Some Thoughts Moving Forward

It’s been seven years since I started this blog, and a lot has changed since then, and not just in my posting frequency.  Back in late 2009, I was involved in a lot of discussions at a now-defunct blog on strategy about how we would turn New York into a “solid Blue” state, taking the the only two remaining Republican House seats left in the state.  Look at the map after this last election?  It’s almost solid Red.  There are a couple of blue spots, but that’s it.  Sure,  there’s a majority of the seats still held by Democrats – mostly due to New York City – but outside of there, forget it.  In many ways, it’s a microcosm of what we see in the country.  Sure, large, very diverse cities went (or stayed) strongly Democratic, but outside of those, they switched, even in supposedly “safe” states.

There are many causes for this, but it can be put down to just a few factors.  First and foremost, Democrats are absolutely terrible at turning out the vote during mid-term elections.  Consider that in 2010 the voter turnout in this state was around 32%, and in 2014 it was even worse, at 28%.  A lot of the “Democratic base” groups either decided to sit out – and were actively encouraged to by some on the Left – or didn’t think it was “important.”  Guess which party has voters who are virtually guaranteed to show up at the voting booth?   That’s right, Republicans.  While progressives worry about voter suppression – and yes, it is a problem -when it comes to the mid-term elections where most state legislatures, governorships, and all House members are voted on, Democratic voters do a great job of self-suppressing.

The second big factor was the economy.  Yes, absolutely, it’s great that for all intents and purposes the economy has recovered and greatly grown since the recession.  Nationally, we’re seeing unemployment levels close to “full employment,” the stock market is getting ever higher, wages are going up, and things look good.  You can say the same thing for this state, when you look at the figures for the entire state.  The problem?  As I said in an earlier post this year, it’s uneven.  That is, most of the growth and “good news” for this state is in the downstate region.  Upstate?  Well, it’s still not doing that well.  That’s a common pattern in many states, which leads to a lot of anger and frustration, when the people in those areas hear all sorts of rosy things about the economy, but their reality is not only are things not getting better, in some cases, they’re getting worse.

Which leads me to the final factor, messaging.   I don’t often disagree with Spandan over at The People’s View, but this post about growing the urban base is one where I do.   No, I’m not saying that Democrats, or progressives in general, should start excusing or waving aside the racism that played such a factor.  But in many ways, this is emblematic of a problem progressives have had for a long time.  That is, we tend to phrase progressive programs and policies in terms of how they impact and benefit urban areas.   Most of the progressive focus on a host of issues revolve around that, and if rural areas are mentioned at all, it’s mostly an afterthought.

As an example, here’s an issue:  Food deserts.  If I look at the official definition for food deserts, it’s within 1 mile for urban areas, or 10 miles for rural ones.  Look at a map, and it’s obvious that it’s a big rural issue.  But when you look around at various policy discussions, you find things like this:

“Food deserts”—areas in which residents are hard-pressed to find affordable, healthy food—are part of the landscape of poor, urban neighborhoods across the United States.

…The most important study implications, though, are policy-based, according to Bower. “Local policymakers should be looking at the quality of infrastructure in poor and minority neighborhoods to see if it could better support businesses,” she says. “And they should think about ways to incentivize supermarkets to locate in minority neighborhoods.”

That’s just a single example, but it’s the common thread on activist sites and policy groups about this issue.  A brief acknowledgement that it’s also a problem with rural areas, but then diving into what to do in an urban area.   I can go (and did) across the spectrum of policies, like affordable housing, healthcare, education, broadband access, and so on, and the emphasis is always on urban areas.  All things that are big issues in rural areas, and yet we don’t see progressives -or Democrats – talking about them in that context.  The focus is always on an urban area, and as a result rural populations don’t think they’re benefiting from those programs.  Which played right into the Republicans hands.  By using the existing rural versus urban antagonism, dog-whistling all the inherent racism, Republicans were able to use progressive’s emphasis on urban areas as wedge issues, or  more crudely “black and brown people want stuff you don’t get,”  to get elected.   The end result is that Republicans now have total control of half the states, significant control of many others, and starting next year, control of the federal government.  Even “Solid Blue” states like Massachusetts and Vermont have, or will have Republican governors.

That has to change.  I recognize that the Democratic Party’s strength is in the cities, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be organizing there.  However, I also can look at a map, and I understand something else.  In many states, the cities do not determine who wins on the state or national level.  As we’ve learned the hard way this year, ignoring rural areas, ignoring those states is a path to defeat.   Back in 2005, the Party had the “50 states” initiative, to compete across the board.  The result was that by this time 8 years ago, we were talking about Republicans being a small, mostly regional Party.  Today?  The small, mostly regional party is the Democratic Party.   We can all point fingers as to the reasons, and they’re all a part of why it happened.   But focusing on just the cities means that the Party will remain that.  We need to start getting back to competing, and taking the message to those places again, as well as getting Democratic voters out to the polls in 2018.

