“Six percent of adults in this country identify as ‘progressive.’ Only 11 or 12 percent of Democrats identify as progressive.”
Last November, Democratic strategist James Carville received significant backlash from the radical progressive left when he blamed “stupid wokeness” for Democrat electoral losses, particularly in Virginia. He wasn’t wrong.
And in an interview this week with Vox’s Sean Illing, he said essentially the same thing, though in slightly less stark terms. Noting that progressives constitute a very tiny fraction of both the Democratic Party and the general electorate, Carville suggested the outlandish idea that Democrats stop listening to them and begin listening to the majority of voters.
Look, I’m a liberal Democrat. Always have been. But some of these people bitching about Manchin can’t see political reality straight. Six percent of adults in this country identify as “progressive.” Only 11 or 12 percent of Democrats identify as progressive. So let’s just meet in the middle and say something like 7 or 8 percent of the country agrees with the progressive left. This ain’t a goddamn debate anymore. Someone like Manchin is closer to the mainstream than a lot of these people think, and pretending like he isn’t won’t help the cause.
. . . . First of all, like I said, only 11 percent of the Democratic Party is progressive. It’s the smallest part of the party. But the problem is they make 70 percent of the noise —
Yes, but also in newsrooms and academia and all over the foundations. All I can tell you is that this is what people hear. And what it’s done is weaken our political immune system. People believe this is what the party represents. “They want to defund the police.” “They want open borders.” “They want to empty the jails.” It’s defining the party.
He’s right, of course, but Democrats won’t hear it. They’ve convinced themselves that because some harebrained idea of their radical fringe “polls well,” they have a “mandate.” They never pay attention to the other polls that show that Americans top concerns are—as usual—the economy and jobs. We are also now seeing Bidenflation among voters’ top concerns.
And of course they never consider where we are as a country and how the electorate prioritizes issues. Sure, “free pre-K” polls well; it sounds great. But then add that taxes will go up, now in the midst of horrible inflation that is hitting Americans hard, and those polled will not be so enthusiastic.
This is always the case, when the American economy is working, when Americans have jobs and can pay their bills, they might be feeling fat and happy enough to consider more social spending, but it’s not a priority for most people, and it’s not at all popular when the economy is in a downward spiral and people have to choose between filling their gas tank and putting food on the table.
It’s like asking, “would you like to have a free Lamborghini?”; sure, that’s going to poll great. If you add that they will have to pay for it through higher taxes and more inflation, suddenly they are happy with their Honda Civic.
Remember how popular Black Lives Matter was at first? That lasted for about a minute because once the full cost of that disastrous anti- and unAmerican Marxist violent totalitarian movement was seen and felt, it was all over.
This disconnect between what sounds good in a poll question devoid of context and impact on average Americans and what Americans think when they find out what their shiny new fad or latest leftist boondoggle will cost is exactly what is dragging Democrats down. And that is what Carville is warning them about when he says to stop listening to the incompetent fantasists on the radical left fringe.
This is when the interview gets even more interesting. Illing just can’t understand why Democrat “messaging” isn’t working and even goes so far as to bemoan the fact that “Republicans have built a self-contained media ecosystem that delivers their version of reality straight to their voters.”
Okay, I’ll take the bait here because you’re hitting on a huge complaint of mine and I don’t think a lot of people — you included — are really grappling with it. You’re talking about perceptions and narratives and how the party is “defined.” And you want Democrats to speak plainly and not say and do things most voters don’t like so that they can salvage their national brand. Fair enough.
But I’m not at all convinced that Democrats can message their way out of this problem. Republicans have built a self-contained media ecosystem that delivers their version of reality straight to their voters, whereas the Dems still rely on traditional media to communicate their message. That’s the whole damn game, James. In the end, what voters hear is more important than what Democrats say, and they’re not hearing what Democrats want them to hear.
Imagine Republican audacity! After decades of being lied about and demonized by legacy media, Republicans finally figured out how to get their message to voters without being filtered through partisan media propagandists.
Banning and silencing conservative voices, telling them if they don’t like it to build their own, resulted in a “self-contained media ecosystem” that bypasses leftist censors. Who could have seen that coming? Oh, right, everyone—except the geniuses who dreamed it up and imagined that we’d shrug and say, “gee, I can’t tweet or use Facebook. Guess I’ll just watch some more Matlock.”
Carville lets Illing waffle on for a bit (read the whole interview) before cutting to the chase. No, Carville says, you can’t “message” away real-world problems, what the heck is wrong with you? Okay, he doesn’t exactly say it that way.
Look, there are also real problems. We have 7 percent inflation, right? We’ve had rising crime. The pandemic just won’t go away. The Russians are threatening to invade Ukraine. What people have is a sense of disorder, and that will kill you every time in politics.
Now, most people don’t think we’re going to have 7 percent inflation by November. A lot of people think that we’ll turn a corner with the pandemic after this latest burst. And if we’re still looking at high Covid rates and high inflation in November, Democrats are going to lose anyway.
But yes, right now what the general public is reacting to, more than Democratic messaging, is a sense of disorder in the country. It’s just hard to break through [with] a message in that kind of environment.
Illing doesn’t hear him, of course, and starts burbling about J6. Carville is not interested in that dead-end and tries to steer him back to sanity.
Part of Biden’s lack of power is because the Republicans see that the Democrats are whiny. They can feel that weakness in the Democratic coalition. And I’ve been dealing with it since the ’80s. There’s a significant part of the Democratic Party that doesn’t mind losing if it allows them to be pure. We’re obsessed with purity. That has got to stop.
We’ve got to do whatever it takes to get more political power and that means we’ve got to win some elections. Just win some goddamn elections. This is not a time to complain. It’s a time to act. So let’s talk about real things, in real language, to real people. And if we do that, we can still save the country.
Winning elections is a good thing for a political party to do? Who knew?
But Republicans needn’t worry, Democrats are not going to get it together any time soon. They have a nation to “fundamentally transform” against that nation’s wishes; they are far too busy to listen to voters or win elections.
After all, Carville notes, the radical left is “addicted to hopeless causes” and only gets excited about elections they have zero hope of winning.
Just look at how Democrats organize and spend money. For Christ’s sake, [South Carolina Democrat] Jaime Harrison raised over $100 million only to lose his Senate race to Lindsey Graham by 10 points. Amy McGrath runs for Senate in Kentucky and raises over $90 million only to get crushed by Mitch McConnell.
They were always going to lose those races, but Democrats keep doing this stupid shit. They’re too damn emotional. Democrats obsess over high-profile races they can’t win because that’s where all the attention is. We’re addicted to hopeless causes.
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