When the Big Speech Is Over: Democrats in Search of the Middle Class

I have long been suspicious about the adamancy of true believers. It’s not nice at times, and it definitely reveals my own impatience and in fact even snobbery, but nevertheless, when I hear people utter parroted news speak I realize sooner or later they will issue a new incantation explaining away either the limitations of their previous thoughts, or why they collectively or individually failed at their objectives. To me, those who believe something so piously have elected to wear on their psyche Kevlar blinders to block out the occasional sliver of critical thinking. Few realize the more obvious limitations and vulnerabilities of any dogma. Which often dooms them from the get-go.

The irony of most true believers is that they believe themselves to be open thinkers. They are open to any new thoughts as long as they can perceive them as far inferior to the their own. Should those posing alternate perspectives not acknowledge their insufficiencies, the true believer launches into a flurry of clich├ęd diatribes. Or, if faced with the plausibility of alternate reality they may withdraw entirely from the confrontation, pulling in their heads like turtles in a shell. So much for quality discourse.

In the world of the true believer, his ideology is never suspect and no matter what results are achieved, there exists no such thing as failure. Failure, the true believer contends, should be deemed as relative. It is not failure that his party or group has acquired, it is in his eyes a limited victory. Those who set out to run the twenty six mile marathon and struggle to make it past ten city blocks might deem it a victory of sorts. But for the rest of the world, this is failure, not achievement. Which leaves the true believer to issue his fall back position, they “tried, and did the best they could.”

What is then confusing to the true believer is that not everyone is buying it. Not everyone is a lifetime subscriber to the nauseatingly pervasive “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. I know I am far too results oriented for that. My own fault, maybe. My own impatience. But like a fair amount of the world, I believe this very attitude severely limits innovation and performance. I believe it dresses the stage for reduced expectation. Rather than set new standards of performance, our reflexive readiness to resort to the “we did the best we could syndrome” let’s us beg off and otherwise rationalize our collective sloth and personal limitations. We do this nationally, and we do this as individuals. We have forgotten that success doesn’t really need to be explained. Failure requires a million excuses.

A perfect example is the recent mid-term election. I cite this not just to pick on the Democrats, but to also take note of the cycle of apology and explanation that ensues after such an event, all as a substitute for relative lack of action. As we all know, the Democrats were soundly beaten. For mid-term elections, the incumbent party losing twenty to thirty seats in the House is considered acceptable. The Democrats lost more than sixty three seats in the House and six seats in the Senate. Let’s face it, nobody likes to get his butt kicked. Or let’s say, unless you are a masochist, you don’t like getting beaten to a pulp. However, that’s what happened in the recent mid-term elections.

While it was clear to some, in my opinion the more astute, the Democrats were failing at their message, Democratic pundits went on TV and instead of reaching out and communicating gave some rambling examples of their accomplishments. These virtues were garnished with laments that the average American just didn’t understand all the good that was done for them. In essence, the party of the people was claiming before the cameras that the party of the people no longer knew how to communicate with the people. Which is true. It seems that every rambling utterance that emanates from the Democratic Party elicits more confusion than resonance. The messages are obscure, tangential, and without any emotional focus.

Coming from an age when Democrats were roll up your sleeves and bang it out in the gutter types, we now see a Party that is either so diverse its objectives are diluted, and with all its education and high minded ideas out of touch with much of the American middle class. Why? Because if you are alleged intellectuals, academics, media people, or other members of the Democratic Leadership who are driving its train, chances are you don’t come into contact with the average American Joe. Democratic leaders and supports really don’t talk to the guy running the tire shop, the small business manufacturer, the owner of a modest IT company. Middle management and even the majority of senior executives. You may believe they do, but they don’t. Okay, maybe during election time. There is no personal contact, and there is no political contact. Once upon a time when diverse types actually lived in the same communities this was the backbone of the Democratic Party. This and labor.

Well, labor has been diminished and the true middle class, the small business owners and technocrats, the truckers and healthcare workers, are largely being ignored. Big news here, organizations like the Teachers’ Union are not the middle class. The underclass worker is just that, underclass. The poor are the poor. None of them, despite all rhetoric to the contrary are middle class. If you are out to save the middle class, then it would be helpful to know who and what the middle class actually is.

The person running a business or holding onto a job at some local business with a house, two cars, two kids, and the bills to pay for all of it, this is the middle class. This is not the poor or the underclass. This is the middle class. This is the pissed off segment that doesn’t really want to hear some weak rhetoric about “sacrifice” and that it takes a village. What they need to know if if they can get credit for their business or if their jobs won’t be shipped off to Timbuktu. Before they want to hear about contributing to the well being of others, they want to know how they will pay for their mortgage or put shoes on their kids’ feet. They want to know how they can care for their own family members, whether it means putting their kids through college or caring for an aging or dying parent. They want to know now and not with some promissory rhetoric posed by a bevy of politicians and academics who have never run a business in their lives. They don’t want to hear how the government will take care of them but rather how they can take care of themselves.

