trump years will become more visible through Congress’s investigations and the midterm campaigns of Trumpers.”

DCCC Launches Plan to Win More Black, Latino and Asian American Voters

We focus a lot at TDS on exploring ways the Democrats can get a bigger bite of the white working-class vote to insure a stable working majority in both houses of congress. It wouldn’t take all that much, as Andrew Levision has argued in his recent strategy memo. Of course Dems must do it in such a way that the gains are not offset by a reduceded share of African American votes or diminished Black voter turnout.

Toward that end, Juana Summers reports that “House Democrats have a new strategy to engage voters of color in the midterm elections” at npr.org, and writes:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a new, multimillion-dollar effort to engage and mobilize voters of color ahead of the midterm elections, including investments in local organizing and a seven-figure research and polling effort.

The plan, the details of which were shared first with NPR, includes an initial $30 million investment to hire local community organizers, launch targeted advertising campaigns aimed at nonwhite communities, as well as building voter protection and education programs. The committee is also working to combat disinformation efforts that are specifically focused on voters of color.

The announcement comes as Democrats are preparing to defend their slim congressional majorities in 2022, and as many in the party are still assessing their unexpected losses in significant elections this month. It is an early signal of how national Democrats plan to work to ensure that the racially diverse coalition that elected President Biden and delivered victories in key states across the country that gave Democrats a bare Senate majority shows up again.

Summers quotes Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, who said, “as part of the Building our Base Project, he wants “boots on the ground much earlier, not just showing up at election time, and putting the resources behind it with a culturally competent, diverse team that knows what it’s doing.”

Teixeira: How Dems Can Reach Working-Class Voters

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Comrades! Here Is How We Reach the Working Class!

Everybody should take a look at the new study by Jacobin/Center for Working Class Politics/YouGov on how the left (running as Democrats) can actually reach working class voters. It’s really quite good and remarkably free from the usual left blinders about the actually-existing working class. Hats off to Jacobin, which despite its professed Marxism and fondness for great Communists of the past stories (which I actually quite like as a student of left history), has an ongoing flirtation with practical politics that very much runs through this study. The full report is well worth a look but here’s a little bit:

“In the last five years, a rejuvenated progressive left has established itself as a potent force in American politics….And yet, for the most part….progressive triumphs have been concentrated in well-educated, relatively high-income, and heavily Democratic districts. Even when progressives have won primaries in working-class areas, they have generally done so without increasing total turnout or winning over new working-class voters. And in races outside the friendly terrain of the blue-state metropolis, the same progressive candidates have largely struggled. Overall, progressives have not yet made good on one key promise of their campaigns: to transform and expand the electorate itself.

This poses a major challenge to any hope for a national political realignment on progressive terms. Recent events suggest that left-wing candidates may continue to replace moderate Democrats in demographically favorable urban districts, which could lead to more progressive policies at the municipal or state level. But the national picture is less promising. There are simply not enough districts of this kind to win control of the US House of Representatives, never mind the Senate. For the kind of majority necessary to pass Medicare for All or any of the other big-ticket items on the social democratic agenda, progressive candidates will need to win in a far wider range of places. Until they do, their political leverage will remain sharply limited at the local, state, and national levels.”

Exactly. Sounds like something I’d say.

Some key takeaways from the report:

“Working-class voters prefer progressive candidates who focus primarily on bread-and-butter economic issues, and who frame those issues in universal terms. This is especially true outside deep-blue parts of the country. Candidates who prioritized bread-and-butter issues (jobs, health care, the economy), and presented them in plainspoken, universalist rhetoric, performed significantly better than those who had other priorities or used other language. This general pattern was even more dramatic in rural and small-town areas, where Democrats have struggled in recent years.

* Populist, class-based progressive campaign messaging appeals to working-class voters at least as well as mainstream Democratic messaging. Candidates who named elites as a major cause of America’s problems, invoked anger at the status quo, and celebrated the working class were well received among working-class voters — even when tested against more moderate strains of Democratic rhetoric.

* Progressives do not need to surrender questions of social justice to win working-class voters, but certain identity-focused rhetoric is a liability. Potentially Democratic working-class voters did not shy away from progressive candidates or candidates who strongly opposed racism. But candidates who framed that opposition in highly specialized, identity-focused language fared significantly worse than candidates who embraced either populist or mainstream language.

* Working-class voters prefer working-class candidates. A candidate’s race or gender is not a liability among potentially Democratic working-class voters. However, a candidate’s upper-class background is a major liability. Class background matters.

* Working-class nonvoters are not automatic progressives. We find little evidence that low-propensity voters fail to vote because they don’t see sufficiently progressive views reflected in the political platforms of mainstream candidates.

