Guest Post by Susan Scheid
Writing in the Washington Post today, Fareed Zakaria weighs in once again, as many already have, on “what went wrong.” His solution? “Democrats need to focus on the gut, not the head.”
Zakaria is often insightful, but in this case, he’s way off the mark, offering, as so many do, a facile prescription without anything resembling a sound diagnosis under his belt. Here’s just one aspect of the problem, to stand in for the whole:
Zakaria, like so many others, loves versions of the phrasing “Hillary should have.” His version is this: “Hillary Clinton’s campaign, for instance, should have been centered around one simple theme: that she grew up in a town outside Chicago and lived in Arkansas for two decades. The subliminal message to working-class whites would have been ‘I know you. I am you.’”
Here’s the rub: Hillary Clinton tried to do this, and she wasn’t believed. For a reminder of why that might be the case, you could do worse than to watch Frontline’s “The Choice” about perceptions of Clinton over time. Right from the get-go, she was unacceptable to Arkansans—not like any first ladies they’d seen before—and only gained grudging acceptance by retreating into a proper “first lady-like” box.
Been there, done that, have the T-shirt, as they say. I didn’t grow up in, nor do I now live in, a so-called “elite” bubble. I’ve also spent much of my working life in rural areas in the Midwest and the South. I’ve had long, miserable experience with how much of my own identity I must erase in order to “fit in,” and even then it doesn’t altogether work.
I’m one of the first in my huge WWC family, perhaps the only woman, with not only a college, but also an advanced, degree. To them, I’m a woman who would not stay in her assigned box. There is absolutely nothing I can do to change that except to go back in the box, which I, like Clinton, refuse to do. Out of that experience, supplemented by many studies about the DT cohort, I’d wager a bet that the lion’s share of WWC men and women who voted for DT would never have found Hillary Clinton to be someone they know or are, no matter what she pulled out of her bag of tricks.
Not only do I identify with Clinton, in a very real sense (though I lack her extraordinary intellect, competence, and dedication), she is me. And I’m here to tell you, I am not alone. What I conclude out of the dismal experience of this election, were I to follow Zakaria’s prescription, is that a woman who is as supremely qualified and experienced as Clinton can never be a candidate for President; only someone like Sarah Palin could fit the bill.
So, what’s the way out of this mess? First, before folks like Zakaria (and Sanders and Moore, who fall into the same trap) start prescribing what to do, there’s a lot more to know about the demographics of these voters, not to mention about Democrats and aligned independents registered/eligible who did not vote, despite the enormous stakes.
I recommend, as the place to start in diagnosing what Democrats and the next Democratic candidate for President (assuming we get through this apocalypse) should do, reading the Rothwell study about the DT voter. Second, read David Roberts’s superb, thoughtful post-mortem on the election in Vox, and follow every link.
Among other things, Roberts notes:
There isn’t a ton of evidence that an economically populist message — divorced of appeals to xenophobia or white resentment — moves the WWC. In fact, as Andrew Prokop notes, “In two of those crucial Midwestern states that flipped to Trump, Democratic Senate candidates [Russ Feingold and Ted Strickland] campaigned on economically populist platforms — but they did notably worse than Hillary Clinton.
Why is that?
Perhaps because politicians know, though won’t say, that appeals to xenophobia and white resentment work. If I may coin a phrase: It’s the white resentment, stupid.
Helpful also is a new survey which found that “Two-thirds of Trump voters viewed the election as America’s last chance.”
[The survey] asked if efforts to increase diversity usually comes at the expense of white Americans. The overlap of Trump support and racial tension has been well documented, suggesting that this question might get at the question of decline.
The poll found that Trump voters were significantly more likely to say that they agreed than were Clinton voters.
Useful, too, from Nate Silver, is this: “Education, Not Income, Predicted Who Would Vote For Trump.”
From reading all of this (and more), my working hypothesis is that, by and large, these WWC people are not reachable and are not the future of the Democratic Party. We would, instead, be far better served focusing on strengthening party identity among Democrats and democratic-leaning people who did not vote.
