A Letter to My Liberal Friends

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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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One for the ages…

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Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
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Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: larry@rosefoto.com

Pie by Jonathan Farber, Great Britain  http://www.farber.co.uk/?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash

Trump rally by Andrew Harnik, courtesy of Associated Press

Medicare for all rally by Public Citizen  https://www.flickr.com/people/publiccitizen/

17 comments to A Letter to My Liberal Friends

  • Jeanette Millard  says:

    Thank you for grabbing my face and holding it, making me pay attention to your un-idealistic, practical thoughts. I think most, or many, Dems agree with you on this (I’m an unenrolled/ independent). That doesn’t mean we can’t have a good, substantial primary season though. I do not think it is hurting us – I think it helps us.
    Here’s a question for you: a friend posited last week that we can’t afford to nominate a woman at this time. Do you agree with that? I do not – I think our strongest candidates are women. But should we actively *avoid* nominating a woman because it will give more fodder to the Pig-in-Chief?? What does pragmatism suggest?
    Never heard Marvin Gaye sing the Star Spangled Banner! Wow.
    Thanks for keeping me thinking.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yes, Jeanette, I agree we shouldn’t be overly concerned with a good robust debate during primary season; I think it’s generally a good idea to sharpen candidates’ focus and toughen them up for the far more brutal campaign ahead. That said, there is some danger in candidates going too far to cover their left flank in the primaries and then tacking back toward the middle in the general election. It’s a tried & true tactic from both parties, but there is always danger in trying to walk it back later. A delicate balancing act!

      No, I do not think nominating a woman will be problematic this go-round. Hillary, bless her bruised heart and thick hide, broke serious ground there, and Trump will find all the fodder he needs, no matter who the candidate is; that’s an area in which he has unsurpassed “expertise.” (Solely because there is no limit to how low and vilely he will strike.)

      Oh, God, am I happy to introduce Marvin’s Star Spangled to you! Thought of it impulsively, as reinforcement for my crusade to reclaim patriotism, with all its trappings, from those who have absconded with it for far too long. I love this country!

      And thanks, as always, for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  • Jeanette Millard  says:

    I hope you are right about nominating a woman not being a deal-breaker. And given your thoughts today, I’d rename this post a “letter to my progressive friends.” We progressives are the ones who really run the risk of tacking too far left. Liberals? Not so much…
    And here’s my still-favorite version of our nationl anthem – because it is musically amazing and
    because it shakes the cage so bad!!!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwIymq0iTsw

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      This distinction between “liberals” and “progressives” is an interesting one I have been wondering about, Jeanette, though in the final analysis it seems to come down to “liberal” vs. “even more liberal.” Progressives as simply “impatient liberals,” if you will…An interesting piece exemplifying a lot of this in this morning’s NYT; you may have seen it?
      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/22/nyregion/andrew-cuomo-democrat-progressive-ny.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

      As for Jimi’s Spangled, oh yeah, Baby, have long admired it for its sheer audacity, but being more a melody guy not terribly fond of discordant notes (there’s a whole essay in that, I am certain…), I prefer Marvin’s slightly smoother version!

      • Jeanette Millard  says:

        Jimi’s version is both jaw-dropping and “the most effective anti-war song there is.” (from a comment on YouTube) It is discordant (or dischordant!) because he includes the sound and feel of war as part of our identity as America/n, 1969 anti-Vietnam war style. It still speaks to me. Imagine those bombs you hear from his guitar as the violence-baiting, racist tweets from the Perp-in-Chief. There it is.
        I am not a Democrat and I am a progressive – unenrolled because the Dems are too conservative for me. Add that to your analysis, hehe.

        • Andrew Hidas  says:

          A non-Democrat progressive—leopards with different, sometimes overlapping slots; I get it! No law against it—yet!—though we may both be outlawed with another four years of Fascism Arising.

          Loved Jimi’s version, to be sure; groundbreaking! (and quaking!). “Which do you like more?” is just a matter of aesthetic sensibilities…

  • David Jolly  says:

    Amen – to every blasted thing you say here, Andrew, and thank you for stating it so clearly.

    We don’t have to give up on the visions for America that candidates like Elizabeth Warren are putting forward. We just need to be realistic about what independents and other middle-of-the-roaders are ready to vote for.

