To Play Politics Better, You Have to Know What it Is…

One of the biggest problems we liberals have is that a lot of people 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 whom I’ve been taking n mercilessly over the last year or so are mostly decent people with good hearts; at least those I don’t suspect of being double agents for the far right, anyway.

Unfortunately, caring about people and feeling strongly about an issue doesn’t turn you into a successful politician. If that’s not obvious after watching neocons dominate our political discourse for the last 32 years, then turn in your “political junkie” membership card. 

I made a really simple statement on Twitter the other day. I simply said:

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

I made the statement based on the assumption that it was relatively non-controversial, but that liberals are so emotional, they need to be reminded of it once in a while. Little did I know the thrashing I would take from self-described “political junkies” for a statement that I know to be absolutely true.

It’s absolutely true. I don't make that statement often, because 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 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, when DO we make our case, anyway? Do we want to feel good, or do we want to 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.

Do you want to know why Republicans are taking such hard stances against us on so many issues? It’s because it’s politically expedient to do so. Do you really think Paul Ryan and the Republicans want to kill Medicare? Of course they don’t. They know damn well the Ryan Budgets will never become law, because they know the Senate and/or Obama will block them. Do you really think the GOP wants to ban contraceptives altogether? Do you think they really hate blacks, Latinos, women and gays? Of course not. They obviously don’t care about the deficit or the debt. if they were in favor of all of th above, they would have attacked all of that during the six years they had full control, and they didn’t. Hell; they’ve been “targeting” abortion for almost 40 years, and it’s still legal. 

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 they don’t get at least 90% of the right wing nut jobs out to vote, they have no chance of winning anything in most places. But just as important is their strategy to drive down turnout at election time. Make no mistake, folks, that is their number one goal; to make sure no one outside of their moronic base shows up on election day. That’s their political goal. 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.

Take the “Violence Against Women Act.” Do you really think the GOP is going to kill it, or that it's in favor of domestic violence? REALLY? That’s funny, because they know they can’t do it. Have you even noticed how much freaky shit is being passed by the House, but never makes it to law? They can’t kill it, because they know the Senate will save their asses. But when the House questions it, and liberals en masse go batshit over it, they score big time. 

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 watch us 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 November

Probably about 90% of people who vote in every election have already decided who they’ll vote for. The fight is rarely about who moderates 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 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 meme. 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 behind you. Government politics is not about issues, it’s about winning elections and effecting policies. 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. But I also realize that screaming at my Congressman or County Commissioner and calling them racist morons probably isn’t going to move my advocacy 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 play politics better. 

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2012 The PCTC Blog


  1. Do you think they really hate blacks, Latinos, women and gays?
    why yes, I most certainly think they do. They can play politics and hate at the same time. What makes you think they can’t? When someone TELLS you who they are, believe them.

  2. Excellent post – as I always say, politics is the art of the possible. At my university we moved to a four credit system awhile back and I happened to be Senate Chair. A few people that were opposed were emotionally against the change, and I had a few very personal attacks on campus listservs. I didn’t respond with emotion, I tried to show an understanding of the opposition and respond in a friendly manner. That ultimately did me a lot of good – people would later apologize and ultimately we had almost 90% of the faculty voting for the change. Not taking things personally is a very powerful ability – if one can do that, it’s easier to see a situation clearly and convince people. Teaching political science that’s also something the entire faculty in our department try to stress — disagree without being disagreeable. If there was more of that and less emotion and personal animosity in politics, we’d be much better off.

Comments are closed.