I've been in several threads today (Wednesday) where there is much lamenting of the idiocy of people who continually vote against their own best interests. I'm going to expand on a comment I made in one of those kinds of threads a few days ago.
I think we're not having the right discussion about people who vote for Republicans. There are the obvious core voters, the racists, the bigots, the xenophobes, the wealthy and powerful aka sexistracistbigotedxenophobes.
Then there are the others, that middle ground of people who aren't able to articulate why they vote for Republicans, they just believe "they're good people who have the same interests and concerns as I do".
Some of that is driven by propaganda - welfare queens in Cadillacs, Tort Reform to save your doctor, government is stifling business, the war on Christians. You know the rap. Most of those voters (and even some of the less virulent bigots) are not voting against their own interests, they're voting for the party that sells them the prettiest picture of America.
It isn't that Democrats are too wordy, that our platform can't be disseminated in sound bites, that we're socialists or commies or anti-American. It's that we keep telling people what needs to be done, what needs fixing, and how serious it is.
The Republicans tell them we're the greatest nation ever, we have the best education system, the best health care system, the best and strongest economy, the best form of government that must be shared with backward nations..... and so on.
The Democrat's core message is: We're fucked, we're failing at (fill in the blank).
Think about what you learned in school (if you're old enough) about American History. Did you ever hear anyone mention the genocide against the First Nations? Did you ever hear Native American rather than Indian?
Did you ever hear anyone mention that slavery was not just the reason for the Civil War, it was a hideous, violent, vicious economic engine that started here well before the Declaration of Independence, that many of our Founding Fathers owned slaves and defended the practice?
Did any teacher ever tell you about how we allowed millions of non-aryan non-heterosexual human beings, including infants, to be exterminated in German-controlled territories before we bravely entered the war effort (but not until the dirty Japs bombed us!) and ended that horrific regime?
I never heard a word about the detention of Japanese-American citizens until I was well into my twenties.
I didn't hear about smallpox infested blankets being sold to Native Americans until even later.
I grew up with Gunsmoke and Bonanza, good guy cowboys - not the people who engaged in the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo in order to starve the native population out of what promised to be very rich farm and grazing land.
I was in my 30's before I started finding out about our government toppling legitimate governments in foreign nations, replacing them with, essentially, Nazi-type dictators who could be counted on to "disappear" the educated: journalists, professors, and artists.
I only know these things because I sought them out once I heard rumors.
I was a hippie, I was livid about Nixon's dirty politics and Hoover's massive spy program. I lost my "America, the Beautiful" virginity with Kent State and My Lai.
Most of the people here regularly can say similar things, tell similar stories about how we became radicalized. Most of the population that isn't hanging out on political blogs will not share that background. They love the Fourth of July, parades, waving flags, concerts of patriotic music.
They are willing and able to live in the reality they are currently forced to inhabit only if they can believe America is Beautiful, we are the best in every way. They don't want to hear about the unfairness of working 50 hours a week, being paid for 37, and being terrified that someone will take that glorious job away from them and they'll lose the house, the cars, the credit cards that keep food on the table.
STFU is their internal shriek. Don't tell me. Don't make me think about this.........
........let me believe that my company would never outsource my job, make me train the person who is taking that job to India, and then stiff me on retirement benefits that were entirely mine, no help from the company.Do not tell me we're all going to die because we love our cars so much. Do not tell me my kids have mercury and arsenic and heavy metals in their bodies because Congress gutted the PCA. DO NOT TELL ME ANY MORE SCARY STORIES! I'm on the ragged edge because I already know my job could disappear tomorrow. I know I'm likely to end up working for $12 an hour. I know my neighbor's daughter died from e-coli in spinach. I know I'll never have employer provided health insurance again.
Those are the voters we need to reach, the fundamentally good, nice people who are simply trying to survive and maybe even thrive in a country that's no longer a haven for their creativity, ambition, and drive. They don't want to hear what's wrong, they want to hear what's right, and then maybe they can listen to what we (Democrats) can do to make it even better.
