How Democrats have “Wedged” themselves out of Red State Elections
Herein, we analyze internal ideological barriers that prevent Democrats from winning electoral races in Red states, by talking to them.
The following is an internet dialog between several progressives and myself, related to the recent victory of Stacey Abrams in the Democratic Primary for the Georgia gubernatorial race. Their names have been anonymized, and I’ve done some clean-up of the dialog mostly within the realm of copyedit and clarification. No salient points have been changed. P1, P2, P3, and I are the interlocutors. The conversation is ultimately about messaging strategy for the Democratic Party in red states, but strays a bit into some different perspectives on “privilege.” You may find the dialog enlightening, both in a political strategy messaging sense and an intellectual sense.
For the purposes of the discussion, I adopt the position of a rational, individualist liberal who would vote Democrat but cannot do so given certain modern political messaging choices the Democrats have made. I don’t always adopt this position in anonymous internet dialogues, but I do it frequently because adopting it exposes certain fractures within modern liberal thought. I cannot speak to whether P1, P2, or P3 are speaking their true mind or adopting conversational positions for the sake of argument, which is an important distinction to note in anonymous internet dialogues.
Obviously some of you know me already; I’m a far-left, radical socialist who wants you all to have free healthcare and get paid more.
I love this state, and I want to see it flourish. I hold many traditionally conservative ideas on the economy: less government interference (ever tried to open a small business? It sucks.), lower taxes on small businesses (25% for a business making less than 1mil a year is fucking stupid when Amazon paid 0 taxes on 15bil in profits), less regulation on interstate commerce (why am I paying for roads that are already paid for?), fiscal responsibility and making sure tax dollars actually work for EVERYONE (Looking at you, Kasim Reed and Keisha Lance Bottoms, you corrupt mother a-holes).
I’m also one of those rare Liberal gun-owners.
Brian Kemp, to me, represents the exact opposite of those values.
I want to ask the self-identifying conservatives of Atlanta what, exactly, turns them off to Stacey Abrams. In a vacuum, if your choice was either NO VOTE or VOTE FOR STACEY, what would she need to promise you…what does she need to add to her platform to convince you she would be a good governor?
I’m not interested in any Fox news conspiracy theory bullshit about how Democrats are communists and want to eat your children.
An obvious, public, emphatic departure from Democrat party lines on guns would go a long way to her winning Georgia.
I live in Cobb. Folks up here didn’t line up in the rain to vote for Handel, and they didn’t line up in the rain to vote against Ossoff. They lined up in the rain to vote against Pelosi.
This is a VERY good point. I hope any Dem strategists reading this will take heed.
I’ve had deep discussions with actual Dem strategy consultants on this topic. The smart ones know.
Problem is, you can’t be easy on guns (for instance) and win the primary, and you can’t maintain a strong gun control position (for instance) and win the general.
So in some ways, the barrier to success is self-inflicted.
I’m good with a lot of Democratic platform stuff. I’m super down with the Democrats on gay rights and other such topics. But the “white privilege” thing in its current modern form is basically just racism with extra steps, directed against me. And the gun policy proposals on the left are nonsensical and not rooted in any understanding of reality. And I’m a gun owner.
So until the Democrats quit attacking me, I won’t be voting for them. If they do quit attacking me, I’ll definitely consider it. If the Republican candidate is trash, I’ll probably stay at home or write in Harambe. Unless the Democrats are close to winning and I think the Democrats attacks on me might stick. Then I’d even vote for a trash Republican.
Just my opinion, conveyed with a sense of honesty and outreach, in the interests of constructive dialog. Your mileage may vary.
Just curious what about the “white privilege” thing feels like an attack on you? How would prefer it be brought up?
Interested in an honest dialogue, since I feel like you are not alone in thinking that.
It has to do with blame.
Like, okay, I get it. When black folks get pulled over, there’s an anxiety that’s there I might not have. I get that. But I didn’t cause that. It’s not my fault. I was born this way, just like everybody else was born the way that they were born.
I don’t want to play the identity politics game. I want to just be me, and treat everyone else equally, and with the same love and compassion. But then these academics come along and invent “Postmodern Critical Theory,” which is literally a way to tell me I’m not allowed to have an opinion because I’m white, and I check out. I know what that is. That’s the same ridiculous garbage that white people used to do to black people, just with some role reversal and terminological shell games. It was bad then and it’s bad now.
The progressives are playing with fire with that stuff. If you force all white people to band into a tribe, and force me to pick a tribe, well fuck. I’m not black. I don’t fit there. I’m not gay. Don’t fit there. I don’t want to be tribal, and the solution for peace and prosperity is for everyone to quit being tribal. But if I’m forced to pick a tribe, I do happen to be a gun owning white dude in Cobb County.
