Stuck in the mud
As expected, yesterday there was much talk about what the loss in Virginia meant for Democrats. The reality is, that no amount of talking, recrimination or soul searching will change the fact that the public is royally fed up with the Democrats and their squabbles. It has allowed the Republicans the drive a narrative of incompetence and Virginia was a reflection of that.
Yesterday, The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, failed to move to a debate on the Senate floor once again. I am at a total loss as to why Chuck Schumer keeps doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome. You don't have to be a political scientist to know that Republicans will NOT vote for federal legislation that will undo the hard work they have put into state level voter suppression. I had to smile at Mitch McConnell's statement that there is no evidence voting rights for minorities are being suppressed and he said it with a totally straight face. I don't have to remind anyone that this is a mission critical issue, but without Republican support, it's going nowhere.
Much is said about infrastructure. We remember the now comical 'Infrastructure weeks' that came and went under the Trump administration. Neither Party objects in principle to spending on infrastructure, the only debate is on how much. The current $1.2 trillion bill that was agreed back in August on a bipartisan basis, can at best be described as inadequate and yet, it is spoken of as some kind of groundbreaking spending program. To be fair, it is groundbreaking given that spending on infrastructure in recent history has lagged way behind requirements.
However, as an introduction to the history and nuance of infrastructure spending in the US, this short piece from theconversation.com is well worth a read.
A $1.2 trillion investment in infrastructure will create jobs and that's why the GOP is happy to participate in passing legislation. However, just to give you some insight into how the US measures up to other countries, you can see a graph here. Latest stats put the US at 39th in the world as a percentage of GDP spending on infrastructure. So it really is time to stop making the claims that the US is the greatest nation on earth. I'm sure if there was a ranking table for greed, profit and economic inequality, the US would be right up there, but the reality is, by almost all societal norms, the US is NOT the gold standard. Neither is it a gold standard for democracy. This isn't about me criticising the the US, it's about the fact that you simply can't effect change without first understanding that you have a problem. Constant living in denial, is the root of all the challenges faced at the moment. The system of government is so broken and under the influence of corporate interests. The current administration is paralysed by a system that has been stacked by the opposition to prevent them from legislating, unless they hold at least a 10 seat majority in the Senate. This is something the GOP knows is a very remote possibility.
Right now, it is evident that many Dem activists are frustrated and that is not unreasonable given the failure of factions within their party to come together on key legislation. I certainly am of the opinion that they have not handled the current situation well. However, just remember they are only able to legislate within a system that is stacked against them. Their thin majorities in the House and Senate are a real impediment to progress. I am more angry about the way in which Dems have handled the situation. Whether you like it or not, this asks questions of leadership. The reality is, it appears now that the infrastructure bill will pass the Senate possibly this week, but NOT in tandem with the Build Back Better bill. It is likely this will move into an extended negotiation period in the Senate that will likely see it diluted further. This will only serve to create more division in the party. Politically, this is a disaster because had the Infrastructure bill been passed in August, then the campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey would have been much more likely to have had a more positive outcome. If you add the fact that the debt ceiling issue is about to raise its ugly head again, yet more chaos is set to ensue.
In politics momentum and messaging is all. The fact is, you are only as good as your latest legislation. The American Rescue Plan through lack of messaging, is effectively history which has now passed Americans by. The stalling of Build Back Better has simply served to drive down poll numbers and allow the GOP to plant an incompetence seed that frankly has resonated well with voters. In a normal electoral cycle, even if there are no big negatives for the incumbent administration, seats are often lost to the opposition in both houses. The harsh reality is, what does not get done before the end of 2022, may well not get done at all. If that were the only problem it would be one thing. However, given the Republican shift to an authoritarian agenda, there is a real possibility that they will set a path to legislate Democrats out of the political process altogether, particularly if they take both houses. So the danger for democracy itself is a reality that MUST NOT be ignored.
The problem that Democrats now have, is that the Build Back Better brand has been tainted by the debacle of the public spats over the policy. It is now not seen by many as Build Back Better, but rather as the Social Spending Plan and that is a very dangerous label, because that will become the Socialist Spending Plan in the GOP messaging that will follow. I listened to an interview with Pramila Jayapal on CNN last night that shocked me. The progressive caucus appears to be in denial of the impact that their very public fight with 'moderates' in the party has had. She implied that poll numbers don't matter at this stage. Tthat the loss of Virginia was a blip that can be overcome, if she and her colleagues can just get their policy agenda over the line.. Do I agree with their policy objectives, absolutely I do. Do I agree with her assessment that the American people will simply forget, once Dems start delivering a now heavily diluted policy agenda? Absolutely not. For me, it demonstrates a disconnect from the reality of the political situation they find themselves in. What could have been a big win, is now a poor imitation of transformational policy that's about to get bogged down in the Senate.
This is where I pivot back to messaging and say, the purpose of messaging surprising though it may seem, is to keep people informed and that my friend is where Dems have come up short far too often. Communication, communication, communication, that's the key to a good campaign. To sell a message you need it to be memorable. Build Back Better was a great message, but now it has far too many negative connotations. I personally like 'Make America Care Again', but I'm not sure caring is even relatable for many in the new 'me, me, me' society. It's something I am in deep thought about at the moment, but whatever is the final message, a campaign needs to be based on hope not fear. That's what made 'Yes We Can' such a fantastic campaign message. There is little point in engaging in negative campaigning because the GOP is a world leader. Just look what happened in Virginia when Dems tried to paint Youngkin as a Trump mini me, it was an unmitigated disaster. I believe that the only way forward is to link whatever the final policy agenda turns out to be, to a single central message with a total focus on the benefits to the American people. That message can then be punctuated with the fact that the GOP HAS NO POLICIES. The big potential challenge, is that the the GOP is going to try and make it an election based on culture and not policy, so that is going add yet another dynamic to an already challenging campaign.
As things stand from a messaging perspective, we are in a holding pattern. Until the policy offering is finalised, we are glued to the spot. However, if infrastructure is passed, then at least we will have something to run with. Hopefully by the end of the week we will know where we are, but the clock is ticking. I think its a case of don't lose faith, we can still make this happen, but to do that the Dems need to give us all a fighting chance to sell a message.
Good to talk, let's catch up tomorrow when I want to talk about how we can sell the infrastructure bill. Stay safe out there.