Look, my friends: we need to be smart. Not just “right,” but smart, strategic, and zeroed in, laser-like, on the one overriding, primary, urgent, absolutely necessary objective moving forward: beating Donald Trump in 2020. Maybe that means we get only half the pie we’re looking for in a whole bakery shop full of cherished goals and ideals. Maybe even just one-quarter of a pie.
Speaking for myself, I’d take one-thirty-second of the damn pie; I would take any one reader’s semi-literate step-mother-in-law as president if it means our thin slice denies Donald Trump another four years in office.
No one’s rightness, woundedness, victimhood, vehemence, ego, position, cause, reading of history or plans for the future holds even a dim candle to the bright shiny objective of getting the would-be fascist occupant of the White House out of office next year. Full-scale catastrophe awaits us if we do not achieve that goal.
Even assuming anyone is 100% right about the issues and what needs to happen for true, sorely needed justice and equal opportunity to come to this country, we have to be right at the ballot box, because if we’re wrong there in 2020 and we lose the presidency again, then our rightness will be relegated to mere “righteousness,” with no practical earthly effect on nor help for the people and issues we most care about.
So let’s start with this: We will never convince dyed-in-the-wool MAGAheads, Trump’s vaunted “base,” about the all-too-apparent moral and intellectual vacuity of their hero. Members of that cohort are a lost cause, and their motivations shall not concern us here. But we don’t need their votes to win in 2020, because theirs is, at least at this point in American history, still a minority view.
Right now, Democrats are in no position to push any envelopes. They are out of office, getting creamed every day by ruinous Trump and McConnell and Supreme Court policies.
Their votes won’t matter, just as minority party Republican votes won’t matter in California or New York, and minority party Democratic votes won’t matter in Alabama or Kansas. Those states and most others across this great sprawling land will not be in play in 2020, with the majority parties dropping in just enough cash and troops there to hold the fort, as it were, while devoting massive resources to prevailing in the handful of heartland battleground states that are most at risk and will thus determine the next president.
Pity the poor residents of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, my friends, because they are about to be blitzkrieged with such an unprecedented number of phone calls, flyers, billboards, media ads and offers of rides to the polls and the naming of first children after them as to send them into permanent electoral hibernation as of November 4, 2020.
It will be ugly, it will be intense, and both parties will spend as much as the annual budgets of many countries in the world in order to bring home what promises to be the most viciously contested prize in United States electoral history.
And here is the calculus: To achieve the goal of dethroning President Trump, we do not need to attract even more moderate and liberal voters so that we win by 5 million votes in California and 2 million in New York. Won’t do us a stitch of good. (Clinton won California by nearly 4.3 million in 2016, New York by 1.2 million.)
All we need is to win by one vote (though thousands more sure wouldn’t hurt) in some combination of the battleground states, where there are sizable enough cohorts of wavering, decidedly middle-of-the-road voters uneasy enough with Trump’s character and comportment to pull the lever for a Democrat—provided the Democratic candidate’s’ own views don’t make the voter nervous for other reasons.
What are those reasons?
Immigration, for one. Liberals, God love us, overflow with compassion; we want to save every last person in the world from a miserable fate that is tied only to the cosmic dice roll of to whom and where and when they were born.
But the reality is we can’t, and in truth, very few of us this side of Mother Teresa do give up too many of our own creaturely comforts to help the dispossessed. (I discussed the emotional challenges and questions that fact poses here.)
Given that reality, a country, particularly an affluent one, needs borders and some way of controlling entry if it is to remain a country at all.
And so far, Democratic politicians and most all Democrats I know are replete with compassion, outrage, and agreement that asylum seekers should be given a hearing, families should not be separated, and children should not be in cages. Very well. But beyond that, there seems to be a conspicuous lack of…well, proposed solutions as to what exactly we are to do with hundreds of thousands of poor suffering migrants.
Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum, a liberal’s liberal, recently said the following about Elizabeth Warren’s immigration policy, which is not fundamentally different from anything Kamala Harris, et al have been putting forth:
“I have to admit that it’s hard to see much daylight between Warren’s plan and de facto open borders…Am I missing something here? Does Warren’s plan explicitly make it vanishingly unlikely that anyone crossing our border will ever be caught and sent back?”
Another concern: the Medicare for all (MFA) question: Should it include a choice to retain one’s private health insurance?
Polls on this (and every) issue vary, but all of them at this point indicate overwhelming support for keeping private health insurance as an option, even if a Medicare-style plan does become available to the entire population, as well it should.
In other words, eliminating private health insurance, which several hands shot up in favor of at last month’s Democratic debate, is a losing campaign proposition that will make it more difficult to defeat President Trump in 2020.
Why on earth would any Democrat support that?
My dear friends: Even assuming that eliminating private insurance is right (an arguable point), being right won’t matter if we lose!
Politics, especially in these United States, whose Founders so distrusted the human passions that they intentionally made it difficult to achieve sustained forward progress, much less another revolution (their own revolution would suffice, they hoped), is the art of the possible, of compromise, of frustratingly slow progress toward any one group’s ideology and goals.
Progress mostly comes only haltingly, episodically, through intense, sustained effort, followed by backsliding and retrenchment, then another hard-won inch or two forward. But you’ve got to win more than you lose, and be humble about the wins and smart about the losses.
Right now, Democrats are in no position to push any envelopes. They are out of office, getting creamed every day by ruinous Trump and McConnell and Supreme Court policies. And the downside risk of pushing even one unpopular idea is simply too high, given the malignant cancer that Trump is on the soul of our nation.
I have heard and read all the arguments that Trump took a strong and radical stand in 2016, and if liberals would fire up and be true to their own base with equal fervor, the votes will come. Maybe that’s right, but I don’t think it is.
History tells us that most elections are won in the middle, by convincing the swing part of the electorate to come your way with a clear-eyed vision that doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of them with too much change, too fast.
That doesn’t mean liberals shouldn’t stand for all manner of things that will make life far better for our country and the world at large as soon as we depose Trump. But it does mean that we temper the more audacious and controversial goals that have achieved far from majority traction among the voting public and don’t appear to be capable of doing so before November 3, 2020.
Nancy Pelosi knows this. Tip O’Neill knew it, and LBJ before him: You gotta have the votes.
Without them, none of your ideals, no matter how compassionate, lofty and right in the eyes of God, are worth a hoot.
One for the ages…
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
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Trump rally by Andrew Harnik, courtesy of Associated Press
Medicare for all rally by Public Citizen https://www.flickr.com/people/publiccitizen/