It wouldn’t be a Sunday New York Times opinion section without a couple of articles blaming liberals for their supposed inability to capture the hearts and minds of mainstream America. It’s always the liberals fault for putting up the wrong candidate, being self-righteous, being too smart or wonky, focusing too much on identity politics, not articulating the message in bold terms, or not understanding the soul of middle America. In going through this list of Democratic “failures,” note how many descriptions could be coded language for “not being racist enough.” Then there are the special criticisms leveled at Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi’s political liabilities, which have always struck me as patently misogynistic.
This week’s edition of “Beat the Liberal” featured a piece by Gerald Alexander, an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia whose research suggests a right-wing bent. In “Liberals, You’re Not As Smart as You Think” the not-so-good professor claims that liberals “may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way.” Alexander never proves his point. He doesn’t even bother to offer up one study or survey to demonstrate that when liberals talk, they turn off large numbers of people. Interestingly enough, his article is a mild revision of a piece he wrote for the Washington Post eight years ago. Bashing liberals is never out of style!
And what does Alexander think liberals do that piss people off so much? They publicly call racist behavior racist. What’s more, they do so self-righteously, with an “I’m better than you are” tone. Earth to Alexander: People who call out racism are better than the racists. That is, assuming you buy into Alexander’s shoddy premise that Democrats are self-righteous about their morality. Now maybe it’s my self-righteousness coming through, but as parent, I found that shame works wonders in getting people to do the right thing.
Frank Bruni joined in the “Beat the Liberal” game, too, this week, with another of a long line of columns by mainstream media pundits advocating that the Democratic Party can win if they become more like Republicans. The headline says it all: “Renounce Pelosi, Ignore Trump—and Win?” Bruni advocates for Democratic candidates who are less strident and project a less partisan image. In particular, Bruni touts the Democratic nominee for the seat in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, white male Dan McCready, who claims to have center-right political views. Of course he never gives examples of Democratic candidates who are too strident or too partisan, leaving us to guess who they are. I sincerely hope Bruni means something other than the coded message I receive from his article—that he wants more white males and fewer women and minority candidates. It would help if one of the candidates he lauds in his article was not all white male.
Bruni’s article quotes Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, as saying “If we actually want to be a majority party, then we better embrace more Americans.”
What is he talking about? Democrats won way more votes than Republicans in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Clinton wiped out Trump in the popular voting. Survey after survey on education, healthcare, aid to dependent children, criminal justice reform, environmental policy, abortion and yes, even gun control, show that majorities of American—and sometimes overwhelming majorities—support the views of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and other liberal Democrats.
The game of blaming Democrats for their failure to take the reins of government conceals the real reasons Republicans today control the presidency, both Houses of Congress and most state governments:
- The current shape of Congressional districts, gerrymandered to structurally favor Republicans after the 2010 census.
- The raft of voter suppression laws that have swept the country, also since 2010.
- The natural electoral bias in states and nationally in favor of rural areas, built into our system by the Electoral College and geographic representation.
- The influx of money to support right-wing candidates and think tanks, especially since the Citizens United
- The constant anti-Democrat slant of the mainstream and rightwing media, which includes covering Republican primaries more closely than Democratic ones, using Republican premises when formulating coverage, conflating real scandals of Republicans with Democratic non-scandals and issuing a constant stream of these silly articles about Democrats shooting themselves in the foot.
Of these five factors, only one can be remotely blamed on the Democrats: the gerrymandering of Congress. Democrats assumed they were going to lose seats in 2010, since a new president usually sees his majority eroded in midterm elections. They therefore did not aggressively spend money on 2010 mid-term elections, while the Koch brothers and their billionaire buddies saw the historic opportunity created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that freed corporate spending on elections and ramped up their support of not just Republican, but ultra-right candidates. The news media helped out the Republicans in 2010 to be sure by ignoring Democratic primaries, focusing most political coverage on the new “Tea Party” movement, ignoring the progressive alternatives to the Tea Party, and providing inaccurate and misleading coverage of the key issue of the day, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There was certainly a lot going against the Democrats in 2010, but by not aggressively contesting the election, they did a pretty good imitation of a pro basketball team tanking the season to get a high draft pick.
We can find no fault with the Democrats in the development of the other four factors leading to Republican control of an ostensibly democratic country in which a majority of citizens support the views of the party out of power. The voter suppression laws have come in states controlled by Republicans. The rich white men who founded the country established the rural bias in the Constitution more than 200 years ago to placate the many slave owners among them.
In one way or another, Ronald Reagan is responsible for the other two factors. Reagan started the movement to allow single companies to own many media outlets in the same town and nationally and ended the Fairness Doctrine, which made all broadcast stations air the views of the other side when they gave an editorial. These moves more than anything else enabled the fringe right-wing media like mega-giants FOX, Clear Channel and Sinclair Broadcasting to emerge as powerful voices in the marketplace of ideas. And it was Reagan who nominated two of the five justices who voted that the constitution prohibited Congress from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations in Citizens United; he also gave important career promotions to the other three voting to unleash the Koch money machine on the political system.
But pundits will continue to blame Democrats for their current status in state and federal governments. It’s easier than doing real analysis and telling the truth: our country has been taken over by a small but very well-heeled minority who have used their money to manipulate our political system to their own end and to pursue their own interests, even to the detriment of overwhelming numbers of their fellow citizens.