The Midterm Election: Beware the “Normal” People

If you are reading this, you are not one of them. The “normal” people, for want of a better term, aren’t interested in politics. Normal people don’t see why anyone gets as excited as they do about candidates, parties, politics or issue positions. Normal people have their own ideas, but they aren’t passionate about them. They are passionate instead about their family, their hometown, their local football teams, and their hobbies. They vote – it’s something you are supposed to do – like going to church at least on holidays, or stopping at stop signs – but they don’t obsess over their vote; sometimes they don’t decide until they get to the booth.

Normal people used to find politics more interesting back when they could have a civil discussion about it. As I said, normal people have points of view. But they feel now its just so hysterical and overwrought – and that goes for both parties. Normal people may or may not have voted for Trump but now he seems to them to have lost it. A lot of people can get that way when they lose something they once had. But the Democrats are screaming all the time too. They are always crying racism, even when normal people don’t see it, not that they look that hard. And on abortion, they feel its better when abortion is legal because the sorrow of an unwanted pregnancy does happen, even among normal people. Abortion is not right, they say, but we can all forgive people who make mistakes. Still, women can walk, and talk; they haven’t lost control of their bodies and, really, people should be more careful.

As for the midterms, normal people aren’t sure what they will do. The Republicans really do seem to be on some kind of power trip but normal people have always worried about the Democrats on taxes, and the Democrats do seem to be on their own kind of power trip too – much more about screaming at the Republicans than saying what they will do about anything, except maybe abortion. Most normal people voted for Biden because they thought he would settle things down but things don’t seem very settled right now. Maybe its better to have Republicans in Congress so the Democrats don’t get out of control. On the other hand, they will all just scream at each other all the time and no good will come of it.

These days, normal people don’t take polls much. You hear a lot about the hard right anti-institutional crowd avoiding polls so everyone knows to make sure they have “enough” Republicans. But normal people don’t want to talk politics with a stranger for 15 or even 10 minutes either. And if they know your focus group is about politics, they really would rather not participate. Whatever they do in the midterms, it won’t be far off their center line, and they wont feel all that strongly about it. It’s football season, after all, and time to start planning for Thanksgiving.

To be clear, I’m not normal myself. I never have been. But they used to be willing to be in focus groups “about the community” and even to take polls. And while much of Mississippi is not normal by these definitions, a lot of it is – and more normal than Washington, although both D.C. and Jackson are football towns.

Its not about abortion (alone)

The leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision produced a torrent of texts and emails from friends and former colleagues many of whom had worked in the political sphere to advance women and women’s rights for their entire adult lives. That a legal right won 50 years ago and considered settled law since could be so readily erased was upsetting personally, politically, and professionally to many women. Assuming the decision holds – and the very politicized Supreme Court could modify it for legal or extra-legal reasons – the upset will last a long time; until, frankly, it is undone.

I concur with those who believe the decision may mobilize younger voters in November. No one wants to lose rights their grandparents had and while younger voters have long been dubious that this could be taken away, now they know there are no permanent victories.

Democrats must also meet the messaging challenges. A lot today seemed off the mark on that front. Abortion will be an issue in November but it wont be the only one. Voters are indeed more focused on inflation and their immediate economic realities than on the loss of their rights. For the roughly 50 percent of voters who own stock, things cost more while they have less. For the 50 percent who don’t own stock, things cost more and they didn’t have much to begin with. The message that “Democrats deliver” doesn’t resonate with either group.

“Whack-a-mole” messaging is not the answer: If you care about abortion rights, we are going to fix it; if you care about voting rights, hey, we’re on it; if you care about inflation; its getting better (not that anyone can tell). And then there is COVID which apparently isn’t quite done with us. Mission accomplished is not a good message when, well, it isn’t. It seems unfocused, at best, to list the litany of problems we are trying to address. No one wins whack-a-mole. It just times out.

So what to do? It is hard as the party that is at least nominally in power to run against the party that isn’t. It can sound whiny and partisan. We can, however, run against a worldview that undergirds much of what is wrong.

The enemy is a power-hungry minority that wants to impose their views and their interests on everyone else. It is a worldview that power means you get to decide. In that worldview people get to keep power because they have it. They use it to cheat. They use it to steal. And they use it to take away from the rest of us.

Not all Republicans subscribe to the world view, although the wimps who are unwilling to stand up to it don’t get an exemption. And I recognize there are a few Democrats who are of the “because I said so” school themselves. They should cut that shit out – if you can’t explain how your view or policy is consonant with my views or my interests you won’t convince me of it. Asserting my ignorance makes you part of the problem.

Strong messaging requires modification in our presentation of ourselves as well as aggressive opposition to those who take power for their own sakes. On our side, (1) we need to listen and reflect what we hear (and listening is not the exclusive province of pollsters). Reflect on what people are saying about their own lives – it is tough out here. Tell us how it happened and how you are addressing it. (2). The message should be about voters not about Democrats – Democrats deliver just says we are self-aggrandizing and out of touch with someone who doesn’t believe they have been delivered to. (3). Trim the ideological statements way back. (Yes, I do believe the worldview I am describing is about white male supremacy but describe it as acts of greed, arrogance, and corruption: say what it is not why it is.)

When we sound a little more like regular people and less like politicians, it is time to go after those who have used the money we put in to spur the economy in corrupt ways or not at all. Here’s one example (https://mississippitoday.org/the-backchannel/) of misspent federal funds but there are a dozen states that aren’t spending their federal stimulus funds. The story is that there is corruption stopping a lot of what Democrats are doing. There is corruption in state governments, at big drug companies, in anti-trust violations, and at the Supreme Court. It is all about greed and power. It is not about progress and people. We are for progress and people. They are for themselves in ways that are greedy and corrupt. Don’t start with the conclusion, but do tell the stories for which that is the (unstated) but self-evident conclusion.

Then there is perhaps the most corrupt thing of all – the conspiracy on the part of people in the White House and the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential Election. And those aware of the corruption who stood by and did nothing or defended it out of fear of those who are corrupt. That is part of the same worldview that people with power get to keep it and be damned to the rest of us. Donald Trump, with his own deep roots in greed and corruption, made corruption fashionable for his cronies.

There are Republicans who have stood up. They include Members of Congress, state and local election officials, and judges. Go after the corruption not the party name. Republicanism isn’t inherently corrupt. But a whole lot of them became so under Trump.

As for Trump himself, he is a very painful and visible symptom but he is not the whole disease. Even if he goes into remission, there is still a need to fight the notion that power is there to advance the views and interests of the powerful. Power does corrupt and it has done so quite absolutely in some quarters.

The Supreme Court is politicizing women’s health and taking away women’s and family’s rights to make decisions because they believe power means imposing their viewpoint on the rest of us. Its not for our good; its not advancing the protections in the Constitution; its simply an exercise of power for its own sake. That is wrong. That is corrupt. It is the same mindset as people who stormed the capitol because they wanted to.

There is nothing new in “might makes right.” But saying we want to “protect democracy” is like saying “we oppose kratocracy;” Tell the story of corruption instead. People will understand it. At the moment they are concerned it applies both to Democrats who say they deliver and to Republicans who say they care. The story of what’s true, however, is often the story they will find more credible.