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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Smith: Sounding the alarm (again)

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Though the 2022 midterm election cycle will take place several months from now, it feels like it’s just mere days away. There is a palpable urgency from both major political parties because so much is riding on this election. Democrats control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, but their hold on the latter two is tenuous — and the presidential election is closer than it seems. As it stands, polling strongly suggests that Republicans have the wind at their backs this year primarily due to the economy, especially ongoing supply chain issues and extremely high inflation.

Some Democrats openly hope that anger regarding the Supreme Court potentially overturning Roe v. Wade (as it appears poised to do) will energize their party’s base. Of course, if the Texas Republican Party’s success following its hard turn to the right on abortion is any indication, such hopes might be unfounded. Other Democrats see an opening regarding gun control in the wake of the recent massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde. If there are no major policy changes on that issue, as has been the case in the last couple of decades, moderate suburban voters could go heavily for Democrats. Finally, Democrats are hopeful that a spate of extremist Republican candidates in a handful of states will keep the House and Senate in their hands. We’ll see.

Then there is the fact that President Joe Biden is not exactly brimming with popularity in his own party. His standing among African Americans — whose support handed him the Democratic nomination — has dropped precipitously due to his party’s failures on voting rights and inability to improve the economy. It is understandable that Democrats are directing their ire at President Biden; discontent is more comforting when it has a focal point. However, there is a stark reality that should temper some of that anger: We live in a democracy rather than a dictatorship. No president can implement his policy choices by fiat.

Former President Bill Clinton once said, “Republicans talk better but (Democrats) do more.” Regardless of whether that was true then, it certainly does not feel like it is now. Further, it’s not even clear that “doing more” is enough to secure electoral wins for Democrats this year. They have a messaging problem that in turn leads to a motivation problem. Unfortunately for President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it’s not at all clear that their members or their marketers will do what is necessary to eke out a victory. In the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema derailed Biden’s agenda, most notably by refusing to vote with their party on strengthening voting rights. This is an unpardonable sin, both in political and moral terms.

Democrats’ electoral fears are valid; their hopes range from reasonable to downright fanciful. For reasons that have always been a mystery to me, Republicans seem to understand the importance of midterm elections (at the local, state and federal levels) better than most Democrats do. The same applies to the strategic imperative of voting for presidential and gubernatorial candidates who will select the types of judges that one favors. In any case, it’s likely that Republicans will gain the upper hand nationally after the votes are counted in November. Then again, major losses in 2022 might be enough to jolt the Democratic base into high gear as the presidential electoral season unofficially begins in 2023.

Is there anything that Democrats can do to stave off a “shellacking” (to use then President Barack Obama’s phrase following Democratic midterm losses in 2010)? The short answer is yes. Democrats can finally begin to treat African Americans in accordance with what we are — their most important constituency. As I’ve stated before, this includes spending exponentially more on Black media, working harder to find and support strong Black candidates and using “by any means necessary” tactics to strengthen voting rights. As hapless and inept as Democrats can be, the Republican Party remains unacceptable to the vast majority of African Americans. This increasingly means that, for most of us, the choice is between holding our nose to vote for Democrats or not voting at all.

When it comes to Black voters, Democrats would be wise to adhere to the old aphorism, “Dance with the one who brung you.” Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that they are wise.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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