We live in a democratic republic. What that means is, while we don’t make decisions directly as a populace, we do elect those who do through a popular vote. And whether you like it or not, politicians are beholden to the people who got them there. That’s just how it is. If you want to have influence in the system (and let’s face it – you have to want that), you have to be one of those who got key politicians there.
Unfortunately, one of the key problems we progressives have is, well, a lot of people don’t like us very much, despite the fact that we’re supposed to be the good guys. We’re supposed to care about the poor and downtrodden, and we’re supposed to champion the working man. But those people we care so much about don’t really care for us very much, which should be seen as a major failure on our part.
Truth is, caring about people and feeling strongly about certain issues doesn’t turn you into a successful politician. If you don’t believe me, look at which political party has basically dominated our political discourse for 34 years. These people don’t care about anyone. Politics is not about what you think about issues. In fact, it’s not issues at all. Politics is about how you get what you want from government, and how to solve these issues.
Put simply, Issues can be personal, but politics cannot be personal. Unfortunately, many progressives tend to be emotional about everything, and that line becomes exceedingly blurry. But the statement is one of the few absolutes in life. You can be emotional about an issue, and frankly, you should be about many issues. But you cannot take politics personally. There’s a reason it’s called Political Science. Politics is about cold calculation and strategy for dealing with life. There is politics in every aspect of our lives, as anyone who has ever worked outside the home knows first hand. You may not like the new boss, but if you love or need the job, you have to consider strategies for dealing with him, and co-workers who may love him. I once worked for a guy who was a hard-core right winger, and he tried to bait me fairly regularly. One day, I calculated that it was a crappy job, anyway, so I said (and this is a direct quote), “You don’t know what the f*** you’re talking about.” He was a Rush Limbaugh listener; of course he didn’t.
That was bad politics. It made me feel good, and I got a better job within days after, but his response to me was, “Get out of here, NOW!” That response was great for that situation, but it’s not the message we want to send to voters, is it? Yet, too often, progressives do something similar to voters, calling them stupid or “low-information,” and dismissing them because they don’t know as much as we do. How dare they, right? It’s their responsibility to get informed; why don’t they? is how many progressives think.
What kind of message do you imagine that sends to voters? You, who claim to want a better life for poor single mothers with kids trying to struggle on low wages, are calling them stupid or “low-information” because they don’t know all of the “facts” you have at your disposal. First of all, when do you expect this woman to immerse herself in “news” the way you do, what with working 10-12 hour days, making meals and taking care of her kids. And given that she’s living life as a poor single mother with several kids, why would you imagine that you have more information about her plight than she does? Why do so many white liberals seem to think they know more about what black people go through than blacks themselves? And we wonder why people don’t like us? It’s simply not true that a person is smarter or more intelligent because they know more trivial facts. Intelligence is more about thinking than knowing.
Progressives simply have to play politics better. But first, that requires understanding what politics actually is. I understand that people get emotional about issues, and I understand the racist, sexist and homophobic history of this country.But that’s not politics, that’s society. Politics is about strategizing and putting the right people in government to make sure policies are enacted that will alleviate the problems you think are important. Politics isn’t about fixing all of society’s wrongs; it’s about making a case that gets as many people as possible on your side, doing what you need them to do. The best way to do that is to ask yourself if what you’re doing, politically speaking, will lead to better government. That’s the politics.
One reason Republicans take such hard stances against us on so many issues is because it’s politically expedient to do so. Paul Ryan and the GOP don’t want to kill Medicare. They know those budgets will never become law, because they know the Senate and/or Obama will block them. They also don’t want to ban abortion, because they’d lose the issue as a political cudgel. And they don’t want to kill Obamacare, either. They knew none of those 44 bills would pass. But they have to make it look like they want to do those things because they want to energize their looney tunes base. They need them. Everything is about that. If they don’t get at least 85-90% of their nutty “base” out to vote, they have no chance of winning anything most places.
But it’s not just about that. They also say what they do because they’re trying to discourage people from showing up at the polls. That’s their political goal. Unfortunately, too many progressives engage them in their lunacy, which exacerbates the effect they’re going for, and helps drive down turnout. There is nothing that delights a right wing Republican more than pissing off a liberal. Whenever someone in the press or elsewhere declares that the electorate is “polarized,” someone at the RNC squeals with glee, and the Republican Party moves closer to victory. Politically speaking, we play into their hands so well, they have come to count on our help on their way to political victory.
The most common question in just about every election is NOT “who will I vote for?” It’s “Why should I show up to vote?” Those who always vote already know who they’re going to vote a year before the election. The people who decide every election are the people who are encouraged to show up and vote. And they don’t sit and stare at the TV or computer all day. Instead, they listen to what their friends, family, co-workers and passers-by have to say about candidates. They make their decision about whether or not to vote based on the overall meme. They don’t care about left/right, or even right/wrong. Their biggest concern is competence; they want a feeling that the candidate has the ability to solve problems, and is less likely to mess things up.
In short, they want to vote FOR something. We win if we give them something to vote for. Constantly complaining about every single thing that pisses you off doesn’t give anyone anything to vote for. We know Republicans suck at governing; we even have proof. Most moderate and swing voters already know this. But if we run around screaming about how incompetent Democrats are, how are we encouraging them to show up and vote? The answer is, we’re helping Republicans discourage them, which is why we keep losing.
Politics is not personal. It’s about winning elections and enacting policies. It’s not about out-shouting our opponents, it’s about convincing most people we’re right. The constant shouting actually discourages voters. Think about it. If you’re sitting in a park reading a book, and two people near you start arguing loudly, do you strain to hear them both, to decide which one is right, or do you ignore both and move to a quieter bench? Most people will decide both are crazy and move. It’s the same with politics. Voters can’t stand us much more than they can stand the right wing. They see both sides screaming, and nothing getting done. Where is the motivation to show up at the polls and give us a Democratic majority, which we need if we are ever going to build a progressive system of government.
It’s great that you advocate for the issues you care about. But you also have to realize that screaming at politicians and (especially) prospective voters and calling them names probably won’t move that advocacy forward. Being political means playing diplomat. Imagine how many wars they would start if diplomats used the same rhetoric with other countries that liberals use when speaking to others. .
Liberals simply have to play politics better.