I generally try to stay away from politics on this blog. But I’m obsessed with Democratic messaging — mainly, how bad it usually is — so, with the primary season heating up, let me play amateur political strategist for a few minutes.
Like many liberal Democrats, I’m constantly frustrated at the way the party has allowed the Republicans to define the debate on so many issues that, by all rights, ought to swing in the Democrats’ favor. I wish the party would go on offense, sharpen its messaging, and redefine the debate in ways that align them with the great majority of Americans.
Crime, for example. I cannot understand why Democrats are constantly forced to defend their record on “law and order,” when the obvious reason for the upsurge in mass shootings and gun violence is — what else? — too many guns. And yet Republicans are the ones blocking even the smallest, common-sense, widely popular gun-control measures. They are the pro-crime party.
Similarly, why should Democrats have to defend their record on the pandemic, when it’s the Republicans who have dragged their feet, or outright opposed, virtually every measure — vaccinations, mask mandates — aimed at bringing it under control? Indeed, it’s hardly too cynical to point out that the GOP has all the political incentive to make sure the pandemic doesn’t end before the November elections. They are the pro-pandemic party.
And the fact that Republicans are nominating election-deniers like Doug Mastriano for Pennsylvania governor should be a warning sign for everyone, Republicans and Democrats alike. Will you really cast your vote for a candidate whose position is that, if the results go the wrong way, your vote won’t count? Republicans are the anti-democracy party.
And then there’s the one issue where the messaging shouldn’t be hard at all: the likely Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Abortion, I’m convinced, will be the chief motivator for Democratic voters in November — far more so than for Republicans.
Here’s why: Abortion is almost unique among issues dividing the country, in that it’s the only one I can think of where the Republican position is not based on self-interest. People support tougher policing, for example, because they’re worried about crime in their neighborhood. They’re upset about illegal immigration because they fear immigrants will take away jobs — or even replace white Americans altogether. Mask mandates? An infringement on my personal freedom. Spending more money to help poor people? Not with my tax dollars.
But abortion is different. The opposition is based on moral and religious principles (“abortion is murder”); the self-interest factor is all on the other side. That is, overturning Roe will have no impact whatsoever on women who oppose abortion; it will only affect others. And those others — the women who want an abortion, in states where it becomes difficult or impossible to obtain — will be impacted profoundly.
I hear lots of debate over whether abortion or inflation will be the deciding issue for voters in November. But there’s a big difference. Yes, people are unhappy about inflation, and may want to blame the party in charge (Democrats) for it. But does anyone really think that electing more Republicans will suddenly bring down gas prices, end supply-chain problems, or change any of the other factors (most of them out of any elected official’s control) that have led to rising prices? It’s mainly a protest vote, with little practical impact.
With abortion, however, your vote will have a direct and immediate effect: i.e., more Republicans in office will mean more states that outlaw or severely restrict abortion. Indeed, Republicans are being pressured by their base into advocating the most extreme anti-abortions positions, such as eliminating exceptions for rape and incest — positions that, we know from the polls, are opposed by the vast majority of Americans.
So, as awful as overturning Roe will be, it is a perfect political trifecta for the Democrats. It’s a gut-level issue that affects millions of people in a direct, personal way. Public opinion is overwhelmingly on the side of the Democrats. And how you vote will make a real, demonstrable difference.
If the Democrats can keep hammering on that, I think they might be able to pull victory from the jaws of defeat in November.