No Short Term Fix for Dealing with Dem Losses
Need to Confront Racism, Need to Promote Economic Vision- and Need to Do Long-Term Organizing
Since I’ve been arguing that Dems need long-term organizing strategy for a while, I have no short-term fixes to propose in response to losses last night in Virginia. Everyone else can use it to support their immediate axe-to-grind— progressives did it, moderates did it, etc.
Little question that Manchin and Sinema sabotaged Dem messaging by making them look ineffective, but the reality is that Manchin and Sinema have that power because Dems did so badly in Senate races last fall, as I noted here last night:
Garance Franke-Ruta @thegaranceJust going to remind people that there was no D wave in 2020, either, despite the victory at the top. https://t.co/AWKJz4CLgU https://t.co/JMTsKvz16I
And yes, Youngkin effectively used racist dog-whistling on “Critical Race Theory” to stir up his base. One thing I have argued is that denying CRT is in the schools is a losing strategy, since it’s just a too clever-by-half game to say CRT is only taught in law schools. Conservatives have decided to label all anti-racism curriculum as CRT and that does exist, so Dems need to defend those real existing practices, whatever people want to call it. As I argued in Critical Race Theory IS in Our Schools - And Needs to Be Defended, addressing racism requires nuance which is hard to do on the campaign trail but we lose simplistic discussions of race, period. And we need to be clear on what practices are effective - and which are just throwing red meat to the rightwing propaganda mill:
The Right wants to reduce the debate on race to the most simplistic terms possible and some progressives think nuance in the discussion means we lose. But progressives should avoid matching the lies of the Right with hair-splitting attempts to deny the inarguable influence of Critical Race Theory on many educational practices in our public schools. We need to defend that positive impact of that influence, while at the same time arguing with each other on the best ways to implement those insights – and highlighting all the other intellectual sources for analyzing problems of racism in society.
If anything comes out of Critical Race Theory, it’s that simplistic answers on race are inevitably the wrong ones, so nuance is inevitable in this debate.
But that’s defense and what Dems need is a stronger offense. Dems pushed through the CARES Act in 2020 and the American Rescue Plan earlier this year - and they need to f——- TALK ABOUT THEM and how they saved the economy. The GOP made CRT happen by talking about it endlessly, but the words “American Rescue Plan” are barely mentioned by most Dems on a daily basis, even though we as a country managed to go through a pandemic and massive loss of jobs - yet the lowest-income Americans actually saw their incomes INCREASE during that period, as economist Josh Mason details here.
That is an unprecedented accomplishment to shield the most vulnerable from the ravages of a recession - and we need to TALK ABOUT IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Both because it will help us in elections now but because we want people to remember it the next time we have a recession, so we can convince them to do it again.
But we can’t do that if people aren’t listening to us - and by “us” I mean having people who agree with us but live in every community, since people trust their neighbors and friends for information far more than any media talking head.
There is a lot of pain and sickness and, yes, racism that we have to overcome in a lot of areas, but to do that, it’s not going to take cleverer television ads but on-the-ground organizing and not just at election time. If we want a consistent challenge to corporate messaging and rightwing religious messaging and Fox News messaging that’s out there in every red community right now, the historically most effective alternative has been a local union hall and the workplace messaging a union brings. As I’ve argued, unions are not magic but they consistently reduce racism among their members and create an alternative vision to the fears people have:
Unions are not a panacea but there is solid evidence they build community and reduce racism among members. While the economic impact of union growth in the 1930s is often emphasized, their community-building role in creating the New Deal coalition should not be underestimated, especially in bringing Americans of different races together in a common endeavor. In a country of segregated neighborhoods and churches, for most people in the 20th century, sharing a union affiliation was one of the only multi-racial affiliations most people had. Social networks cemented by good jobs and a union hall were destroyed in the union-busting of the 1980s, followed by the rise of the Trumpist vote in their wake.
A recent paper titled “Labor Unions and White Racial Politics,” published in the American Journal of Political Science, added to the evidence that unions do transform white workers’ attitudes about race. White union members on average have less racist views than white workers in similar industries who are not in a union. Partly this is sharing a vision but partly it stems from what organizers do in the workplace – converting an employer-dominated space meant to divide workers into one that deliberately creates organic links between them.
More broadly, we need a message that addresses WHY people feel they are losing out and neutralizing the racist nationalism that Trumpism has metasized.
Yes, delivering dollars in peoples’ pockets through government spending is good, but especially for those without a college education, who have seen tens of millions of jobs disappear, they have to believe there is a plan to ensure they have jobs in the future. Trumpist trade war and anti-immigrant messaging makes sense if the world is framed as a zero-sum game where “we” need to take jobs from developing nations and workers in order to succeed.
We do need to refocus that anger on those who have been winning out in globalization, the financial elite which have benefited from the most recent trade deals - a reality that Trump capitalized on. As I noted last week, Biden’s recent deal with other countries to create a global minimum tax rate is a bigger deal that even its substance, since the framework is one that is uniting the globe with the common target being that global elite. That is a framing that serves progressive interests more broadly:
Biden has made the right moves in making workers rights the core of his official trade agenda and, probably, more importantly, hiring Thea Lee, the former President of the Economic Policy Institute and chief economist on international issues for the AFL-CIO before that, to oversee international affairs for the Department of Labor, which includes responsibilities for enforcing labor rights under trade deals. Biden’s global deal with 130 countries to establish a minimum corporate tax is potentially the most game-changing achievement on building a vision for global equity. Not only will it encourage more revenue for social spending around the globe, but it will also reduce the “race-to-the-bottom” tax competition between countries that also feeds job competition and flight to lower-wage, lower-tax jurisdictions. This is one of the few global deals in history purely dedicated to reining in the wealth of the corporate elites- and can ideally be promoted as the model for future global deals on other fronts to achieve the same goal.
With such a global framework for long-term global cooperation to preserve jobs and redistribute growth from the elite to workers globally, then and probably only then, progressives can make the pitch to pull at least some of the Trump-supporting voters away from the nationalist trade war framework that keeps them in alliances with the Republicans.
That all said, getting that message out is not a short-term endeavor. The biggest problem is that few people are talking about plans beyond 2022 or at best 2024, but we need to be investing for the long-term if we want to make serious inroads in communities where lopsided vote totals came in against McCauliffe last night or against losing Democratic Senate candidates last fall.
We should spend less money on “messaging” and more on actual organizing, building human relationships in long-term institutions, particularly unions, that stay in place year-after-year to keep building relationships and getting our vision out via the most trusted messengers possible, not a TV ad but a coworker or a neighbor.
Campaign ads may be a necessary evil but every unnecessary dollar spent on them that isn’t spent on that long-term organizing is a loss. Conservatives build institutions - churches, gun clubs, homeschooling networks - while few Dems are thinking about what PERMANENT institutions they need to build in every town across the country. If people have a better alternative than a union hall, then they should support those, but failing that, progressive leaders - and not just union leaders - should make raising funds and supporting that union organizing on the ground a priority.