Overall, strategy is far more important to moving the country forward than having the right positions on issues. This is because, in order to get anything progressive done, we have to win elections and get people into office who will at least be willing to listen to reason. That means accepting Democrats who aren't full-on progressives, at least for the time being, and it means learning how the political system works, so that we can use it to it's best effect.
To make sure the best candidates win elections, and also to make sure the worst people don't win elections, we have to appeal to a majority, and we have to encourage turnout. To do that, we have to understand some basics. Here are a few more that are very important.
Lesson #6: Politics is a game of strategy, but political governance is different from political campaigning.
As I said, it's good to get the right people elected, but it's oftentimes just as important to get the wrong people out. While governance affects the average person’s life in profound ways, it's important to understand that governance and politics are two separate concepts. In fact, one major reason the right wing is so ineffective while running government is that they don't understand this basic concept. Unfortunately, some progressives have a problem with it, too. Especially the professional left.
When a politician is running for office, (s)he is working against the opposition party. They try to stake out ground and make a case why their brand of compromise will be better for the constituents in that state or district than the compromise reached by their opponent. Good candidates will make a case for themselves and attack the opposition's weaknesses. That is how campaign politics works.
That is NOT how governance works. When actually governing the country, Democrats have to work WITH Republicans. They can sometimes go after someone who's blocking a bill, but for the most part, they make deals and try to attract votes for the issues they care about. You simply cannot expect politicians to go at each other inside the legislature the way they do on the campaign trail, and that's because…
Lesson #7: Politics is a game of strategy, but some strategies simply don’t work, like always “fighting.”
For politicians, always "fighting" is actually a bad strategy, mostly because it's counterproductive. It's great for the right wing, because their main contention is that the government can't do anything right, and they're trying to prove themselves correct. But for everyone else, it doesn't work. That's why Democrats have won big in three of the last four elections, and it's why Congress has a single-digit approval rating. Fighting only appeals to the fringes; it's not a smart political strategy for politicians.
It's OUR job to fight, but to fight for issues, not just against idiots. It's OUR job to make the electorate feel passionate about an issue, so that politicians know we have their backs. To expect it from politicians, who have to make deals with people of diverse views in order to get anything done, is to expect them to commit political suicide. Not many bills would pass if Democrats ran around calling Boehner and Cantor "poopyheads." Not much gets done now, precisely because that's what Republicans do, 24/7.
Which leads to:
Lesson #8: What works for the right wing simply does not work for progressives. Period. End of Story
One thing everyone needs to understand is that right wing politics really shouldn't work as well as it seems to. The reason they're successful in getting elected is because they receive a big, healthy assist from our side. And part of that is because we too often "fight" against them, and not for anything in particular. As a result of that "strategy," we often look as insane as the right wing. And let me assure you, the right wing giggles with glee every damn time.
The Republican Party is a minority party. Right now, approximately 27% of voters identify as Republican. Their base, however, is rabid, and will vote for anyone with the GOP, if only for spite. So, how do they win? They win by making sure people who aren't rabidly Republican don't show up to vote. They try to depress turnout. Everything they do is to excite their rabid base AND to make those in the center disgusted with the whole scene, and unmotivated to vote.
Yes, some of that effort goes to making voting more difficult and wiping "undesirables" off the voter rolls. But they don't do it for the reasons you think. Really; how many people who vote don't actually have a picture ID? A few hundred, at most, in most districts, but probably not enough to swing more than 1-2 Congressional elections. But there's another, underlying reason they do it. They do it because we react to it, and make noise that makes it sound to many swing voters as if their vote won't count. So they stay home, which gives the GOP a better chance.
The right wing screams at us for a reason. Their base LOVES it when their politicians irritate us and make us mad; it's what they live for. It also discourages swing voters from even showing up on Election Day.
The problem is, when we "fight back" the same way, it has the same effect. It excites their base and makes swing voters less likely to show up. See the problem?
And that leads us to:
Lesson #9: More than anything, voters want to vote for something, not against everything.
"We are the ones we have been waiting for," and "hope and change" were and are not just slogans. This is what voters are looking for. They want to be part of something, and they want to vote for solutions to problems they see around them. They're not motivated by the professional left's "outrage of the day" mentality; they want to know we can change the bad things around us and protect and strengthen the good things.