The middle class is complex. In the modern age, it is difficult to pinpoint. It may be dissected economically but as never before social and cultural tastes will differ. There may be the same salary levels, but this is a segmented market with its different tastes and different priorities. The advertising industry knows this. Politicians do not. The person making fifty grand in Topeka is probably more drawn to lawn care and less drawn to Broadway Theater then the person making fifty grand in an emerging neighborhood in Brooklyn. Each to his own. The middle class covers a broad spectrum and to attract that spectrum to your way of thinking you have to find some common ground. You have to be direct and not ramble in the abstract. In short, you have to know who they are and what they are.

Other than the buzzword, the Democrats have little idea about the broader spectrum of the middle class. They sort of have a vague notion of the urban middle class and they certainly devote their focus on the poor. Not to besmirch the poor, but let’s face it in a global economy in a time of economic crisis, it would be a damn sight smarter to focus on those who can pull you out of the crisis and set you back on a path of global competition. When it comes to restoring jobs and global competition, all hand wringing and obligatory rhetoric aside, for sure as hell the poor ain’t driving that bus. I don’t want to sound cruel here, but it’s is relatively easy to figure out what the poor need and want. Simply put, the socially marginalized want to be included. Not an easy task, but that directive is a lot simpler to figure out than the needs and wants of a very segmented and therefore complex middle class.

The Republicans figured it out. The have done a far better job at communication than the Democrats. Strategically speaking, they have out messaged and for the most part outsmarted the Democrats in strategic terms. Mind you, this may be more of a s a case of style over substance. The Republicans may have also gotten it wrong, but when it comes to messaging they certainly have the right idea. The previous eight years offer bitter testimony that they, too, don’t have a clue. But they do have a better line of rhetoric. They are better organized and there is no mistaking their message, no matter how spurious that message is. They are masters at taking Democratic niceties and twisting them to the Republican advantage. They show the Democrats to be weak and tentative and they run through those whole like like a Mack Truck through Paper Mache.

As for truth speak and the party line, prior to the elections I watched one Democratic pundit after another cite Democratic accomplishments, mostly followed by the deep chagrin that much of the nation wasn’t embracing these accomplishments. President Obama, they contended, had done so much and was so under appreciated for all he has wrought under much resistance and great duress. Some alluded to his weaknesses, but most held the party truth speak talking about his character and great strength. How much he cared and what a fighter he was. In all, before the election, the Democratic position was we have done so much for so many; it is their fault that they are such idiots that they don’t understand our political largess. Reality didn’t seem to be a factor, even in the face of overwhelming samples that the Democrats were heading for disaster. Democratic supporters, rather than confront the situation head on and examine why they were not reaching the public with their message, preferred instead to cling to their rhetoric and take up residence in that turtle’s shell of denial. This may offer temporary comfort, but it is not very strategic. Nor is it particularly intelligent as more often than not it will only exacerbate the negatives.

What was missing of course, was the reality. Case in point, and I know some have argued vehemently otherwise, that the president blew opportunity big time with the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf. The resulting catastrophe severely damaged what amounts to the 29th strongest economy in the world, the Gulf Region. Forgetting the fact that Energy Secretary Salazar, an oil guy, was warned that the necessary drilling protections were not in place, this was President Obama’s version of “you are doing a Heck of a Job, Brownie.” I know all the lamentations that the President was doing the best he could and that he had no magic wand to wave and the other horse shit that was offered up as lockstep and lame excuses. But the fact is, in seeing British Petroleum as a partner, rather than demanding they seal the well, billions of dollars were lost to that economy. Tens of Thousands of people lost their livelihoods. A culture that had existed for centuries was devastated.

Of course once the President did lean on BP, the leak was sealed. After a hundred and something days, miracle of miracles, they found a way to seal it in less than a weak. According to the news media and most Democratic pundits, mistakenly believe the crisis was all over. All’s well that ends well Everything was fine. No, it was not fine. People were outraged. Maybe those who lived elsewhere and perhaps didn’t really care about what they deemed a bunch of Cajuns and Southern Crackers, thought that after a brief time out everything was back to normal. But the Democratic politicians and their supporters knew damn well, in a literal sense the Party was over. The Democrats had just lost what little they had initially retained of the Gulf Region. With the exception of Democrats like Mary Landrieu and her brother Mitch, icons and real supporters of their native state, you can kiss it goodbye for many other Democrats.