* Blue-collar workers are especially sensitive to candidate messaging — and respond even more acutely to the differences between populist and “woke” language. Primarily manual blue-collar workers, in comparison with primarily white-collar workers, were even more drawn to candidates who stressed bread-and-butter issues, and who avoided activist rhetoric.”

All quite sensible in my view and consistent with other available data. But give the whole report a look–it’s worth it.

David Leonhardt also has a useful piece on report findings relevant tor reaching swing voters.

Political Strategy Notes

Today President Biden will sign legislation that provides the most far-reaching infrastructure upgrades since the administration of FDR. The Greensboro News and Record marks the occasion with their editorial on “The bipartisan infrastructure deal.” which notes “The passage of President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, after months of wrangling and tough negotiating, is good news for everyone — or certainly should be. Our infrastructure has required attention for some time now, as we were first warned decades ago, when roads began failing and bridges began falling….And now, thanks to Biden’s deal, which he plans to sign into law on Monday, we’ll finally receive structural repairs and improvements that will put us on a better platform to grow our economy and compete with other nations….Here are some highlights of the bill’s provisions:…$110 billion to repair 173,000 total miles of America’s highways and major roads and 45,000 bridges that are in poor condition….$39 billion to expand transportation systems, improve accessibility for people with disabilities and buy zero-emission and low-emission buses….$7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and $5 billion for the purchase of electric school buses and hybrids, reducing reliance on school buses that run on diesel fuel….$65 billion for broadband access to improve internet service for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities….$65 billion to improve the reliability and resiliency of the power grid — while boosting carbon-capture technologies and more environmentally friendly electricity sources like clean hydrogen….$55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure — including $15 billion to replace lead pipes and $10 billion to address water contamination from known pollutants….The deal is expected to bring billions in investments to North Carolina, both our urban and rural areas….“The jobs created by this legislation are jobs that cannot be outsourced. They will be performed here in the United States of America,” Rep. Deborah Ross of N.C.’s 2nd Congressional District said during a news conference Monday in Raleigh. “It will boost all of our workers, from the folks who pave the roads to the scientists and engineers who are designing 21st century transportation networks, water and sewer systems and cutting-edge electrical grids.”…It is a victory for Biden. It’s also a victory for his vision of bipartisanship. Best of all, it’s a victory for the American people as we compete to be the world’s marketplace, strive to provide our children with a world-class education and set the stage for a prosperous and peaceful future.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. asks “Why do Democrats let Republicans set the terms of debate?,” and writes: “Ever since the House passed the bipartisan bill to do lots of building and rebuilding around the country, Republicans have been at each other’s throats….Some Republicans said it was great to vote for roads, bridges and broadband. But most in the party — encouraged by Mr. Infrastructure Week himself, Donald Trump — said that voting for roads, bridges and broadband made you a traitor for helping President Biden, and maybe even a socialist. There are two lessons here. First, those who regularly pretend that polarization affects both parties equally need to reckon with a GOP so committed to obstruction that a majority of its House members and senators insist that party loyalty demands opposing new highways in their own districts or states….The more important lesson relates to the importance of controlling the terms of the political debate….Taking your opponent’s bait and playing on your opposition’s turf is the surest path to defeat. To succeed in politics, you need to make your opponent respond to you….This is what Democrats did by moving the infrastructure bill to Biden’s desk. The GOP’s internal bloodletting quickly followed. Approving Biden’s Build Back Better initiatives could have the same effect….Taking your opponent’s bait and playing on your opposition’s turf is the surest path to defeat. To succeed in politics, you need to make your opponent respond to you….This is what Democrats did by moving the infrastructure bill to Biden’s desk. The GOP’s internal bloodletting quickly followed. Approving Biden’s Build Back Better initiatives could have the same effect…….No doubt, the media typically gravitates toward eye-catching cultural issues that don’t involve the detailed explanations that, say, a tax credit or a health-care expansion require. And Democrats’ narrow majorities, coupled with the Senate’s arcane rules, make passing anything — not just voting rights — excruciatingly difficult….But alibis and excuses don’t win arguments (or elections), and if the bad news for Democrats in The Post-ABC News poll published Sunday doesn’t get their attention, I don’t know what will….The party, starting with the president when he signs the infrastructure bill on Monday, can use the power it has now to change the nation’s political conversation. Or it can resign itself to defeat at the hands of a GOP in which a majority is not even willing to fix the damned roads.”

