Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Newt Gingrich And The Need For A Democratic Narrative

Advocating for a moon base was Newt at his Newtiest

There's a recent profile of Newt Gingrich in the Atlantic that's been making the rounds, and it has been giving me uncomfortable flashbacks to the 1990s. He led the Republican stampede into Congress in 1994, the first use of a partisan government shutdown, and the impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton. Beyond that (as was even evident in the 1990s), he was responsible for a new kind of Congressional politics. Ever since the Republicans have been practicing a kind of right wing Bolshevism, treating power as the only moral concern. Trump has merely dropped the last pretenses of decorum and civility. He is a creature who arose from the muck of this fetid swamp, not an alien to the Republican party.

Gingrich is a fatuous blowhard who likes to talk like what a dumb person thinks a smart person sounds like. Even so, he proved himself to be an effective tactician. Back in 1994 one thing he perfected was the use of political narratives. His GOPAC campaign was all about attacking Democrats as immoral, corrupt, and wasteful with coordinated messages. He also generated the so-called "Contract With America," which gave every GOP candidate, no matter how uninspired, a narrative and platform to run with. Republicans, already whipped into a frenzy with their dislike of first-term president Bill Clinton, came out in droves to the polls and took both houses of Congress for Republicans for the first time in 40 years.

Flash forward to 2018.

Democrats are also running against an unpopular first term president whom their base despises. It's fertile soil for a landslide, but that's hardly a guarantee. The issue is not just an unfavorable Senate map and gerrymandering in House. The Democrats have elected not to generate a national narrative. They have taken a "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach, perhaps hoping not to alienate voters in red areas with a progressive national message. The issue is, I have no clue how the Democrats will govern if they win Congress. Do you?

That is a huge problem. How can you claim to be an alternative to the status quo when you aren't telling people what that alternative even is? Democrats need to take a page from Newt Gingrich and establish a broader narrative. They need to paint conservatives as antithetical to the will of the people, and to make them have to come out and play defense against that narrative. Right now all the talk is about Trump, and that's not good enough.

There's three weeks left until the election, and Mitch McConnell provided the perfect ammunition today. He essentially said that his biggest regret as a politician was that he has failed to cut back on Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, and that cuts in those programs would be necessary to cut the deficit. The narrative here is pretty simple: Democrats want a country where people's basic needs are taken care of, and Republicans want to take away your health care and retirement so that they can give even more money to rich people through tax cuts. Please Democrats. Say it. Again and again and again and again. Say it until you are blue in the face. Say it until even our wretched excuse for a fourth estate forces Republicans to have to answer to it. The stakes are too high for politics as usual, and those politics have been a massive failure for Democrats anyway.

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