April 13, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Why do critics of the Democratic Party believe voters in swing districts want to hear the whole truth about the Republicans?
There is such a thing as too much faith in the people.
No one knows why candidates win or lose elections for public office. We say we do. We don’t, though.
We would know why if we had access to every particle of cause and effect accreting toward one irrefutable end. We can’t know, though. The human brain has limits.
Explanations for what happened are always after the fact. So they are never exact or complete or conclusive. And it can’t be otherwise – this is how it will be until we can see the world from God’s point of view.
I think liberal critics of the Democrats fail to think about something the Democrats think about. The voters they need to keep the Congress don’t know democracy is in crisis, don’t believe democracy is in crisis or kinda sorta perhaps maybe don’t mind democracy being in crisis.
As a storytelling species, we end up making everything that happened before the end fit the end. Why do we tell these stories? Well, again, the end is all we know for sure. Maybe we just like stories. Anyway, do you like thinking about how much of life is determined arbitrarily?
This is not to paper over obvious errors in campaigning. However, it is to say that even a campaign run “perfectly” can end in defeat. Terry McAuliffe got more Democratic voters to show up for this year’s race for Virginia governor than any Democratic candidate ever. He still lost.
For all the above reasons, I have sympathy for the Democrats running for reelection. I’m particularly sympathetic to Democrats holding seats in swing districts. They can’t know how the race will end. Every choice is like swimming to the surface after being underwater while upside down and blindfolded. They can’t afford to retrofit chaos and chance.
That doesn’t stop the Democrats’ liberal critics. For them, the way to beat the Republicans is obviously obvious. Democracy is facing an existential crisis! The Republicans are stoking political violence by calling opponents pedophiles! That goes for their own, too! They lie and lie and lie! All you gotta do is tell swing voters the whole truth!
Case in point is Kevin Kruse, a superlative historian and very loud and very confident critic of Democratic orthodoxy: “You’d think this would be an easy call for Democrats — the GOP attacks aren’t just baseless; there are many examples of pedophiles and sex traffickers in the GOP! — but Democrats never miss a chance to miss a chance.”
To me, Kruse represents a genre of writing, found mostly on Twitter, in which the Democrats never do what they should be doing if they cared enough about beating back the tide of rightwing authoritarianism.
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When the Republicans say the quiet part out loud (eg, that state legislators plan to steal the next presidential election), these critics call on the Democrats to pounce. When the Democrats dodge though, and instead stick with kitchen-table stuff, like the cost of health care, their critics say they don’t have the guts. Welp, they say, we’re doomed.
Critics of the Democrats fail to think about something the Democrats think about. The voters they need in order to keep the Congress don’t know democracy is in crisis, don’t believe democracy is in crisis or kinda sorta perhaps maybe don’t mind democracy being in crisis.
It depends on what the Democrats offer.
For these voters, it’s difficult to accept the fact that the Republicans have gone full fascist. It’s so hard it’s easier not to. And that’s easy, because, well, these people are not far from where the Republicans are. That’s what happens in a society organized by white supremacy.
That’s what the Democrats understand.
White supremacy is on the Republicans’ side.
So: What do you say to people who don’t believe the Republicans are dangerous? What do you say to people who believe democracy is fine now that the former president is out of power? What do you say to people who are already leaning toward the Republicans, because, you know, whiteness, but open to giving the Democrats a fair hearing?
You avoid “hot buttons” issues.
If you don’t, you lose.
You talk about the cost of health care.
If you do, you might win.
By urging the Democrats to do what they think the Democrats should be doing without respecting them enough to appreciate the stakes involved, these liberals critics reveal their faith in the American people.
A totally misguided faith.
They seem to think these swing voters will do the right thing once presented with the facts. I don’t know why they would when it’s easier, and more pleasurable, to believe the dulcet lies of white supremacy.
Look, the critics might be right. They might be wrong.
But let’s be honest. Being right doesn’t mean being a winner.
The Democrats are asking respectable white people — who are indifferent to suffering, who are immune to the painful outcomes of white supremacy and who are perhaps open to the Republicans suggesting that democracy has gone too far — to vote for them.
That’s a huge challenge.
Let’s respect it.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.
Much as I’d like to disagree, I can’t – at least not completely. I actually believe that Democrats have to consider both how to let “respectable white people” about good social things those people want, and how much truth those “RWP” can stand to hear. Simply “telling the truth!!1!” doesn’t work, I agree. But *some* truth needs to be inserted somewhere in the message.
The trick is how to figure that out. For instance, RWPs in different sections of the country may be able to stomach more truth than RWPs in others; RWPs at one level of the economic heap may stomach more than others higher up on the economic heap, etc., etc.
It’s bloody hard, no matter what.