The Inherent Danger of Distraction by the Shiny Keys

This country has to stop the contentious bickering that constantly occurs in our politics. We need to put aside minor differences, and get back to building this country into what we all know it can be. And while it doesn’t seem like it at times, progressives are the ones who should be making this happen. It all starts with learning how to ignore the shiny keys.

I started this blog because the “progressive blogosphere” is killing us. The professional left loves to scream about everything. They seem convinced that voters are motivated by outrage. They imagine that every voter is as outraged as they are, and they imagine all of those pissed off people marching to the polls and voting against… what, exactly?

I only ask that, because the bulk of the ire produced by their “Perpetual Outrage Machine™” seems directed at Democrats, who are closer to our natural allies. Republican atrocities tend to be ignored, in favor of a magnification of some minor gaffe that a Democrat has made. Democrats get skewered for not being perfect, while Republicans are hardly discussed at all. Think about it. Whenever the Perpetual Outrage Machine™ talks about a vote on a bill, they focus their ire on the 5-6 Democrats who voted with Republcans. They barely talk about the Republican who either wrote the bill or led the charge against it, or the 232 Republicans who voted in lockstep to pass the bill. The 5-6 Democrats are treated as traitors, even though the bill would have passed/failed if they hadn’t voted. That’s the “shiny keys” effect. Have you ever tried to stop a baby from crying by pulling out your shiny keys and waving them at him/her? Well, as far as the professional left is concerned, we’re the babies who are too easily distracted by them. Much of what they publish is not “the truth,” it’s a distraction. And the GOP loves it when we get distracted like that.

Republicans do not win elections, we lose them. And we lose them because our progressive media is too often intent on focusing on the “shiny keys,” and not what’s really happening here. In 2010, we had an opportunity to gain 2-3 seats in the Senate and actually give them a supermajority, which would have rendered the Republican “Filibuster Everything” strategy completely moot. During the 111th Congress, at least 375 bills were passed by the Pelosi-led Democratic House, which were subsequently blocked by a minority in the Senate. With 2-3 more Senators, voters could have removed that block, and passed a whole lot more legislation. But what did PUBs and the professional left focus on? The “shiny keys;” Blue Dogs.

I did an analysis a while back, and found that all members of the Blue Dog caucus except one voted with Democrats more than 80% of the time. The one who didn’t voted with Democrats about 70% of the time. No Blue Dog ever blocked a Democratic bill, and not one of them blocked cloture. Not one. On the other hand, Republicans were blocking everything they could. You don’t block 375 bills without spite. Blue Dogs were not the problem, Republicans were. So, why did so many PUBs and professional left focus their ire on Blue Dogs? Because they were “shiny keys.” Because we have a knack of looking at what progressive “experts” tell you is the easy target and not the actual problem.

The result of focusing on the Blue Dog “shiny keys” was, instead of getting 2-3 Senators and giving the most progressive president in our lifetime a Congress he could work with, we gave the Republicans a majority in the House, and replaced the Blue Dogs with the Tea Party Caucus, a small but demanding group of reprobates who could be the dumbest people to occupy Congress, and that’s no small feat.  Sadly, the professional left continued the same tack this year, and Democrats also lost the Senate. Why do we continue to sabotage ourselves like that? W’re not giving voters a viable alternative to the crazy GOP. In fact, we’re giving them more reasons to stay home. We’re not giving anyone what they want.

While you, as a liberal, want to see Democrats “beat up” Republicans, the vast majority of voters want bipartisanship. Real bipartisanship, not the Republican version. They want to see politicians reach across the aisle to the other side, and they would be very interested if they knew the other side was constantly rebuffing them. But they don’t hear about that from progressive media, because spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing Obama and Democrats for their imperfections. I’m not sure whats going on, exactly; some seem to think they sound “smart” by talking about politics this way, and that being a “Democrat” criticizing other Democrats  gives them more credibility. But they don’t seem to understand where the line is, or even that there is a line. You cannot spend all of your time in progressive or social media trashing Democrats and talking about Republicans as if they’re lovable buffoons, and expect that to have no effect. The meme builds on itself. “Republicans are idiots and scumbags, but Democrats are as bad as they are” is not a meme that gets more voters to the polls.

And that’s the problem right now. It’s not voters who are keeping the GOP in there, it’s non-voters. And they’re non-voters because they know Republicans are idiots and scumbags, but OUR SIDE tells them that Democrats are the same way. And please don’t give me the “we need another party” bullshit, either. In a winner-take-all system, more than two viable parties is impossible. There are currently 132 “third parties” registered in the United States. The fantasy of a “third party” is another set of “shiny keys” we seem to fall for regularly, like the current “gerrymandering” craze that’s sweeping the progressive media.

