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Hitting Voters in the Gut

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post says Democrats need messages that “hit voters in the gut“:

Faced with demands to do something about the right-wing revolution the Supreme Court is inflicting on the country, congressional Democrats will hold votes on bills guaranteeing marriage equality and the right to contraception. These are protected at the moment, but many fear the court and Republicans will move to attack them sometime in the near future.

Since these bills will fall to Republican filibusters in the Senate, they are demonstration votes, meant … in large part to force Republicans to vote against them and thereby reveal themselves to be out of step with public opinion. As many a Democrat has said, “Let’s get them on the record.”

But “getting them on the record” doesn’t accomplish much if you don’t have a strategy to turn that unpopular vote into a weapon that can be used to actually punish those Republicans. And there’s little evidence Democrats have such a strategy.

Sure, they’ll issue some news releases and talk about it on cable news. And here or there the vote might find its way into a campaign mailer (“Congressman Klunk voted against contraception! Can the women of the Fifth District really trust Congressman Klunk?”). But I fear that too many Democrats think getting them on the record is enough by itself.

The reason is that unlike their Republican counterparts, Democrats tend to have far too much faith in the American voter.

People in Washington, especially Democrats, suffer from an ailment that is not confined to the nation’s capital. It plays out in all kinds of places and in politics at all levels. It’s the inability to see politics from the perspective of ordinary people.

… It’s hard to put yourself in the mind of someone whose worldview is profoundly different from your own. If you care about politics, it’s almost impossible to understand how the average person — even the average voter — thinks about the work you do and the world you inhabit.

If you’re reading this, politics is probably a daily reality for you. You almost certainly have a deep well of both foundational knowledge and day-to-day awareness of the political world. You know who the major players are and what their jobs entail. You can explain what a “filibuster” is, or how a bill becomes a law. And because you follow the news, you know what the issues of the moment are and where the two parties stand on them.

Here’s the problem: Most Americans have only a fraction of the understanding you do about these things — not because they’re dumb or ignorant but mainly because they just don’t care. They worry about other things, especially their jobs and their families. When they have free time they’d rather watch a ballgame or chat with a friend than read about whether certain provisions of Build Back Better might survive in some process called “reconciliation.”

If you are the kind of weirdo who cares about politics, you may find it difficult to communicate effectively to those regular people about something they neither know nor care much about.

Like many people, I discovered this disconnect the first time I volunteered on a campaign and went door to door trying to convince people to vote for my candidate. Most didn’t know who he was, didn’t know who he was running against, and didn’t much care about the issues I raised.

In fact, the very idea of “issues” — where a thing happening in the world is translated into something the government might implement policies to address — was somewhat foreign to them. Because I was young and enthusiastic but not schooled in subtle communication strategies, I couldn’t get beyond my own perspective and persuade them of anything.

In the years since, I’ve spent plenty of time trying to understand how normal people think about politics, but that understanding is always incomplete. And most Democrats I know are still captive to the hope that politics can be rational and deliberative, ultimately producing reasonable outcomes.

Republicans have no such illusions. They usually start from the assumption that voters don’t pay attention and should be reached by the simplest, most emotionally laden appeals they can devise. So Republicans don’t bother with 10-point policy plans; they just hit voters with, “Democrats want illegals to take your job, kill your wife, and pervert your kids,” and watch the votes pour in.

Of course, sometimes those appeals fall flat, and Democrats win plenty of elections. And every once in a while, a vote in Congress gets so much attention and discussion that even regular people hear about it and might even form an opinion.

But like most such demonstration votes, the ones on contraception and marriage equality … won’t be one of those times. Turning them into something that moves the electorate will require a lot of planning and work to execute. It will mean concerted and coordinated effort. If Democrats think “getting them on the record” will get the job done all by itself, they’re going to be disappointed once again.

Unquote.

If I was a Democratic politician, I’d try to hit my constituents in the gut with stories like these and remind them which side Republicans are on:

Just 3 Weeks Post-Roe, the Stories Emerging Are Worse Than Anyone Imagined (Jezebel)

United Kingdom smashes its all-time, hottest-day record, 100 million Americans under alerts in global heat emergency (CNN)

The Screams of the Children Have Been Edited Out (Counterpunch)

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