Yesterday, The Intercept posted leaked recordings from a meeting President-Elect Joe Biden had with civil rights leaders. The big takeaway is Biden's contention that the "Defund the Police" meme was responsible for poor Democratic performance in the down-ballot races in the recent election cycle. Biden was quoted as lamenting the defund the police meme, saying it was "how they beat the living hell out of us across the country."
Predictably, Biden blamed the Progressive wing of the Democratic party and Black Lives Matter, both groups who advocate police reform and consider defunding problematic police departments a legitimate tool for accomplishing that.
All of which misses the point of why the Democrats performed below expectations. Typically, during a presidential election cycle, the presidential candidates are expected to pull the down-ballot candidates along by presenting a vision for where the country needs to go and what needs to be done to accomplish it. The candidate whose vision best inspires the voters is most often the winner.
The 2020 campaign was a weird one, however, on a number of levels. The winner was not very inspiring at all and the loser was arguably one of the most inspiring in American history. It was Trump, not Biden, who drove record voter turnout, among Republicans and Democrats alike. You were either inspired to vote Trump in or inspired to vote Trump out, but Trump was absolutely the defining figure.
Biden's campaign wasn't based on a politically tangible vision. He ran on a platform of "Saving the soul of America." Admirable but vague. An agenda of national soul salvation isn't really something the voters can sink their teeth into as a to-do list.
The Democrats did very well in 2018 and comparatively poorly just two years later, in 2020. Conservative Democrats claimed credit in 2018 and blamed Progressives in 2020. Anyone surprised by that please raise your hand!
The reality was that, in 2018, the Democratic platform was issues-driven, saving Obamacare in the face of repeated Republican attempts to dismantle it, and in 2020 it was fear-driven, fear of another four years of Donald Trump. It was that fear and not a platform for action that defined the Democratic effort in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the Democrats got what they ordered, a defeat of Trump, but they didn't get a policy mandate because they did not articulate one.
There is an old red-herring myth that Progressive policies terrify voters. The truth is that Progressive policies are far more likely to terrify business-friendly politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, than voters, Republicans and Democrats alike. What has never been proven is that the Progressive outreach to conservative communities doesn't work. In fact, it often works quite well.
When Democrats run on progressive policies and visions, they get 2018. When they run on fear and political marketing, they get 2020 if they are lucky. If they're not lucky, they get 2016.
It's not the voters who don't respond to Progressive platform initiatives, it's the political donors. Vision, outreach, and courage are what the voters respond to.
Yes. We. Can.
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