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “Some Thoughts Moving Forward

  1. dbtheonly

    Welcome back.

    I’ll get to the specifics of the article later. For now, it’s enough to tell you you’ve been missed.

  2. Stephen

    Agree 100%, but I have little in the way of ideas on how to address the problem. I suspect this holds true for most of us.

    • A lot of this is going to be up to local Democratic parties, but it would definitely help if not just the national party, but the “liberal” media (including the blogosphere) would start making it much clearer how various government programs impact these areas, as well as doing a better contrast with what Republicans want. For example, my county has a very high percentage (around 40%) of the population on Social Security and Medicare. Almost none of those people really understand how those programs are funded, and they’re in serious denial that Republicans would take those away from them. I’m seeing the same thing when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, SNAP benefits, and so on. If nothing else the next two to fouryears are going to be object lessons. It’d also help a lot if the so-called “Left” would stop attacking progressive programs as “not progressive enough.”

      • dbtheonly

        I’ll go you another

        The economy is always better that it seems. Not just in a quantifiable measure, but in that the attitudes. If you’ve got DJIA at 18,000 you’re not happy that it’s 18,000, you’re disappointed that it’s not 19,000. There’s always more and the disappointment of not having more is endemic. Thus it’s always easier to run “against” the economy.

        • True, but as I pointed out in the post earlier this year, there are large areas – mostly but not all rural – that by quantifiable measures are in economic decline. They’ve been in that situation for a few decades, and while the recession hammered them in addition to everyone else, the recovery isn’t happening for them. The decline keeps going, and they’re frustrated. For example, when I was in college, the small village I currently live in had two grocery stores, two gas stations, several restaurants, two garages, and several other businesses. The school district had around 350 students. When I moved here about 15 years ago, it was down to one grocery store, one garage, 4 restaurants, a few other businesses, and the school district had 170 students. . Now? No grocer store, two restaurants, the garage just reopened after a year, a couple of other businesses have closed, and the school district has just over 100 students. Now, things are starting to slowly turn around, but we’ll never have another grocery store, and I doubt we’ll ever see the number of kids here we used to have. That’s rather common in many rural areas. There’s a city to the south of me, which is listed as one of the most “distressed” cities in the country. NYC is doing great, Albany is doing great, most of the area down the Hudson River from there is doing well, and Buffalo and Rochester are turning around. But the cities in between Albany and Buffalo aren’t seeing the same turnaround.

          • dbtheonly

            Certainly.

            Rural America is suffering from the same effects as the rest. 1. Automation eliminating jobs. 2. Transportation costs making it cheaper to import than “manufacture” locally.

            Changing times have always left some in the dust. Buggy Whip manufacturers are my example of choice, though blacksmiths and wheelwrights work too.

            We’re not bringing back the 1950s. The question is where do we go from here.

          • It’s not just rural America, which has been losing population and jobs since the late 1800’s. It’s also that many of the urban regions in those areas have been experiencing that as well, and in many cases, have not rebounded. That’s why I used my state (NY) as an example. New York City is the “800 pound gorilla” of the state, in that half the population lives there. Its economy is doing quite well, and as a result, that makes the state figures look good. However, outside of there, you often find a different picture economically. The other thing to note is that NYC is strongly Democratic, and as a result, when you look at the national or statewide election results, it fools people into thinking the state is “solid Blue.” Outside of NYC though, you find that the political lean goes the other way, and as a result, we often end up with a Republican controlled state senate, and as we have now, a pretty heavy Republican representation in the House.

  3. I am not sure how you cut through the right-wing noise machine, Norbrook. I see everyone talking about “messaging” but the only messenger many of these folks will pay attention to will NEVER talk about how important Social Security and Medicare and a living wage are to EVERY American. There was a recent article in the Atlantic that interviewed Trump voters who believed that the stock market has gone down during Barack Obama’s presidency and that unemployment is up. No Democratic message is going to cut through that or change ideas that are burned in from Reagan’s “government is the enemy” mantra to Fox News’ “black people are mooching” theme.

    So how do we communicate about the Good Government programs when we can’t even agree on what the facts are?

    • I never said it was easy. I run into a lot in my reliably red area, but one of the things I’ve been doing is “You can check every fact I quote,” and then to really top it off sometimes I’ll do the “I’ll bet you $100 I’m right.” It also would help a lot if we could somehow sit on “The Left” (purity edition) to stop their demands for “perfect” which somehow ends up echoing what the Right is saying. What will help is the unfortunate reality that when Republicans start implementing their platform, those voters are going to suddenly get a real wake-up call.

