Monday, June 5, 2017

When Democrats Listen

I live in a bubble.  When I get together with my friends, we share the latest Trump horror stories.  We talk about our addiction to television news, from Morning Joe to Lawrence O'Donnell.  We complain about the commentators, as though they are family we love but are so close to that all their annoying tics have gotten under our skin.

When I went to Chicago over Memorial Day weekend for a family get-together, I was surprised to find that the dozen or so family members, mostly liberals, spent little time talking about the orange-haired idiot.  We talked about food, restaurants and cooking.  We talked about our gardens.  We talked about music and movies.  We talked about vacations.

We also talked about the weather, jobs, health care, traffic, educational plans, and communities.  Which is as close to politics as we got.  Health insurance and global warming were the two actual political conversations I recall, and both were about our personal experiences, and were animated.  And by the way, Chicago was not burning; it was lovely and had experienced a warm winter and early spring.  Which fact led to the talk about concerns for climate change.

When I got home and began to get re-acclimated to my political environment, I learned that I had missed a couple of items, like the Trump shove, but the situation hadn't changed much.  The Trump family is still getting richer from his presidency, he continues to insult and alarm world leaders, Paul Ryan still spends his nights dreaming of a day when only the rich get tax breaks and government entitlements, and MSNBC still spends the entire day talking about Russia and Jim Comey, and nobody really knows what is happening politically in our fifty states.  Meanwhile, most Americans are trying to decide whether to pay for that home repair or their blood pressure meds this month.

The bucket of cold water on my return home was the interview I saw on one of the talk shows (entertainment as opposed to political) with our new DNC chair, Tom Perez.  As usual, neither he nor I could barely stay awake for his interview.  I tried reciting his canned lines along with him, but honestly couldn't care less.  Those actual people he talked about -- a popular go-to with Democratic politicians these days that is supposed to prove their relevance -- seemed to have less substance than Colbert's "cartoon Trump."

Which is a damned shame, because real people are hurting in America.  They may be watching Colbert, but I guarantee it is more for the host's comedic barbs than anything new and exciting Perez might say.  And if I sit there getting angry at Perez, what do you think those non-activist voters feel?

And that in a nutshell is what is wrong with the Democratic Party.

We are the party that is afraid of passion.  We tiptoe around anger.  We equivocate when asked if the Trump administration has committed crimes, or if the family has broken laws in its business dealings.  We are the party of "let's wait and see where the investigation leads."

Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken scare party leaders.  There aren't even words to express how badly the party handled Bernie Sanders' run for the presidency.  Keith Ellison, not a socialist but a progressive, and a Muslim for-gods-sake, could not win the DNC chair because he was too way out there for our party.

I think the labels are all wrong.  The Democratic Party is the party of conservatives, those who are stuck in the way things are and are afraid to suggest change.  We all love Bill Clinton, but he compromised our values all over the place.  Barack Obama had the country eating out of his hands when he took office, but from Timothy Geithner to the Affordable Care Act he refused to entertain radical ideas.  He neither held criminals on Wall Street to account for their ruin of so many lives, nor did he even bring up the idea of single-payer health insurance.

Typical Americans don't get into the weeds on what is going on in government.  They mostly work, run errands, try to spend time with family, and when they can, escape with TV or social media.  They only have time left for the headlines.  Which is why there was the vague but persistent attitude that Hillary could not be trusted -- republicans had made her a villain for thirty years, and nobody had time to wonder why all this time under the magnifying glass had produced no crime.  All the republicans had to do is repeat "Benghazi" and "emails" daily, hold investigations and hearings that came up with nothing, and never ever have to prove a thing.

The thing about Trump is that, stupid as he is, he is unafraid.  The other thing about Trump is that, stupid as he is, he has a paranoid, narcissistic ability to target fears and weaknesses in others.  The sixth-grade bully that called me fat grew up to be Donald Trump.  He knew how to attack and then flatter those who might otherwise have threatened him.  And the third thing about Trump is that, under it all, he is a common man.