Now, I don’t like gerrymandering, and it should stop. It’s wrong, and it’s unfair. But there seems to be a belief among some that their version of “gerrymandering” can turn a minority party into a permanent majority. That’s purely ridiculous. Only 24% of the electorate identifies as Republican. That means 76% of the electorate doesn’t. You can’t turn that 24% into a permanent majority, no matter what you do. Have Republicans tried really hard to game the system? Hell, yes. And so have Democrats. In 2012, Republicans in Pennsylvania tried to redraw districts to certify a Republican congressional majority (which is in itself meaningless, by the way).  That same year, the state of Maryland redrew districts to essentially eliminate one of the two remaining Republican seats in that state. The difference is, Pennsylvania’s map was rejected by the courts, and Maryland’s wasn’t. In other words, both parties work to try to give themselves an advantage, and there are more Democrats than Republicans in the country. There are about a dozen solidly Republican states, where they don’t even have to do that, and another dozen solidly Democratic states where they can’t do that. Therefore, “gerrymandering” might gain them a net of 10-12 seats, which cannot give them a majority. But it’s a great set of “shiny keys.”

What makes the “gerrymandering” scam dangerous “shiny keys” is that it distracts from the real problem we face, which has to do with turnout. I mean, if the GOP is going to turn out at a 90% clip every election, and we’re not going to do anything to get more of the other 76% to turn out, it doesn’t matter how they draw the districts, does it? I mean, if they’re 24%, and 90% of them show up, that’s 21.6% of total turnout. If total turnout is only 38%, it doesn’t really matter how they drew the districts, does it?

No, Republicans win because they get the most votes. And they get the most votes because their strategy of making people want to stay home. Most voters don’t want the fighting and sniping they see; they want a sense that politicians are taking care of their business in a way that makes sense for them. Therefore, when Republicans “fight” with Democrats and Democrats “fight” back, the concept that “both sides do the same thing” is perpetuated. Voters want progress. They want a job with good pay so they can house, feed and bring a good life to their families. They want good schools for their kids, and they want the poor to have an opportunity to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They don’t want “fighting.” They want results.

PUBs and the professional left also turn off voters with their tendency to personalize everything and attack the personality. That’s just poor politics, and a key reason why we’ve been failures in the political arena for a long time. We keep getting rid of individual right wing politicians, but we don’t get rid of the ideology, which is the real problem. We don’t need to get rid of Ted Cruz, we have to make sure what Ted Cruz stands for is seen as unacceptable. John Boehner is not the problem, and George W. Bush wasn’t the problem. The problem was, the politics they stood for was just stupid and narrow-minded. The  only way we can push progressive politics forward is to push it forward. Make it a positive alternative, and we will win every time.

Put simply, Republicans play to their base and get them fired up. If we really want to change things, we have to give voters more than just a reaction to the manure the GOP uses to win. While there are a lot of differences between left and right rhetoric, voters often see the effect as the same. We have to stop being against everything, and start advocating for what we want to see happen. Stop engaging right wing cranks, and use our own rhetoric to return them to the fringes where they belong. Republicans are being elected by default, because no one is for anything, and voters want to cast a vote for something. Most people who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 weren’t voting against McCain, they were voting for what Obama stood for.

Yu should also keep in mind, Republicans get most of their power from our obsession with them. Fox News is only influential because we obsess over them and repeat everything they talk about. Rush Limbaugh has never really had any influence over anyone. At the peak of his power, when his audience was twice as large as it is now, his candidate, incumbent George H. W. Bush, got 38% of the vote. They employ violent and hateful rhetoric to fire up their “base,” but we give them more power by engaging them. Nothing fires up the Republican “base” than pissing off a liberal. But when moderates and swing voters see us scream at each other, they don’t try to listen to what we have to say; they assume both sides are full of crap, and ignore them all.  Think about it. When you’re walking down the street and see two people fighting each other, do you move closer to hear the details better? No. Most reasonable people will cross the street to avoid it. Even if they’re engaged in the spectacle on a guttural level, they’re not listening.

It’s time to change our strategy. Progressives must stop emulating them, stop bickering with them, and start advocating FOR issues that we care about. We want to stop moving jobs overseas, and we want everyone to be paid a living wage, because it’s the best way to fight poverty. We want to live in a nation where everyone can go to a doctor, and no one dies or is forced into bankruptcy because they happen to get sick or has an accident. We want to live in a country full of wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars, where we don’t have to go to the car wash every week because our car is covered in soot. .But it also matters less how we get there than that we just get there.

We have to become more positive about everything. We have to become their polar opposites.  Right now, we’re often seen as just as negative as the right wing, and we’re depressing people. People don’t like liberals any more than they like right wingers. They perceive us as a bunch of negative whiners.  And why wouldn’t they? Voters are not in touch with every aspect of the process. We can’t expect a single mom with three kids and three jobs just to pay the bills to know everything. It’s our job to inform them. It’s our job to educate them. That doesn’t mean a 24/7 “Outrage Machine.” That means we need to perpetrate an honest assessment of the choices available to them. If they already think the GOP is batshit, and you tell them Democrats are just as bad, there’s no incentive for that person to head to the polls. Also, they will find out we lied to them – that both parties are not the same – and they won’t trust us again.

To win in politics, we have to change hearts and minds to a new way of thinking, and we no longer do that. Instead, we constantly react to everything the right says and does. Our method of discourse has to change. We are all in this together, and we have to start charting a positive course for a change. Stop fighting with these idiots. Ignore them and started plotting our own course. Stop fighting against them, and for something.

In other words, we have to train yourself to stop looking at the shiny keys, and start looking at the big picture. And the big picture is this: “There is no one in the current Democratic Party who isn’t preferable to the best Republican. The GOP needs to go.”

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