To Be Effective at Politics, You Need to Know what Politics Is

One of the biggest problems we liberals have is that, by and large, voters don’t like us very much. That should make every one of us sad, because we really are the good guys. Even those on the far left who I rake over the coals quite often are generally decent people with good hearts. They really just don’t understand what politics is. You see, caring about people and feeling strongly about an issue doesn’t turn you into an effective political activist. If that’s not obvious after watching neocons dominate our political discourse for the last 40-50 years or so, then turn in your “political junkie” membership card. You’re not very observant.

Quite often, I make a really simple but true statement on social media and here on this blog. This truism is as follows:

“Issues can be personal, but politics cannot be personal.”

This statement should be relatively non-controversial. However, unicorn progressives and professional lefties are so emotional, they turn it into a major issue, even though the statement is absolutely true, if you plan to be successful at politics. There are few absolutes in this world, but as someone later pointed out to me, it’s called Political Science for a reason. Politics is not about issues, it’s all about cold calculating 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 need the job, you have to consider strategies for dealing with him, and co-workers who may love him. That’s politics. I remember one job I had, where I worked for a guy who was a hard core right winger. He used to try and bait me fairly regularly, and 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.”

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!” Is that the response we want from voters when we present them with our case? Actually, we spend so much time “refuting” the right wing, we rarely make our case, anyway. The key question is, do we want to feel good for having empathy, or would we rather get the most people behind us and win elections? Too often, when I talk to liberals about politics in the Bush, I get a ridiculous response like, “My conscience is clear; I voted for Nader,” or something equally clueless.

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 to put in place the right people in government to make sure the right policies are enacted; it’s not about righting all of society’s wrongs. Politics is about making your case to people to get them on your side, doing what you need them to do.

Liberals have to play better politics. But apparently, some of us have to learn what politics actually is. 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.

Republicans take hard stances against us on so many issues for one simple reason; it’s strategic. It’s politics. They push their crap because they’re trying to do two things. They want to energize their looney tunes base, of course. Everything is about that. If at least 90% of right wingers don’t vote for them, they have little to no chance of winning anything most places. It’s goes along with their strategy to drive down turnout at election time. Make no mistake; the number one goal of Republicans is to make sure no one outside of their moronic base shows up election day. That’s a political goal, and our emotional reaction to it serves them well. Their base hates “liberals” more than anything in the the world and our constant petulance in reaction to their nonsense does the GOP a lot of good.

Unfortunately, because too many on our side don’t understand how real politics works, many of us engage them in their lunacy, which exacerbates the effect they’re going for, and does as much as their insane stances on issues to drive down turnout. Every time someone in the press or elsewhere declares that the electorate is “polarized,” someone at the RNC squeals with glee, and the Republican Party feels a little closer to victory. That is exactly what they are looking for. Politically, we play into their hands so well, they have come to count on our help on their way to political victory.

Do you have any idea how many political points they score every time they simply drive liberals crazy? The rank-and-file wingnuts LOVE to see us act pissed off. They feed on it. They’re like the Blob; the negative energy from us emboldens them and makes them stronger, politically. But more than that, all of our “War on Women,” “War on Gays,” “Climate Wars” and other silly rhetoric helps them in their main goal, which is to depress turnout in every election.

Probably about 90% of people who vote in every election have already decided who they’ll vote for. The fight is rarely about who those in the center will vote for. It’s almost always about whether or not swing voters will vote at all. Of course, not all fights have to be intense battles of wills. In fact, we’ll never best them in a battle of rhetoric, because they don’t believe in anything except making liberals mad. If you hate it, they love it and vice versa.

It’s important to understand is that those who actually decide elections don’t sit and stare at the television or computer all day. Instead, they listen to what their friends, family, co-workers and passers-by have to say about candidates. They’re not news junkies; they make their decision about whether or not to vote based on the overall temperature of the country. They don’t care about left/right, or even right/wrong. Their biggest concern is competence, and 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.

Politics is not personal, it’s about employing strategies to get the most people to support and vote for you. Government politics is not about issues, it’s about winning elections and passing bills. Politics in government is no different than politics in other aspects of life. If you would hate it if your co-workers were pointing at you and calling you “racist,” “misogynist,” or whatever, then you need to understand its effect on voters. They hate it, too. When 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? It’s the same in government politics. Voters can’t stand us, and they point to us as part of the problem because, to them, there is no difference between our side and the right wing. They see screaming, and nothing getting done.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t advocate for the issues you care about. I feel passionately about a lot of issues and I work as hard as I can to make them happen. However, a key aspect of getting things done is the electoral process. That is something too many “progressives” seem to blow off most of the time. They don’t realize that screaming at their Congressman or County Commissioner and calling them “racist morons” probably isn’t going to move my issue forward. Diplomats play politics, as well. Imagine how many wars they would start if diplomats used the same rhetoric with other countries that liberals do in their daily arguments with right wingers.

By the way, if you continue to argue with right wingers, stop now. It’s a waste of time, and it’s killing the cause, politically. If you think you’ll get them to see things you’re way, you’re delusional. On the other hand, it contributes to the “polarization” meme that results in low turnout, and the continued political dominance of a group of people who are bound and determined to prove that government doesn’t work.

Liberals simply have to know what politics is and play the game better.


Also published on Medium.