by Guest Blogger Adam J Nicolai
If you’re a Democrat like I am, the polling for tomorrow’s election doesn’t look good. And if you’re a grass roots contributor to the Democratic party like I am, the emails you’re receiving want very badly to scare you. Subject lines like “CRUSHING FAILURE” and “All hope is lost” aren’t meant to make you feel better, after all.
Maybe we should be scared. The prospect of the Republicans getting control of the Senate and trying their best to hinder or eliminate climate change policies is frightening. And as a father to a little girl, I should be terrified of the possibility of Mitch McConnell getting to pursue his agenda of female body control.
But the notion of Democrats losing control of the Senate doesn’t scare me. What scares me is the fact that they haven’t controlled it in years.
Despite having Democrats in charge of the Senate, there was no action on gun control after Sandy Hook. There have been no successful efforts to correct the atrocious and increasingly jury-rigged voting system. And there’s been no legislative action on one of the greatest and most immediate risks to U.S. national security we face today: climate change.
Sure, a lot of that has to do with the fact that even if something does pass the Senate, it just dies in the Republican-controlled House. I recognize that, and I don’t blame the Democrats for not being able to pass anything through the House.
But I do blame them for losing the House in the first place. I do blame them for losing Democratic votes by not standing up for what they believe in and defending their achievements. And I do blame them—oh boy, do I ever blame them—for letting Republicans set the message.
I challenge you to name one major policy discussion in this country that Democrats have set the tone on. Just one.
Healthcare? Obviously not. Even before Republicans tricked Democrats into passing the Republicans’ own healthcare plan, they were setting the message on it with such shocking catchphrases as “Death Panels” and “Socialist Medicine.” And after the ACA was passed, Republicans renamed it “Obamacare.” They did this so effectively that even the President has publicly condoned the title, a surrender in the messaging war more critical than any single election’s result.
Climate Change? Not only have the Republicans won the messaging war on this one, Democrats let them name the war.
Birth control? Gun control? Democrats are making progress here, but it’s an uphill fight—and in the meantime, the entire Progressive agenda has been rebranded under the twin bugaboos “Socialism” and “Sharia Law”—which is doubly infuriating because both of these terms are completely inaccurate.
What does any of this have to do with the stalemate in Congress, you ask? Everything.
You have to give credit where credit is due: the Republican messaging machine excels at political Judo. When Republicans control they message, they control what voters hear. They control the context for everything the candidates say. With this control, they can steal their opponents’ strengths and turn them into weaknesses—and that is what they have been doing with impunity since nearly the turn of the century.
The biggest, saddest, and most stomach-turning example of this is, of course, the Affordable Care Act.
The boasting from Democrats about their success with the ACA should be deafening. Was it a perfect implementation? No. Is it a perfect plan? No. But by and large the implementation has been successful, where governors have allowed it, and some of the Act’s baseline provisions—elimination of pre-existing conditions, keeping children on their parents’ policies until age 26, and tax credits for small businesses—are wildly popular.
But when Republicans set the message, they can force their opponents to call it “Obamacare.” Just hearing the word “Obama” will rile up anyone with even an ounce of racism in them, and don’t think for a second that his name was associated with this law by accident. Democrats are losing from the moment they say the word “Obamacare.” From there, it only gets worse. Since the only thing anyone ever hears about the ACA is that it raises taxes, raises premiums, and kills Grandma, any Democrat has a mountain of lies to fight through before they can even attempt to claim the credit they’re due, and most of them don’t even try. They run from it instead, making themselves look exactly as guilty as their Republican opponent wanted them to look. Mission achieved: Democrats did something awesome, and are being blamed instead of praised for it. Strength turned into weakness. And in five or ten years, when Obamacare is working well for everyone, watch the term suddenly become “State Exchanges” and the Republican messaging machine glibly claim credit for successful state implementation.
It doesn’t bother me that they do this. It’s brilliant political strategy, and it works. Fair play is fair play, and for whatever reason, Republicans are incredibly good at it.
What bothers me is that even today, ten years after they lost their first election on messaging, the Democratic party still doesn’t get it. They still let Republicans set the tone. They still don’t try to beat the Republicans in the messaging race—indeed, they don’t even seem to know there is a race. And when they fall behind, they dodge and scrape and whimper and look bewildered.
This is why they won’t win tomorrow.
This is why their agenda has been frozen since 2010.
This is why Obama’s presidency has been such a crushing disappointment.
And until something changes, until the Democratic party realizes that they need a Frank Luntz of their own, they will continue to lose—whether they have a majority in Congress or not.
Adam J Nicolai is a Kindle Suspense bestseller, a father of two, an atheist, and a lifelong nerd. He’s a decent novel writer, but sucks at biographies. You can find more of his writing on adamjnicolai.com.