At The Hill, Bill Press writes, “In itself, the BIF is the largest public works investment since President Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway System in 1956. But its impact will be far greater. Biden’s bill is not just about roads, bridges, and tunnels. It also covers public transportation, passenger and freight rail, electric vehicles, ports and airports, water and wastewater treatment plants, the electric grid, and broadband access….But the BIF does more than pump money into the economy. It also serves a greater purpose: to prove, once again, that government can be a force for good and — as Joe Biden promised but nobody wanted to believe – that Democrats and Republicans, working together, can still get big things done….Our broken-down infrastructure’s not the only thing that needs a good fix. So’s the Democratic Party’s message machine. Democrats need to stop playing defense and start playing offense. Stop explaining process and start talking product….Their message should be loud and clear. You elected us to end the Trump chaos and get big things done and we delivered: the biggest public works program ever. And we’ll soon add, in the “Build Back Better Bill,” the biggest boost for families ever and the strongest action ever taken to combat climate change….Democrats have a great product. Now it’s time to sell it.”

“The bipartisanship that began with the passage of the physical infrastructure bill in the Senate could not have been extended to the House if the bill got yoked to the Build Back Better bill, as no Republican could tolerate a vote for the former being perceived as a vote for the latter,” Bill Scher writes in “With the Infrastructure Act, Washington’s Trust Gap Closes a Bit” at The Washington Monthly. “Meanwhile, moderate House Democrats wanted to replicate the Senate and keep a modicum of Republicans on board, so they would have an indisputable bipartisan success to tout at home….As she moved to bring the Senate infrastructure bill to the House floor, in the final hours, Pelosi managed to satisfy all camps—distancing the bill from Build Back Better to attract sufficient Republican support, securing enough commitment from the moderates on Build Back Better to hold the bulk of progressive support….Knowing that six Democrats were planning to vote “Nay” (and believing that only two of them could be flipped if necessary), Pelosi still needed a few Republicans to cross the aisle. Thirteen did, providing the margin of victory. In fact, without the 13 House Republicans and the 19 Senate Republicans who voted yes, the physical infrastructure bill would not have passed either congressional chamber….First, moderate Democrats have to follow through on Build Back Better. Manchin and Sinema have been busy shaping the bill to their liking, so they should support it. Besides, if they killed it, the Democratic circular firing squad would jeopardize the already slim Democratic chances in the 2022 midterm elections. Do Manchin and Sinema really want to doom Senators Mark Kelly, Catherine Cortez Masto, or Michael Bennet?…Trust needs to be trending for Congress to do anything next year. The cold reality is that once the Build Back Better process is finished, what comes next for Biden’s legislative agenda is unclear….to prematurely give up would be to take the wrong lesson from what just happened with infrastructure. The only way to overcome long odds is to trust and to try.”

Walter: Why ‘Wokeness’ Is Not the Biggest Problem for Dems

From “It’s Competence, Not “Wokeness” That’s Hurting Democrats” by Amy Walter at The Cook Political Report:

In the wake of last week’s defeat of Democratic candidates across the country, an elite consensus has formed that blames Democrats’ failures at the ballot box on their “wokeness.” In attempting to address structural racial injustice, they argue, Democrats have become as inflexible and judgmental as those they are fighting against. They’ve become addicted to litmus tests and sloganeering (i.e., “defund the police”) as a way to measure success.

On PBS NewsHour, longtime Democratic strategist James Carville blamed Democrats’ losses on “stupid wokeness,” arguing that “this ‘defund the police’ lunacy, this ‘take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools,’ that — people see that.” It’s time for Democrats, said Carville, “to go to a woke detox center.” Plenty of other columnists jumped on the ‘detox’ bandwagon, including The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, whose most recent column was headlined: “Wokeness Derails Democrats.”

But, there is a chicken and the egg problem with these theories. Are Democrats losing because they are embracing progressive policies like critical race theory? Or are they losing because they are in charge in Washington and the economy and COVID remain significant concerns? Imagine for a moment that the progress we saw earlier this spring on COVID and the economy had continued unabated. Or if the administration had better handled the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Do we think that President Biden’s job approval rating would be in the low 40s? Probably not. Suppose Biden’s job approval ratings were still at 53 percent this fall (as they had been earlier this summer). Do we really think that attacks on critical race theory would have been enough for a Republican to win in Virginia? I don’t.

A recent Monmouth poll asked voters these very questions. By a seven-point margin, more voters said that the president’s bigger problem was his inability to get Washington working (36 percent) than the party’s leftward swing (29 percent). More critical, independent voters, “are more likely to point to capability (42%) than ideology (26%) as Biden’s bigger problem.”

In other words, the challenge for this administration is less about ‘wokeness’ than it is about competence. More specifically, rising inflation is a bigger threat to Democrats in 2022 than teaching about racism.

Walter goes on to present more data to support her case. At The New York Times, however, columnist Paul Krugman argues that fears about inflation damage are likely overwrought, in light of historical experience. But the perception of inflation can have more dire political consequences than the reality of it. Of course it’s possible that both factors, and a few more, contributed to the Democratic defeats in Virginia.

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.”