Like many liberal Democrats who had trouble sleeping during the Trump presidency, I found myself relying on MSNBC for nightly solace, shared outrage, and any signs of hope that the Trump nightmare might soon be over. Eventually it was. With the advent of the Biden administration, that nightly MSNBC fix began to seem less urgent. We had an election, the barbarians were ousted, and politics was boring again.
Well, that didn’t last long. The persistence of Trump’s fantasy that the election was stolen, along with the state voting restrictions being put in place as a result, has raised my anxiety level nearly to its Trump-era peak. And yet MSNBC doesn’t seem quite so comforting any more.
The network’s prime-time commentators are no less partisan, but the alarmist/boosterish tone now seem a little desperate, less reassuring. Joy Reid is too strident, with her righteous indignation and overheated, campaign-style rhetoric. Lawrence O’Donnell remains (as he was during the Trump years) the network’s chief morale officer — hailing each new Trump outrage, Washington Post scoop, or favorable court ruling as a sign that victory is just around the corner. Even Rachel Maddow, the most journalistic of the MSNBC crew (and its best communicator), has started to set my teeth on edge with her forced laughing jags when describing MAGA stunts like the bogus recount in Arizona’s Maricopa County. Whistling past the graveyard?
Instead, my media source of choice now is the one political podcast I have followed faithfully since midway through the Trump years: Pod Save America, the twice-weekly discussion show hosted by former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, with the help (in rotating combinations) of fellow Obama administration veterans Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor.
Their smart, irreverent, insider-savvy analysis of the political state of play is just as partisan as MSNBC’s, but more pragmatic and grounded in realpolitik. They are cheerleaders for the Biden agenda, but often critical on strategy, and sober-minded about the practical roadblocks — the fruitlessness of getting Mitch McConnell to deal in good faith, the Joe Manchin problem. They’re focused on tactics, not ideals; messaging, not rhetoric.
Last week, for example, Pfeiffer questioned the Democrats’ conventional wisdom that getting stuff done in Congress and running on legislative achievements is the key to success in the 2022 elections. Better, he suggested, to stress the dangers of a possible Republican return to power: “It may be that fear is a better emotional chord to hit, in this day and age, than gratitude.”
I have two reactions. First, I wish these guys were still in the White House. Second, I’d like to have a run at the message campaign. I think the Democrats could perform a bit of political ju-jitsu, co-opting the GOP’s fear campaign (crime in the streets! cancel culture! socialism!) and throwing it back at them. After all, the Dems have some real fears to exploit, rather than made-up ones. Let me put on my amateur-political-consultant hat for a moment and offer a few suggestions:
Crime in the streets? Be afraid, yes — not of “defunding the police” (which virtually no one is advocating), but of the explosion of guns in the streets. The vast majority of Americans think something should be done about it. If Republicans are in power, nothing will.
Hot enough for you? In an apocalyptic year of record-setting heat, wildfires, floods, and other global-warming disasters, can one political party really continue to put its head in the sand and insist there’s nothing to see here? The farmers who can’t get water for their crops, the people in the Pacific northwest sweating through 100-degree days, the Florida homeowners bracing for the next hurricane (and worried if their condos will remain standing) — they all know better. And the Democrats need to keep reminding them which party wants to do nothing.
Will your vote still count? The wave of voter suppression measures being enacted in GOP-led states around the country is certainly alarming. But I’m not so sure that hot-button rhetoric like “the new Jim Crow” is the best way to marshal opposition. The case against the new voting restrictions is more basic and universal. One party wants to make it harder for everyone to vote. And they’re gaming the system so that if the results don’t go their way — and the loser cries foul loudly enough — they can simply overturn them and pick a new winner. A return to the days when U.S. senators were chosen by state legislatures, not the people. That changed in 1913.
In other words, they’re coming to cancel your vote. Be afraid. Be very afraid.