Of course, I can’t think of any Democratic pundits who diverted from truth speak and pointed out on the cable shows that you can forget about gleaning votes form the Gulf Region. Not a mention as it would not fit into the lockstep dogma that the public just doesn’t understand us. No one pointed this dreadful inaction in time of crisis as Presidential failure to step up to the plate. No one pointed it out that this may be endemic of a behavior pattern few could discern amid the impassioned speeches from an inexperienced politician who was never forced to confront adversity of this magnitude. No, not a peep about indecision or possible behavior flaws. Nobody was saying, despite all the time constraints and opposition, the President wanted the job, and this is the job. Again for the cheap seats…this was the job he signed on for.

Instead just prior to the election, we heard the party line about the encroachment of the Tea Party. Oh the Tea Party, a bunch of racists who were determined to undermine the Democratic efforts in spite of their own self interests. And, sure, it’s true. Big news there are racists living in the United States. And being bigoted individuals, there is no doubt racists will be emboldened under times of economic weakness and national indecision. The worst part of this country will emerge for sure. All this seething and underlying bigotry, be it racism, sexism, or Antisemitism that seethes beneath the surface will pop up like so many oil blisters in the La Brea Tar Pits.

But did that throw the mid-terms to the Republicans? Doubtful. First off, what of the 53% of the voters who voted in Presidential Election? It would seem there were not enough voting racists then to really move 63 Democrats out of office. That would mean the majority of the country is not just biased but vehemently racist. Some would say so. I wouldn’t.

Did a commanding majority suddenly transform itself into racists and vote out Democrats on order to get back at their President? Maybe. Makes sense if you stick to the party line. One of them, anyway. But the thing is as it the final results have established, with the exception of the Latino vote, just about every demographic group moved some of its voters from the Democratic to the Republican column Even African American voters pulled the Republican lever more than they had a couple of years ago. In the 2008 Presidential election, Bush and company garnered a meager 4% of the African American Vote. But in the 2010 midterm elections, of the African Americans who voted, nine percent voted Republican. More than double. So then with every demographic but the Latino voters switching in varying degrees in favor of the Republicans, either every hidden racist decided to expose himself or many truly believe the not only the President but the Democratic Party had not fulfilled his promises. I don’t know the answer here. I really don’t. Nor do I fully understand how many voters in need of Democratic policy bought into the Republican rhetoric. Maybe they sold it better. But the results are what they are. So before I assign the explanation of the Democratic debacle to the Tea Party, Racism or to other simplistic rhetroic, I would review more thoroughly the bigger picture. But then that’s me.

Look, while I write this for a broader audience, a mixed bag of conservatives and progressives, and whatever else who read my blog, I realize much of this would fall on deaf ears. And like I said, I don’t by any means have all the answers. I realize, too, that recalcitrance and vilification is an essential part of rhetorical lockstep and the blind faith in the party line, so I don’t harbor much expectation. Although, now that the butt kicking is over and we see a few pundits coming to their senses. Increasingly, there is growing concern by various columnists and politicians that our President may not indeed be all that he can be. There is increased frustration with him within his own base and among the media folk who drive it. We are not talking about the Republican flacks here, but writers and personalities who tend to lean toward the Democratic view of things. They have been watching now for a couple of years, and now, all apologies and excuses notwithstanding, they don’t like what they see. They realize that exhortations about what do you expect the President to do, and he has had so little time, is falling on increasingly deaf ears. And as a party, the Democratic Party, if you are being humiliated, lame excuses for indecision just won’t cut it anymore.

Perhaps it becomes apparent when you put in an inexperienced politician to handle one of our worst national crises, despite his great speech making, he is just not up to the job. Perhaps when President Obama consistently negotiates prematurely against his own best interests, he fails to understand the principles of negotiation. Perhaps, despite what all have said to the contrary, his team of advisors and cabinet, with some exception, are second stringers who have no real political leverage, except they are great political campaigners or that they got really good grades in school. Perhaps the excuse that he hasn’t had time is insufficient, as the country was promised one thing and got another. Perhaps the few band aids that helped shore the dikes against the economic flood placated the true believers but not the rest. Perhaps claiming that the mean ol’ nasty Republicans beat up on the heartfelt, well intended but ultimately incompetent Democrats has any real currency to the family trying to pay its mortgage.

Perhaps it is time to stop with the convenient but ultiamtely unproductive rhetoric and lame excuses. Perhaps it is time to do the smart thing, the adult thing, and try to understand in often painful but realistic terms why the Democrats screwed it up so badly. Our adversaries and global competitors could care less for our lame excuses. Our global competitors and our professional sports teams are well aware that not everyone gets a trophy. Our global competitors and our sports franchises are well aware that those who do get the trophy are the ones who are able to pull it off in spite of the adversity, the obstacles, and the biases against them. Perhaps it is time to cool all the jargon and like the sports teams, review the playing films. Analyze things carefully and without prejudice. See what you did wrong and where you messed up. Make the rewarding distinction between catering to the the middle class and having your head in the clouds. And then, cut out the nonsense and try to get it right.