Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Missouri Democrats' Head-in-the-Sand Strategy

The St. Louis Beacon reports on Proposition C:
Democrats had adopted what amounted to a silent treatment strategy, apparently hoping that ignoring the ballot measure would lead to a lower turnout by Republicans and Tea Party members who had been energized by enactment of the health reform legislation.
This strikes me as a remarkably dumb strategy and one that could be seen to be obviously failing at least a month ago. The conservative base has been fired up about Proposition C for a long time: what possible evidence was there that Democratic involvement would have gotten them any more motivated? The Right marches to their own drums: they rely on their own media for information. It's just silly to think that Democrats encouraging their own base to vote would have made the Prop C supporters even more motivated.

But more importantly, Missouri Democrats just handed National Republicans a golden talking point on a silver platter. Of course Proposition C was going to pass, but its passage by a landslide victory 71-29 has a dramatic effect on the national narrative. NPR, the New York Times, MSNBC: they all have stories saying that health care reform got its ass kicked in its first "popularity contest."
You know Fox News and the conservative media will be all over this. And all of the conservative pundits who appear on talk shows can hold up this huge landslide as (false) evidence that Americans are opposed to the reforms passed into law. Yes, Missouri Democrats can point out that they didn't really take the election seriously (as evidenced by the fact that prominent Democrats basically did nothing to educate voters about Prop C), and they can point out that the ballot will be struck down in court since federal law trumps state law, but I just don't think those talking points will play well in the national media. We're used to politicians giving excuses, and in general we've been trained not to take them seriously (even if they may sometimes be true).

This fits into a larger problem of Democrats in Missouri (and a lot of other places) being afraid to articulate what they actually stand for. It would be very easy for them to point out the reasons for the mandate: in order for insurance companies to be able to afford to insure people with pre-existing conditions, they need to also cover healthy people. It would be easy for them to point out that the federal government would subsidize health insurance for those who can't afford it. But they (in general) preferred to hide under their desks and hope that somehow everyone would just forget about the proposition or forget that Democrats were behind health care reform. Truly bizarre reasoning.

This also was a missed opportunity to educate the public about the broader health care reform package. I wish there could have been single-payer or a public option, but even without these features the fact is that the reforms were designed to help people. It may not work perfectly and likely will have to be tweaked in the future after we see exactly how it plays out, but there are at least defensible reasons for the various provisions.

Democrats just seem to be trained to instinctively clam up and act ashamed of being anything remotely close to liberal. And not only that, they often seem to go out of their way to distance themselves from people who actually do defend liberal ideas and liberal policies. Meanwhile conservative politicians like Peter Kinder and Ed Martin constantly link to blog posts by insane far-right extremists like Jim Hoft. So Democrats run from the Left, while Republicans embrace the right, and the conversation gradually shifts further and further to the Right.

Anyway, my rant has wandered quite a bit from its starting point. Basically, I'm very disappointed by the lack of effort from the Missouri Democratic Party and by their lack of understanding of how the right-wing and the media work (hint: the "if we don't talk about it, it will go away" strategy never works). If they are not going to stand up for their own policies, then they need to at least empower the groups who will.

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