Does that make sense? I’m just trying to convey a perspective, because explaining perspectives is important in civil discourse.
Of course it makes sense. I think there are two things working here: a discussion about privilege (race, class, gender, etc.) and a discussion about messaging.
At its heart, a discussion about privilege is really about perspective: making everyone aware that the playing field just isn’t level for everyone in the pursuit of the American Dream. We all carry some sort of privilege with us not necessarily because of birth, but because of our society and the biases that we have invented over the course of thousands of years.
You are right, no one has any way to effect how they are born. And there is nothing fundamentally different about any one human when they are born. But, if you happen to be born a woman, you will get paid less for the same job. If you happen to be born black, you have a higher chance to be a victim of violence. The circumstances of our culture have made it so that being born into a certain gender and ethnicity is just more advantageous.
By examining what advantages we get inherently, we begin to better understand what disadvantages others have and thus begin to humanize people that are different from us.
I wanted to take a second to agree with you about tribalism. People instinctively look for groups, it’s a survival mechanism from our post-ape days. So when we find our tribe, we naturally become protective of it. We have evolved to a point however, where we are the dominant animal and we don’t really need to protect the tribe to survive. The point of that is to say that people on both sides can become really aggressive when their “tribe” is under attack. You can see this in people that attack others because of their privilege alone, or that attack people because they are different.
I don’t really know about “critical theory” but you are allowed to have an opinion as a white person, I’ve never had anyone tell me differently. What people want is for you to see that as a white person, the world is just set up for you to succeed much easier. It’s not anything you did, and it doesn’t invalidate your success, but it does (in my opinion) make it so that there is some burden on you to help others that are not so fortunate. And the best way to do that are to analyze what basic privileges and advantages you have and try to bestow those on to others.
That’s what I believe anyways.
I think you’re flat wrong about privilege.
I’m very privileged. I’ll list all mine out.
I was born very smart. Like 99th percentile on every standardized test I’ve ever taken smart. Without studying. That’s a huge, huge privilege. I got it partially from my parents’ genes and partially in what amounts to a giant unfair genetic lottery. But it’s not my fault. And also, its blatant proof that the “tabula rasa” stuff idealized by left wing academics is very wrong. Genes matter. Does that correlate with race? Maybe, maybe not. That’s a giant Charles Murray rabbit hole I’m not interested in going down, because it doesn’t actually matter for our discussion. I’m going to guess you are of the opinion that race doesn’t correlate to IQ meaningfully, so I’ll agree with you functionally and we can both move on as if my greatest privilege doesn’t tie to my skin color.
Next privilege. I had two parents, who stayed married until I was in college. That was a huge benefit for me, compared to my friends who were from single parent families. Is that correlated with race? Actually, yes. Black kids are around twice as likely to have a single parent than white kids. The reasons why are deep and complicated, and worthy of ten posts at least. The Drug War is a huge factor here. But I can guarantee you, they’re not my fault.
Next one. Middle class economic situation growing up. Huge privilege. Is that related to race? Again, statistically yes, and again not my fault. The socioeconomic trap of the American urban poor is a real problem, and black folks are stuck in that trap more by ratio than white folks are. But it’s not because of their skin tone. It’s because wealth is an inherited quality just like genes are, and while it’s not as deterministic as genes are, it still carries several generations. So the wealth situation is at least in part legacy situation from the segregation days, when racism did actually determine outcomes. Now it mostly doesn’t.
I was privileged to grow up in a safe neighborhood. Is that because I’m white? Probably not. It’s probably related to the middle-class thing, because the black folks in my neighborhood were just as safe as I was. But the progressives fall very flat here. They only talk about gun violence after white suburban kids get shot, because “Everytown” figures they can farm political donations from scared white soccer moms to ban AR-15s which are only used in 1% of gun deaths. In my view, the progressives are pretty blatantly racist on this. I know some black folks who agree with me here.
Do I have privilege from having a penis? Somewhat. But that privilege is entirely related to not being able to get pregnant. Women make life choices related to reproduction, that spill into their careers. When you do a multivariate analysis on those choices, the pay gap drops from 22 cents on the dollar to 4 cents on the dollar. Entry level professional women make more than men, and single childless women make 16% more than single childless men in the same professions across their careers. The pay gap is totally about babies, and a huge part of it is that single mothers drag the averages down because they literally don’t have the time to devote to work that a single or married man has. They have problems, which are often not their fault, but it doesn’t have to do with Male privilege. If courts granted more divorced men 50% custody that might do more to close the gap than any other one policy suggestion, because the men would be forced to adopt some of the same burdens that women are currently saddled with.
So yeah. I have privileges. But they’re not at all due to anything the left is pushing. And the Social Justice left is trying to blame me for these privileges. Sorry. I’m not going to die on the cross for who I am.