    Just one example: Health care was THE winning issue for Democrats in the 2018 Congressional election. If the Democratic candidate for president runs on a Medicare-for-All plan that eliminates private health insurance, it will likely be THE losing one in 2020. I read somewhere that although a majority of Americans now favor Medicare for All, at this point only 17% favor doing away with private health insurance. We’ve got a lot more educating to do to show Americans why and how a large majority of us would be better off without private insurance companies, and 2020 ain’t the year to try and do that.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yes, David, health care is huge, since it’s a bill (often many bills) that virtually every American family is presented with (and often engulfed by) every month. Stick to that, ignore Trump’s taunts & traps, and elaborate a humane, workable immigration policy that does something more than ooze compassion and anti-Trumpism. I also think the subject of clean air for our kids could be a winner, given Trump’s crazed love of coal, but Democrats thus far appear to be really poor in properly framing issues that make sense to the wide swath of voters who would support those issues if they were presented effectively. Where are all the policy hounds & think tanks on the Dem side? They need to start earning their grant monies!

  • Jay Helman  says:

    Amen, my brother. We are in such a critical time for our future that the quote from legendary football coach Vince Lombardi truly comes into play: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” I always hated that quote in the context of sport. Trump, however, has been a game changer on so many levels that are evil and dangerous that the importance of defeating him cannot be overstated. And, as you have so eloquently written, that may mean giving up some ground on the issues that you have identified. We must run the long race, and run it with purpose and focus. Climate change can be addressed, as can immigration and health care reform. Every issue we value can be addressed and, over time, modified. It is a process that requires grinding it out and perservering. Historically, we have done it before. But first, as you note, we must rid ourselves of Trump sans revolution. My heart is with AOC and “The Squad,” but my head and my life experience tell me that political leaders such as Governors Whitmer in Michigan and Raimondo in Rhode Island, both of whom are Democrats who won in Red states have a stronger, more pragmatic view of what is required to win. Can a Democratic candidate win? You bet: and to do so she must have not only a sound vision for policy direction, but also great charisma to deliver the message and reach hearts. That, I believe, is also true of male candidates. Monkishness typically doesn’t appeal to the masses, as few seem to follow issues with much attention. On a recent extended visit to Michigan I was stunned at how little attention (virtually none) was given to national politics. My guess is that this is not an anomaly, but close to our national norm. Readers of this blog are likely much more rare than they are common in terms of attention and concern devoted to national politics.

  • David Moriah  says:

    YES! YES! YES! I am hopeful that more and more on “our side” are seeing the folly of insisting on ideological purity and an extreme left agenda. Your piece echoes recent columns by Thomas Friedman and Frank Bruni in the NY Times. I long for a Dem who will stand for sensible border enforcement and a modest improvement in health insurance for all. This is the final battle for the soul of the nation and for our democracy. If we do not throw out the wanna-be dictator and the sniveling, cowardly Mitch McConnell and his ilk there is no tomorrow. We will soon be a fascist state and the world order will collapse into darkness and an end to human rights across the globe. Stay strong. Stay smart. We MUST overcome!

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    One can only hope the well reasoned sanity of this post + comments reflects the National Dems thinking- esp.in WI/MI/Ohio! It is so interesting traveling in Turkey/Rwanda-Uganda and now Prague (another story to be sure) , when people realize we are Yanks how much positive energy our country evokes followed by a quizzical “what is with this Trump guy???
    Being so depressed about our current political climate it was good for me to get another perspective- one I dearly hope we don’t throw out the window with 4 more years of “Trump-a-side”!!

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Jay, I share that strange experience of having thought Lombardi’s quote to be utterly undermining of the spirit and joys of competition, but applied to this political situation: Oh man, that hits the nail on the head! And yes, I do think, and most studies repeatedly show, that we’re a low-information political society, all posture and soundbite and may the most cunning or evasive demagogue win. The stats on things like, “Name one of your two U.S. Senators” or just one Supreme Court Justice are almost off-the-charts low. Makes one wonder how we’ve made it this far…

    Thought I might hear from you, David! I’ve been collecting bits & noodling with this post for the past few weeks and last week when I read the Friedman & Bruni columns I thought maybe I’d let it go and just refer people to them! But then I realized one can hardly say enough about this general topic, and say it enough times, given the stakes. My concern is that not enough people in the country yet realize how we—and the larger world along with us—inch closer to authoritarianism every day, and how freedom ain’t free and we are in increasing peril. Doomsayers? Hell no—realists! Our democracy is in danger, as is our planet, and there is a good chance an arch villain and prime mover in that decline will be returned to office by the most powerful nation on earth.

