The Big Picture

It is useful on occasion to step back from the practical concerns of recruiting, trying to elect candidates and the latest Republican outrages. Instead think about why we are Democrats and what we ultimately seek to achieve. A very helpful tool for framing those questions is a 137 page book by J.M. Purvis, Democrats 101: A Primer for Us 

Mr. Purvis’s basic premise is that “[c]ore beliefs, . . . define us as Democrats.” What we should be focused on, in Mr. Purvis’s view goes beyond elections and specific policies.  “This is about the way the American people perceive us as a party, their gut sense of who we are.”

Mr. Purvis identifies the central principle of Republican conservatism, which he traces back to Barry Goldwater’s book The Conscience of a Conservative, as the “wealthy class” are “responsible for the greatness of America and that maintaining absolute freedom for them and their businesses [is] essential to the country’s continued greatness.”

Mr. Purvis also argues that, starting with Nixon’s 1968 “Southern Strategy,” Republicans made a “fundamental realization: fear beats ideas. Fear beats everything, a raw emotion that appeals across traditional political groups.” Since that realization, Republicans have relied upon “a message of pure negative emotion.”

We can see ample evidence to validate Mr. Purvis’s conclusions in Ohio and in Clermont County. While Democrats do well in our diverse urban counties, we lose massively in the homogeneous parts of the State, like Clermont County. We wonder why a majority of Clermont Countians vote against their self-interest and for Republicans who work to channel wealth away from average Ohioans into the hands of those who are already wealthy.

The answer is fear. Many Ohioans have been conditioned to believe that people who look different than them aim to take what little they still have, and that Democrats aim to help them. That is why it makes perverse sense for Republican County Commissioner Claire Corcoran to post signs urging people to “Stop The Madness” by voting Republican even though Republicans have controlled our county and our state for decades.

To Republicans the “Madness” to which Commissioner Corcoran refers is not the private sector’s devotion to profit over the environment and human safety, exemplified by the recent train derailment which released huge quantities of toxins in East Palestine, Ohio. The “Madness” is not the mass shootings which are reported on an almost daily basis in places ranging from Michigan State University to a lunar New Year dance in California to Dayton, Ohio. The “Madness” is not state government leaders secretly taking money in return for passing laws that force every Ohioan to pay to support a mismanaged private utility company (a subsidy which, among other things, made the Zimmer plant in Moscow uncompetitive).

To Republicans the “Madness” is far worse. The “Madness” is “those people”, people who don’t look like you, who don’t sound like you, people who love differently than you do. We don’t know what those people will do if they gain power, but we know those people are different than us so whatever they do won’t be good for us. Who wants to give “those people” power at least equivalent to ours? Democrats.

Mr. Purvis argues that Democrats’ core values, if presented accurately, have an emotional appeal that outweighs Republican fearmongering. His argument is that “[e]lections are all about the emotional perception of who we are” and that Democrats have failed to present our values in ways which reach voters on an emotional level.

His book proposes a “Democratic Creed.” He summarizes the Creed as making “Freedom, Justice, and Opportunity as reality for all.“ He does not insist that his formulation of our Creed is necessarily correct but expressly labels it “a work in progress.”  There may be better ways to express our Creed.  However, I think Mr. Purvis’s basic point correct: we must constantly present our Democratic values in a way which has emotional and not just intellectual appeal.

Mr. Purvis’s book is published in a small, pocket size and is only 137 pages of text.  It is highly readable.  You may not agree with everything Mr. Purvis says.  However, our values are under a more concerted, and effective, attack now than at any time in my lifetime.  Reading Mr. Purvis’s book is a good way to focus on our Democratic values and how we should go about making those values reality.  J.M. Purvis, Democrats 101: A Primer for Us, (Plainwords Press, 2021).

Stay safe.