They don't need to be called stupid for voting Republican. They aren't overt racists, sexists or bigots. They may not know many GLBT people so it's easy to make them fear gayness. They may not have met many people of color so mostly they know Gansta Rap, illegals taking their jobs, welfare queens, and "Bad Boy, Bad Boy whatcha gonna do?" reality television programming. They're bombarded with images that frighten them, what's the point of bombarding them with name-calling, especially from a voice dripping with smug superiority?
Here's what made me think about this. In the '80's I was a card-carrying member of every environmental group out there, and every month I got 15 or more letters telling me that it's fucking hopeless.
They didn't mean to say that, I'm sure, but they wanted more than the whatever a year I was donating, so each month was a new horror story about whales and polar bears and wolves and habitat shrinkage and loggers devastating virgin forests. It was all true, and I kept sending more money until one day I gave up.
I quit everything. It was hopeless, nothing anyone did was going to change it, so I might as well spend my money on fun stuff for me before the hellish and bitter end. It took 6 years for me to give up, I'm pretty optimistic. But when I was done, I was done. All letters into the trash before opening, no phone calls accepted.
A few years later I got an e-mail from NRDC. It was cheering about a recent successful negotiation with some developer who was willing to change his plans for (maybe) a huge ranchland and make them more environmentally friendly, less destructive to wildlife and aquifers and humans. I think there was rainwater catchment and maybe even solar power. I'm vague on the details, but what grabbed me was this: success.
Not pristine, perfect success but negotiation and trade-offs and ultimately a way for everyone to win something. People want houses. Blocking them from what they want doesn't make them like us or support us. Skillful negotiating can, however, make them accept that animals also have a right to live in their habitat, that water is a precious resource that we can protect, that there are other sources of power that aren't polluting and damaging and may even save them money.
Skillful negotiation. Being willing to trade off some of what's important to me in order to respect some of what's important to you. Not weakness, not selling out, just an understanding that my utopian vision probably doesn't look like yours does, and you may even have a few good ideas I left out.
I get pissy, and I say rude things when I hear birther shit. I told one woman she should be angry at the people who make her sound like an idiot. Not a skillful negotiation, right? But I've also been on supposedly apolitical blogs, answering propaganda with facts, with links, and with questions. Do you want your sweet elderly neighbors to have to give up either medicine or food if the doughnut hole returns? I'm a woman and a mother. I don't want my daughter to have to buy birth control pills on the black market, or to face some medical inquiry if she spontaneously aborts. I'm a woman, I'm insulted that men talk about abortion so casually and foolishly. I don't know a single woman who had an abortion because having a child would interfere with her nail appointments or something equally childish. They had abortions, mostly, because they knew they couldn't give that child anything close to the life it deserved until they finished school, or had a partner they could count on, or could afford really good child care while they worked to pay rent and provide a home. I'm over 55, I supposedly won't lose my Medicare benefits, but I'm also not selfish enough to think it's okay if you don't have the same good fortune.
I don't argue with hateful people, although sometimes I DO congratulate them on coming out of the racist closet and being honest about why they dislike Obama so much.
In person I do the same - this is what's important to me, this is what President Obama has done to solve some of these awful problems, and that's why I support him. It's not all fixed yet, but I trust him to fight for me, for you, and for our kids and grandkids.
I make pertinent comments on the War on Women, with humor. I tell them how hard I laughed at the cartoon of the OB/GYN turning away from a draped woman, saying "I see what the problem is! Your vagina is full of Republicans." It makes the point without rage. It's us girls together.
We have some people out there we can influence, but not if we can't look at them differently. We can gently teach people what the difference is between the Republican vision of the future and Democratic vision of the future.
I actually scared a leftie friend of mine a couple of weeks ago by going on a rant about Oligarchy. She felt as scared and hopeless as I felt about the environment in 1988. Why should she help me GOTV if I reduce her to that level of hopelessness?
At least think about trying another approach. What we've done so far hasn't worked, and you know what the definition of insanity is!
Thu Aug 23, 2012 at 4:26 PM PT: Thank you everybody for a really interesting conversation! I don't usually spend this many hours on the GOS in one day, but I've been enjoying this a lot. Very thoughtful comments, and some really good ideas about how to sell Progressive ideas to more than the in crowd!