    Kevin, I can remember apologizing for Reagan overseas in the ’80s, then W in the aughts, and now Trump—it’s the never-ending apology tour! But Trump is his own kind of animal, though—far more chilling and destructive than his predecessors. To quote one of David’s oft-repeated pleas: God help us! (And it had better arrive by next November…)

  • Mary  says:

    The United States has designed such a long, torturous and expensive election process that it requires a lot of stamina to stick with it on any given day. Given these high stakes I can become very annoyed with the general failure of the candidates to see how these big issues (immigration, health care) must really work for enough of us to get us all through the 2020 gate.

    I also am impatient with the bickering and side issues that are used to promote candidacies. There is a deep and talented bench on the Democratic side; only one of them can be the candidate but all can make very valuable contributions to the repair of our country. I suppose the competitive nature of these proceedings makes such calculations and leveraging of glories inevitable. I really hope the larger issues will prevail and the best candidate will emerge as a leader who can build a real team out of the entire group.

    In the same vein I think that I, and many others are eager to get to work behind the most viable candidate and feel impatient with the winnowing down of the primary process. Since this is the way we do it I suppose there’s nothing for it but to breathe deeply and keep paying attention and keep speaking up, and be ready when next summer rolls around. We’ve had good training with this administration: it’s been a marathon.

    Thanks for raising this and thanks for all the comments. This thinking and energy is always valuable, and critical at this juncture.

    Onward!!

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    If the Dems expect to win in 2020, the following elements are crucial:

    1) Start the ball rolling on MedForAll but leave the private insurance plans in place. It would be disastrous to push what the undecided might consider too radical.

    2) Defeating Trump should be the overwhelming objective. Progressives like Bernie will be hounded by cries of “socialism.”

    3) The candidate with strongest appeal in those dozen or so states that determine the Presidency is a must. For instance, if Biden and Harris are neck-and-neck at the convention but a majority of his primary votes come from Republican strongholds, it’s imperative to give more credence to the primary outcomes in places like Pennsylvania, NC, Florida, VA, than the overall vote count.

    4) This could be the first multi-ballot convention since 1952 when Adlai Stevenson took the Democratic nomination. While historically brokered conventions hurt nominees in the general election, they lend themselves well to great ratings, insane chaos, unverified rumors and high drama. Nothing quite like underhanded smoke-filled backroom deals to pique interest in the entire political process.

    5) Excepting Obama, every 20th and 21st century Democratic President, if not Southern himself, has had a Southern VP. Regional politics is more important now than ever before.

    6) Gender, race and age can’t be ignored.

    No matter who ends up as the Dem nominee, the party must not allow disagreements among the 20 or so declared candidates to negatively influence voter turnout in November.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Yes, Mary, this amazingly long & arduous ultra-marathon of a campaign is a whole other topic, and though there are some pluses with respect to revealing candidates’ sheer endurance & grace under pressure, it is, on the whole, rather terrible, with the cost driving the whole system into the arms of money groveling and the dark motives of PACS. There’s gotta be a better way; just like our crazed health care system—one could hardly design it any worse, it seems.

    Robert, I find myself getting a bit giddy at the prospect of “great ratings, insane chaos, unverified rumors, high drama…and underhanded smoke-filled backroom deals.” After the insanely long campaign Mary alludes to, I reckon it’s only right that it ends as you describe. “Bring it on!” is what I say…

  • Robby Miller  says:

    What our national anthem should be, and for which there was a movement, albeit failed, to make it so: https://www.google.com/search?q=america+the+beautiful+by+ray+charles&oq=America+the+Beautiful+by+&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0l4.12357j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Robby, I had that up for a listen yesterday just before I went ahead with Marvin’s Star Spangled. Ray’s piece is so crazy popular—5.8 million views on this version alone, and yesterday I saw others with 3 million, 1 million, etc.—that I figured it was less likely people had previously seen Marvin’s piece. They make hella bookends of wayyyyy down there soulfulness, I tellya!

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