In addition, if we continue to encourage and endorse appeals only to the gut, we remain mired in the land of populism as we are now, and as so much of the world seems to be. (On this issue, I recommend the current issue of Foreign Affairs, “The Power of Populism,” which offers several insightful articles on the topic, including one by Zakaria, and another must-read, “Latin America’s Populist Hangover.”)
My working bottom line is this: Populism, whether from the right (DT) or so-called left (Sanders) is the opiate of the masses. For us to get past that opiate and engage in fruitful dialogue toward constructive solutions to the issues we face, populism must be abandoned, and competent, thoughtful, compassionate leadership must be sought and embraced.
To get from here to there, appeals to voters should and must be directed not only to the heart, but also to the head.
Community leadership is needed to open hearts as well as minds so that the potency of appeals to guts filled with the bile of xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny, and all the rest, is defused. A strong national and local commitment to civic education is essential, too. Oh, yes, and it would be helpful if we were working from a common set of yer actual facts.
In closing, to get from here to there, it’s absolute BS that I, or anyone, needs to know either who George Strait is or, as Michael Moore would have it, watch The Bachelorettes. I’m with Patrick Thornton: “I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America.” Indeed, I lived the first three decades of my life, with a brief escape to Chicago, in the suburban and rural Midwest. There was no place there for me. I did not fit, so I fled to New York City.
So, how about this? How about somebody yanking these folks out of their bubbles to attend a “new music” concert, let’s say a performance of works by Andrew Norman, who, by the way, on winning the prestigious Grawemeyer award, god bless this man, said,
If I get more commissions, great, but maybe I can use this moment to talk about things that are important to me,” he said. “Like to call attention to the fact that there are problems. For instance, this award has been given to three women out of its 30-year history. And to me that’s kind of an issue.
And in all honesty, I’m a white man and I get lots of commissions and there are systemic reasons for that, reasons we should all be talking about,” he continued. “There are so many talented composers out there. Rather than giving me another commission, why aren’t we giving those people a commission? The canon is so overwhelmingly white and male, but we can use new music to fix that problem. There are so many voices who should be heard in the concert hall today, of people whose music reflects a wide variety of experiences.
THEN, maybe, we’ll get somewhere. But I’m not holding my breath.
Oh, and PS, while we’re at it, how about we actually THANK Clinton, altogether now, really loud and really long, for her enormous dedication and hard work to save us from the apocalypse we’re now in—and add to that thanking all her dedicated supporters for all the hard work THEY did to elect Clinton and a blue Congress, instead of continuing with cheap pot shots, not only the ongoing “lock her up” from the DT side, but also this: “’There was a large part of the Democratic primary electorate who had concerns about the secretary’s veracity and forthrightness,’” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s campaign manager.”
You want to heal, folks? You want to move forward, and unite this country? How’s this: How about an apology for all the completely baseless ad hominem attacks on Clinton, from both sides of the aisle, like those Paul Krugman noted. And how about the media (talkin’ particularly to you, New York Times) eats a little well-deserved humble pie for, say, this?
Yup, how about a little grateful thanks for Clinton, all those who campaigned for her, and all those got up off their cans and cast their votes? How about that?
Then, how about we get involved in doing something, together, that might actually work. For my money, Harvard’s Scholars Strategy Network’s Working Group for Civic Engagement is a terrific place to start. “How to Increase Voter Turnout in Communities Where People Have Not Usually Participated in Elections” is just one of a number of papers with practical recommendations based on sound analysis. Here’s one of the findings/recommendations:
New research suggests the special power of repeated personal contacting. In our book Mobilizing Inclusion, Lisa García Bedolla and I describe 268 get out the vote experiments conducted repeatedly across six electoral cycles from 2006 to 2008. We worked with community groups in California, evaluating and improving their efforts after each election. Our analysis shows that citizens who have not shown much propensity to vote in the past can be inspired by well-organized get-out-the-vote efforts that rely either on door-to-door visits or on live phone calls. Tellingly, our research shows that such contacts, especially if repeated, can produce habitual voters. Phone banks from which callers contact the same potential voters twice are especially effective in creating committed voters. Door-to-door campaigns also showed strong results, with one such effort increasing voter turnout by more than 40 percentage points. (To be sure, most get-out-the-vote campaigns produce smaller gains).
We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.
HEAR OUR VOICE.