The latest Gallup poll has discovered that a majority of Americans still think the Affordable Care Act will cause more harm than good. How can this be, when the individual components of the law are widely applauded? Most of us love the idea of eliminating pre-existing conditions, keeping children on their parents insurance until they are 26, and not being forced to crowd the emergency room whenever an ear infection flares up or a prescription needs a refill. These things, they are popular! But the mention of ‘Obamacare’ still strikes fear in the hearts of even independent voters, and November’s elections remain shakily uncertain.
The single most frustrating aspect of boots-on-the-ground, grassroots political organizing is the utter lack of awareness voters demonstrate when you engage them in a dialogue. If you’ve ever worked a phone-bank or knocked on doors for a cause or candidate, you know how discouraging this can be. At the same time, it proves how incredibly vital these face to face conversations with our neighbors really are, especially when it comes to younger voters.
People are finally pissed. Rightfully so, as the unabashed attacks on the working class have made it undoubtedly clear that there is an entire movement dedicated not just to knocking us down a rung on the social ladder, but to actually, purposely kick us off the ladder entirely. So, what took so long? How is it that when canvassing for Ted Strickland during the gubernatorial race of 2010, I spoke to teachers who were actually considering voting for John Kasich before I knocked on their door and offered them more information? It was no secret that Kasich was enthusiastically proposing cuts that would leave us with overcrowded classrooms and more burnt out teachers, not to mention his desire to kill Ohio’s much anticipated railway deal that Strickland landed for us. He campaigned on “jobs”, sure, but his disdain for unions, women, the poor and middle class was pretty thinly veiled; the LGBT community wasn’t even on his radar.
Which brings me to the great Senate Bill 5 battle of 2011. Ohioans were shocked – shocked, I tell you! – that Kasich was actively trying to kill unions; even more so when I pointed out that he was not the only governor engaged in this draconian war on our most valued public servants. While canvassing, I heard the same question from Democrats over and over: “How did this fool even get elected in the first place?!” I asked them if they voted in the 2010 elections. Their response? No. They usually only vote for President. But THIS year, THIS time, they’re totally gonna vote. Gotta get rid of that awful union busting law, see; there’s totally a REASON to vote this year. 2010? Ehh…
It took every ounce of self-control I could muster to refrain from face-palming right there on a stranger’s doorstep. We won’t elect good public officials if we don’t participate in elections; we don’t win the progressive fights when we don’t even bother to show up to the ring. When voters stay home, they are indeed still voting – against themselves.
On the other hand, can we really blame them? After all, our side dropped the ball after 2008′s victory – giving the GOP the opportunity they needed (and eagerly accepted) to frame the debate using every red herring imaginable. Since President Obama’s inauguration, we have watched, wide-eyed and horrified, as our political discourse continually disintegrates into the inflammatory and hyperbolic rhetoric of “death panels“, “nazi regimes” and “reverse racism” (seriously, conservatives, there is no such thing; cut that shit out). Can we really criticize the working class for throwing up their hands in disgust and tuning it all out?
What is it about the left that makes our organizations so unsteady, that makes our elected officials so easily manipulated by the accusation that we’re not trying hard enough to find – and here come those two magical words – “common ground”, and therefore we “aren’t serious” about our policies and platforms?
This past April, after a morning of lobbying our Representatives to reject the ‘Heartbeat Bill‘ and focus instead on getting the ‘Prevention First Act‘ through the legislature, I attended a press conference held by the Democratic Women’s Caucus. After outlining their various policy proposals and urging constituents to pressure the Republican majority into at least getting these bills moved out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, a young woman raised her hand to earnestly ask, “What are you, as legislators, doing to encourage compromise and bipartisanship in the Ohio house? Have you reached across the aisle to the other side and asked what they would be willing to work on with you?”
Right before my eyes rolled all the way into the back of my head, I could see just a flicker of the frustration and incredulity at this question in the faces of the Representatives. “Compromise” is all we do. The overall Democratic strategy has been to start at the point of compromise and let the other side whittle us all the way down into getting nearly nothing we originally wanted. This is not a winning strategy; this is political suicide. We’ve witnessed firsthand, not just here in Ohio but all across the country, what a devastating blow this is to progressive causes and candidates.
When all you see and hear from your side is “compromise, compromise, compromise”, and everyone on the other side is so extreme and incoherent they eventually sound like nothing more than white noise, you’re bound to lose faith; this is especially true when it comes to the disenfranchised and marginalized members of our population, who depend on programs like TANF or WIC to survive and only see their plight mentioned when conservatives are castigating them. We don’t see enough of our elected officials fighting for us; we don’t see enough of our elected officials working to not only protect the progress we’ve already fought for and won, but to continue that progress and build on it. Too often, we just see them coddling the other side, afraid to be boldly progressive… compromising away our values, little by little.
So, the republicans win. Often. They may win again this November, because they know how to stir up enthusiasm. While our side is sweating and wringing our hands about “playing fair” and seeking “common ground”, the GOP isn’t just playing by different rules – they’re playing a different game altogether. They prefer to rally their base with promises to never compromise their core conservative ideologies. First, they determine what their constituents are afraid of, then capitalize on those fears with half-truths, exaggerations, and even outright falsehoods. The Big Bad Government is going to get you, better clean your guns! The First Lady is coming for your french fries! The scary black man in the Oval Office hates white people and wants to wipe out the entire Caucasian bloodline! SHARIA LAW!!!!!!
Look, this works. It just does. Fear is a motivator: It pays to remind the people what can happen if they sit this one out. And if we want our Democrats to be stronger, to be less timid about our concerns as constituents, we have to light the fire under their collective asses. It starts at the bottom, with us – we ARE our own best Representatives and we have to prove that we’re capable of forming a united front, and actually show up to support our candidates and their policies at the voting booth, because Democrats? They stay home. Republicans don’t. Our politicians KNOW this, and thus are ever-fearful of angering the other side with strong, unapologetic demands for progressive policy, lest the right turns out in even larger angered droves to vote against them.
It does not have to be this way. We can do better.
It’s time we take a page from the Republican playbook and use it as a means to OUR end, and demand that our elected officials do the same: Let them know that we’re tired of “compromising” with rigid extremists who refuse to give an inch, and if they boldly fight for our progressive ideals we WILL make sure to back them up at the polls. We will help them ‘get out the vote’! Remind voters that they SHOULD be afraid, very afraid; that no matter how utterly ridiculous and unelectable a Republican candidate may seem to us, or how unpopular he is in even his own party, he WILL get a substantial number of votes – even if the righties have to close their eyes and hold their nose to do it.
Of course, we also have one extremely powerful weapon to add to the ‘fear strategy’: Truth. We’d better start using it more aggressively, because our criticisms and fears are unfortunately grounded in reality, with the facts to back them up. We are, indeed, facing a future with no labor unions; a future where inner city hospitals must once again dedicate an entire ward to women dying of botched, illegal abortions; it is very likely that a Republican victory would mean the end of Medicare and Social Security as we know it. As for the The Affordable Care Act, well, you can kiss that bit of progress goodbye.
If that isn’t frightening enough to convince us to hit the streets and make sure every Democrat is informed and engaged this year, then I don’t know what is.
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