But our original discussion was about political strategy. Let’s presume there are people who view the world like you, and people who view the world like me, and we are both rational. In Georgia, the (me)s outnumber the (you)s.
What will it take for a Democrat to carry Georgia? I think it’s possible, but the messaging must be a clear, tremendous departure from the rabbit holes the current progressives have fallen into.
Stacey Abrams could probably slam dunk the election by holding a press conference and saying this:
“I am not Nancy Pelosi. I think the Democrats are wrong about some stuff and right about other stuff. Communism is horrible garbage and anybody who thinks otherwise didn’t live through the cold war and never read a history book. Rifle bans are stupid because ‘assault rifles’ are only responsible for one percent of gun deaths. Gun violence is a problem, but it needs to be treated by addressing the motivations of the perpetrators, not by seizing guns. We can help black folks get out of the ghetto by improving the economic situation there. White people aren’t the problem, but togetherness is the solution, and I think I can get us all to work together.”
Read that verbatim. Word for word. Slam dunk. Georgia flips blue. Doesn’t even affect her policy objectives much. But I don’t know any Democrats willing to say those things, because those things buck the narrative.
I would personally run as a Democrat, and say that exact thing. And I could win an election as a Democrat saying that. In Georgia anyway, certainly not in California. But I’d never get out of the primary here, because believing the progressive narratives is a prerequisite to be nominated when all the primary voters have bought into them.
So that’s your predicament.
(the above post creates a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, and P3 enters)
P2 made some cogent thoughts about privilege in a very kind way, and you respond with a defensive screed. I am white, I understand the concept of white privilege. I don’t feel like I’m being blamed for anything. It doesn’t make me feel guilty or bad about myself. It simply is a reminder to be cognizant of the fact that my white skin played a role in how I was treated over the course of my lifetime, giving me an unfair advantage that was not my “fault”, as you’d say, but nonetheless real and it is my responsibility to understand and to do what I can to not perpetuate it. It’s not a scary thing but you have to let go of the idea that understanding white privilege is about individual white people being blamed for hundreds of years of social conditioning. It’s not.
If you thought of that as a defensive screed then I clearly failed to communicate the point, and that’s on me. The point is this:
I have benefited from a whole bunch of privileges. Lots of them. I’m amazingly privileged, and my life has been easier because of it.
Some correlate statistically to my skin color, but none causally. I could have just as easily benefited from all those privileges with black skin, and just as easily had none of them with white skin. In my view, after deeply unpacking all the privileges most important to my life, the left-wing privilege narrative is a correlation / causation logical fallacy.
And there’s no way I’m going to convince progressives of that, because this whole concept is indoctrinated. And that’s fine. I don’t hold anyone’s indoctrinations against them, be they Christian indoctrinations, or Muslim ones, social justice ones, or UGA football ones. We all carry indoctrinations. My point was to show that these social justice indoctrinations are not universal truths, and simply “explaining them again” isn’t going to get people to change sides on them. And the whole thread isn’t about whose indoctrinations are true, it’s about how to win an election (which amounts to a popularity contest) when your indoctrinations are the minority. Short story, you have to stop pushing those indoctrinations on others to get them to vote for you.
Something to ponder: I don’t like Trump and didn’t vote for Trump. But imagine the perspective of some white dude who had none of my privileges I listed. Born poor, single mother, not intellectually gifted, grew up in a dangerous neighborhood. Experienced none of my privileges. The life expectancy of his demographic is cratering alarmingly. His world is shit. What is that guy going to do when he hears the Democrats droning on about his white privileges? He doesn’t see them, because he literally doesn’t have any. He’s going to say, “You know what? Fuck you. MAGA.”
These people probably hadn’t voted in decades. Nate Silver had them stripped out of his poll projections, which is why the projections were wrong. But the privilege narrative gave them a reason to show up, while also giving people like me a reason to vote Harambe or equivalent.
And since elections are popularity contests, the Democrats lose the election. In a purely mathematical sense, pushing the privilege narrative created Trump.
This is 2016 in a nutshell.
Understand this: the relative truth of the privilege narrative doesn’t matter at all, strategically speaking. Even if it were true, it’s still a losing position at the polls.
If the Ds are going to make any headway, they need to understand that. Failing to understand that is tantamount to giving Trump a second term. And I don’t like Trump. Y’all need to figure this out.
You can see from the dialog that P1, P2, and P3 are very different people, who come at the discussion from different angles. That’s important to remember, that any one label does not fully describe a person. Nor, I might argue, does any combination of labels. But they all appear, at least in my eyes, to be unwilling to eschew certain progressive narratives to have a chance at winning an election. The ‘privilege’ narrative specifically. And since that narrative cannot carry a red state, the narrative itself becomes a wedge issue that predetermines an election loss.