The average voter lives the stuff we claim to care about every day. They know just as much about the travails of daily living in this neocon- dominated country as we do. They are not "low info voters" just because they don't know the same things we think we know.
President Obama won twice because he understands this. Most Democratic politicians understand this, as well. In fact, I think most progressives understand this. But the professional left and their minions seem unable to understand this basic premise, and think that, because they're motivated by outrage and continuous crises, everyone else must be, too. This couldn't be further from the truth. Most people are repelled by outrage. Most voters want to live in peace, and they want politicians to worry about issues, and engage in problem-solving activities for them. That's why they elect them.
One of the biggest problem many progressives have is the "political junkie" effect. Again, because some immerse themselves in "news," they assume they're smarter than everyone else. The effect of this tends to be to treat every bit of political minutiae as important, creating something of a "micro-political" effect.
Which leads to:
Lesson #8: The overall meme of the debate is far more important than playing micro-politics.
I used to be a "political news junkie." It's a hard habit to break, but it's very necessary if we're to have political success. Some of the reasons will come in later "lessons," but generally, the problem is this:
Imagine you’re about the leave work, and you’re wondering whether or not you should take your umbrella, so you ask a co-worker if they think it might rain. Which answer are you likely to consider most helpful?
“According to the weather service, it’s not supposed to rain until Friday"?
“I don’t know, but I do know the air is dirtier now than it was 20 years ago, the sun's rays are much harsher than they used to be, and the world will probably become uninhabitable in 10 years.”?
Obviously, the first answer is a lot more helpful. But to many swing voters, the rhetoric coming from the left side of the debate sounds like the second answer; a lot of useless information that may be true, but not at all helpful. The second response is that usually dispensed by "political junkies."
"Political junkies" aren't really political junkies at all; they're "news" junkies. And they tend to lack perspective, for a very basic reason. The news isn't real life, especially nowadays. Even in the greatest of journalistic climates, an event becomes news precisely because it's unusual. What happens to most people never makes it onto the news. Or, if it does, you have to dig for it.
But in this journalistic climate, everything seems geared toward getting the most eyes and ears, while imparting important information seems to be an afterthought, if it's thought of at all. And that's not just the case with cable news. Most professional left blogs and other "sources" are looking to become the "most popular" source for progressive "news junkies," because it leads to more ad revenue. And let's be real; most "news" these days is actually opinion, which is always colored by the presenter's perspective. There is a lot of raw information out there, if you dig for it, but news junkies tend to just watch whatever appeals to them, and rarely look to find out whether or not what they're being told is true. While such news junkies make fun of Fox News denizens, there is often little difference between what Fox News does, and what much of the professional left propagates.
If you're a news junkie, step back. Talk to actual people. Look elsewhere to verify what you see or hear, and by all means, understand that most people don't see the same things you might, and they're not "low info" because they don't.
The average voter doesn’t have time to sit and watch news constantly, or to watch every single thing the government does. Many of them are supposed to be the people we progressives are most concerned about; the families working three jobs just to make the rent and put food on the table. They don't have the time or the inclination to pay attention to every detail they only listen to the overall meme. In 2008 and 2012, they voted for Barack Obama because of his positive message They stayed home in droves in 2010 because the overall message of that election was “Democrats suck.” When both sides are screaming “Democrats suck!” what message do you imagine these folks take away from the “debate,” such as it is?
They don't obsess over details, and the fact that you do doesn't make you smarter. They don't know or care what a "Blue Dog" is. They didn't hear "Blue Dog" in 2010, they heard "Democrat." That is, some of them heard that. Many of them didn't hear anything, because both sides were screaming at each other. Let the far right scream. We can't afford to. We're not like them, and swing voters aren't like them, either.
Put simply, we have to play politics smarter. And news junkies aren't actually smarter than others.
The next lessons will be about the actual politics of governing, and how things work. The news junkies will want to pay attention, because what the "news" people tell you about how politics actually works is often based on preconceptions, and not on reality. It's time we dealt with reality. See you next time.