Donald Trump looks at his adoring audience and really (honestly) sees himself.  That's how he connects.  He feels picked on and mistreated.  He believes that he is the victim.  He doesn't have big ideas, he just thinks he does.  But it turns out that that is enough for most people.  The ones who only have time for the headlines.

Where does that leave Democrats?  How do we win the contest against the lying bully?

We listen.

When candidates spend all that time and energy knocking on doors, don't tell people what you plan on doing for them.  Ask them what is important to them.  Learn how to talk in simple statements.  It comes naturally to Donald Trump, not so much to you and me.  Smart people don't necessarily know big words, and mostly they don't talk in big words.  They don't talk theory.  They honestly don't care about who made deals with Russia, and they would be happy to let the Trump family own America, if only they can have job security and health care.  Maybe enough money to take a vacation.

The challenge is in bringing the horrors that are going on in Washington home to people.  The successful Democrats, Elizabeth Warren and Keith Ellison, are able to do that.  They do it because they really understand.  If Perez understands, it is in a theoretical way, and that shows.  Elizabeth Warren seems to really know what it is like to have to wrestle with the bills that come in non-stop.  And she is passionate about fighting for us.  For her, it is not theoretical.  She has seen and heard the way we live.

I know people get exhausted with their daily email barrage.  Every now and then, when I send out my blog, I will tell people to let me know if they want to be removed from my list.  The last time I did this, one of the two people who made the request was a leader in the Democratic Party.  Yes, I have been a pain in the ass about the party.  And I imagine some of my criticisms may be unwarranted.  But it seems to me that a party leader could be not just more tolerant of criticism, but could actually be curious about a critique by a fellow Dem.  Y'all know I attack you because I love you.  I really believe that we are the party that could represent the people and make the country better.

My point being that the easiest part of engaging voters (and that IS what we all say we are trying to do) is by responding to them when they speak.

Jim Clyburn made a half-hearted attempt before the last election to make it sound like he wanted to hear from us, through email and social media.  Turns out he didn't.  He wants donations and he wants us to vote for him, the latter which he is pretty sure is going to happen anyway.  He was once a hero, now he is a politician, and a lackluster one at that.

Anybody running for office, or working for the Democratic Party, or holding office, needs to respond to every contact by a constituent, with the possible exception of the obvious crackpot.  Find a literate and caring volunteer who can send a simple but intelligent reply to an email or Facebook message.  Return calls.  Return calls.  Return calls.

We voters don't want a ten-year-plan.  We don't need a complicated theoretical rationale for your stand on the issues.  We need to primarily know that you hear and understand what our concerns are.  Then we need to know what is going on right now that is working or not working (and jeez, don't forget to tell us who is responsible).  And finally, what you will do to ease our concerns.

Dems are currently throwing numbers around about how many people will lose their health insurance in ten years.  Republicans know that all they have to do is make their damage happen gradually enough that they will still get elected next time around.  With the aid of the insurance industry, premiums might even go down a few dollars for a couple of years before they start their inevitable climb.  And before you know it, by 2026, 23 million will have lost their coverage.  And to prove my earlier point, how many of you actually clicked on that link to read about the numbers?

Politicians talk.  They send out fund-raising emails telling us that terrible things will happen if we don't vote for them.  Those emails mostly go into the trash folder.

Candidates knock on doors and make phone calls.  Most of us are polite and even say they plan on voting for them, and then we do what we were going to do anyway.

What can change a vote is if you take the time to listen.  What is extraordinary from my point of view is when a candidate sends a personal email.  And what has happened to me a couple of times in the early days of an election cycle, and I can tell you is a game-changer, is when a candidate calls in response to my email, and listens to me, and seems to share my concerns.

Being a life-long Democrat, believing we share common goals, witnessing the destructive acts of the other party, I have to assume that those conversations should be a piece of cake.  If you really, passionately, actively listen to us.

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