In America, perception is reality, and the perception is that America is too dangerous, too expensive and worst of all – out of control
by Kevin Ellis
Whatever happens on Election Day, Democrats will be looking into a very large mirror and asking some very tough questions, or at least they should. Every indicator – polls, social anecdotes, spending by the political parties, on-street interviews – tells us the election is swinging Republican. And even if it doesn’t, the fact that terrible Republican candidates came this close should embarrass Democrats.
How is this possible? Why is a thoughtful Democrat like Raphael Warnock fatally close to losing to a former football player who threatened to kill his wife and encouraged and paid for a mistress’ abortion, all while professing to oppose all abortions? And how is a TV doctor, who doesn’t even live in Pennsylvania, votes away from winning a U.S. Senate seat?
Why is this happening? How could we let this happen?
I can just hear Joe Biden discussing this state of events in the White House.
“It’s not fair,’’ he might say, “we have cut the deficit, forgiven student debt, saved Ukraine, delivered COVID relief and billions in infrastructure spending that will create jobs. What else do they want me to do?’’
You are right, Mr. President but here is the problem. You have lost the battle for the allegiance of the American voter. It may not be fair. It may not even be accurate, but it is increasingly true.
And it’s because Democrats have a historic desire to be “right.” Their message ping pongs between the economy, LGBTQ rights, infrastructure and climate change. Republicans, on the other hand, don’t care about being right, or fighting fair. They care about winning. It is this difference that leads to the complicated and confusing Democratic message vs. the clear and simple Republican one.
Republican Message: “Raphael Warnock and Joe Biden don’t care about crime or the police. They care about transgender locker rooms and Critical Race Theory. Elect Republicans and you will be safe walking to your car after work.’’
Democratic Message: “We care about police and we care about public safety. We just think public safety is a more nuanced problem than putting people in jail when they live in poverty and suffer from mental illness and drug addiction. Oh and we care about climate change.’’
You get the picture.
Even with laughingly bad candidates like Dr. Oz, Herschel Walker and JD Vance, Republicans are poised to take over the House and Senate, where truly excellent public servants, like former CIA officer Abigail Spamberger in Virginia, could lose their seats.
As Trump, the Jan. 6 riots, and the entire right-wing media system prove, it’s not the truth that matters, but the narrative. The attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband was an inside job! Crime is out of control! Gas prices are killing us!
It doesn’t matter that the numbers prove crime and gas have gone down, or that the president doesn’t have much to do with prices. In America, perception is reality, and the perception is that America is too dangerous, too expensive and worst of all – out of control.
Take Burlington, VT. Every single time it comes up in conversation, friends immediately say they will not walk alone after dark. They talk about how the City Council spends more time banning AirBnB and talking about race and identity than dealing with the recent shootings in the new park outside City Hall. This may not be true but it’s what people talk about. And these people are Democrats!
In Montpelier, where I live, a section of the bike path has been taken over by men and women who camp out there day and night. They are sometimes menacing to walkers, bikers and nearby residents. The city is struggling to deal with the problem. I have come to believe that just searching for the accurate words to describe these folks is why the election is going so poorly for Democrats. While writing this blog post I spent 10 whole minutes trying to respectfully describe these people. This led me down a rabbit hole of cause and effect. Why are they in this predicament? Well, lack of housing and mental health services, Big Pharma drug peddling, education, and just plain bad luck.
But in those 10 minutes, the Republicans spent millions on TV ads framing these same people as a threat to the average American trying to get to work. Guess which method is more effective.
In New York State, Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul might lose to Republican Lee Zeldin, an election denier hammering away at the crime issue. Democrats say crime isn’t really that bad in New York. By the numbers, they are right. But numbers don’t matter when riding the subway at 1 in the morning. My son, who lives in NYC, avoids the subway. People stand back from the platform in fear of being pushed onto the tracks.
In 2020, Trump lost New York by 23 points. If Lee Zeldin wins the governorship, it won’t be because of the numbers, it will be because of the narrative. The narrative the Republicans control.
The Democratic Party is caught, as always, between its desire to do the right thing, the moral thing and winning. Republicans don’t have to fight this inner battle. They never have. They don’t have to fight with themselves, they just have to fight us. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
This time, for these midterm elections, it is working. Big time.
The author is a Montpelier resident, president of the Board of Directors of the non-profit Downstreet Housing & Community Development, board member of the Vermont Journalism Trust and Chelsea Green Publishing, and a former State House lobbyist and daily newspaper reporter. Republished from his blog, Conflict of Interest.