      • Not easy? Say it isn’t so!! 🙂

        Here is a post-election think piece from Paul Starr at The Prospect which I am still in the Thinking About phase on. We have to hope that Trumpian America is *not* who we are but we have to be cautious about rejecting any analysis that doesn’t reinforce our existing narrative and to keep our minds open so we can find a solution. http://prospect.org/article/who-are-we-americans-now

        As you know, Wisconsin went red for the first time since the 1980s so this one hits home. My focus is going to be on making sure whoever our DNC chair is understands that what happened here is directly related to abandoning the 50-state strategy and the national party mucking around in Wisconsin politics (I am getting set to write on it with the new year). We have no bench, no message, and now a 6 year legacy of losses.

        • One of the reasons I wrote this post was that I took exception to a lot of what I’m seeing out in the liberal commentaries. Basically, it comes down to “let’s ignore those racist rural states, and concentrate on the cities,” while taking comfort in the fact that Hillary took the majority of the vote. To my mind, that’s just guaranteeing that Democrats will be a minority party.

          • There are no “moral victories” in electoral politics. When the destroyers are sworn in, they will destroy … period. And they will not care that we had more votes or that the people voting for them, voting in anger and frustration and sometimes ignorance or reflex, had no clue what they were doing to themselves.

            What the Democratic Party – with our prodding – does in 2017 to get us ready for the 2017 governors races and the 2018 midterms will define whose America we are. I hope we choose decency and democracy.

          • dbtheonly

            Or whine about the Electoral College.

            Clinton carried two States between the Appalachians and the Rockies.

          • In order to change the Electoral College, you need to change the Constitution. Which point often gets ignored. In order to to that, you have to control Congress and 2/3’rds of the states.

        • dbtheonly

          Read through your cited article.

          It strikes me that the key question is whether “Trumponomics” is going to work. The RWMO had been complaining for years about government overreach. Are they right? Is the EPA “holding back business” or are they protecting our environment? Is OSHA adding to useless regulations or protecting worker safety?

          If Trump is right and the economy suddenly springs to life amidst sunshine and flowers; then nothing here is relevant. If we start to see pollution disasters and mine cave-ins before summer; then the goal becomes to give Trump and the Republicans no place to hide. They own this.

          Would disagree with the 50 State Strategy only to the extent of pointing out there is a 51st entity. I truly believe we need to go back to President Johnson’s idea of “Leave no Voter behind.”

          • The reason Trumponomics won’t work is quite simply, the conservatives’ beloved “free market.” For example, the coal miners in the Appalachian region will never see those jobs return, for reasons that have nothing to do with government regulation. First, automation has replaced a very large percentage of minors, second, the coal in that area is expensive to mine and not of the most desired quality, and finally, natural gas is cheaper.

      • Atlan

        My hope is that said ‘Left’ (purity edition) can shut the fuck up and admit that what they’ve been doing the past eight years helped bring Trump in, as well as (maybe) stop what they’re doing culturally (another reason why Trump won, IMHO.)

  4. Rascim played a huge part in Trump winning placating to racists is a non starter.

  5. POC are the base of the Democratic Party what you’re saying is abandon identity politics it’s very funny when whites do it it’s OK but as soon as we want what’s rightfully ours it’s a problem.

    • No, I didn’t say that at all. What I said was that we can’t ignore that rural areas are facing many of the same issues as urban areas, and progressives have done nothing to make addressing them as common theme. In fact, most of those issues impact rural POC far worse than they do any urban POC, so it’s not just “identity politics.”

      • dbtheonly

        Does the phrase, “We want what’s rightfully ours.”, sit as poorly with you as it does me?

        It’s a real turnoff for me. Probably over the very existence of an “ours” and “theirs”.

        In fact, I’ll go further. There is nothing that POC, however defined, and there’s a lot I’m giving away there, “deserve” that non-POC don’t also “deserve”. There is nothing that White People “deserve”; that Black People don’t also “deserve”. Unarmed Black guys getting shot by cops is not a “Black Problem”; it’s an all of us problem. Lousy public schools are not a “Black Problem”; they’re an all of us problem. Long lines at the voting booths… Substandard housing…

        • I understand what is meant by that, but I agree the phrasing is something that would put people’s backs up. My point is that a lot of what I’m seeing from various liberal blogs, even ones I like, is a “bunker” mentality, and this is a mistake. I am not for a minute saying that we should pander to racism (as it gets put a lot), but that our structures of government and political reality means that unless we figure out how to swing what used to be Democratic states and areas back to that column, none of the demands are going to get met.

          • dbtheonly

            Indeed, but it’s that definition of racism that would seem to be the sticking point.

            Whether too expansive from the Left, or too restrictive from the Right, we need a clean definition. Something beyond, “He doesn’t agree with me.”

    • As a follow-up to my previous reply, in order for your identity politics to work, and for you to get what is rightfully yours, you need to have enough other groups with issues in common with yours – if not always your specific ones – in order for you to move the legal and political sides on that. That means you need to have a party that advocates for your interests in addition to those others in control of local, state, and national government. Right now, we don’t have that, because the other party controls them, and they’re in the process of taking yours away. So rather than just scream about pandering to racism, start thinking in terms of what else should we be pushing there that would get them on our side.