President Barack Obama, as part of his eulogy of former Senate majority leader Harry Reid said, “in a battle between perfection and progress, Harry always chose progress.”
Democratic Congressman Jared Golden, from Maine’s rural, pro-trump Second District, said in recent published interview, “people are not voting against their own self-interest. They know what’s important to them.” Congressman Golden went on to say that Democrats have “developed too much of an attitude that anyone who disagrees with us is just not smart.”
I was at a Democratic Party meeting in suburban Columbus last month. In her remarks opening the meeting, ODP Chair Liz Walters said, (I’m paraphrasing), “we cannot let people from outside Ohio define the Ohio Democratic brand for Ohioans.”
Clermont County shares some characteristics with Maine’s Second District. Both have homogeneous populations. Guns are popular, and widely owned, in both. trump has repeatedly carried both. A majority of the voters do not share all our Democratic priorities. Much of Ohio has more in common with Maine’s Second District than it does with New York, Chicago, or San Francisco.
So, what is my point? My point is that, if we seek perfection in the sense of seeking to get Clermont County voters to adopt all our Democratic Party priorities, we will not make any progress. By telling voters to focus on things that are important to us but not to them, we are telling them they are just not as smart as we are. Talking down to people is never effective persuasion. This is not to say that we should abandon the values which brought us to the Democratic Party. However, we cannot allow Fox “News,” or Democrats from large coastal cities for that matter, to define our brand for the voters whom we need to reach. We need to define our brand in a way that sells.
What should we do?
First, we should spend a little less time on getting out our “message” and more time on listening. Do we really know what matters to most Clermont County voters? Do we know how they, as opposed to we, define their self-interest? I think not.
We need to understand what is important to the voters whom we need to vote for our candidates. We cannot be dismissive of their views, even those we find repugnant. Rather, we need to understand the concerns which drive those views. Once we understand those concerns, we need to develop a message which effectively communicates how Democrats will address those concerns. An effective message is one which speaks to the audience’s concerns.
We also need to be open to reorganizing our priorities. We need to find the issues on which our positions align with the views of Clermont County voters. Once we find those issues, we need to emphasize that alignment. These may be local issues rather than the national issues. We may spend more time talking about development in Union Township or traffic in Eastgate than gun control.
Why should we de-emphasize things that are most important to us? Because we have a credibility problem. Thanks to Fox “News” and trump, people do not believe us. We need to have voters hear us saying things that make sense to them to establish our credibility. Once we’ve done that, we can start talking about the issues on which they viscerally disagree with us. Leading with the issues on which people disagree with us turns them away before we’ve said anything else.
If we seek perfection in the sense of an electorate which agrees with 100% of our positions, we will never make progress. Our county and our state both desperately need Democrats to make progress. To make progress, we need to talk a bit less and listen, actively, a lot more. Then, we need to work with what we hear.