Oh, dear pundits on my television set this morning… let’s talk. First off, I know that one of your favorite themes, one you clutch to your bosoms with a tenacity known only in the realms of dung beetles packing their treasures, is Democrats in Disarray. Get over it. So, there were five responses from Democrats and progressives to the SOTU last night, so what?
There’s another perspective from which to view this hoary theme. One is to hold that there are at least five and probably more like five hundred possible responses to any major presentations of opposition policy. Perhaps it’s more convenient, and certainly much less intellectually challenging, to seek one opposition voice and to concentrate attention upon that source, but the reality is that a variety of answers is a better reflection of political discourse than the fiction which holds that there must be a single unified “message.”
It appears as though some members of the punditry are calling for an exercise in branding, not a full discussion of civic issues. Yes, when we sing “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz Oh What A Relief It Is” there is general recognition of a single product. That said, while branding is essential during a campaign season, it is not necessarily useful in local races and less than useful during whatever is left of the “off season” in politics. So, we can move on to another point.
The media of late wants opposition, nice clean opposition, opposition as in a middle weight boxing match (or on the fringes a political replication of WWE shows), but this is frankly a rather lazy approach. For example, rather than decry an abundance of replies to Republican policies, how about exploring the story from another suggested perspective: There are at least five major areas of opposition to the Republican program for America, and the GOP has yet to address the significant issues raised by at least five important voices in the opposition?
Secondly, those opposition voices were highlighting issues with varying degrees of emphasis. Elizabeth Guzman spoke to immigration policy, Bernie Sanders returned to his theme of wage inequality, Donna Edwards spoke to health care and racial issues, and Rep. Maxine Waters brings her own brand of fire and fury, and fact checking. This shotgun approach has some merit.
The Democrats are a large tent party. However easy it might make it for the chatterati, the Democrats need to speak to young voters, white voters, suburban voters, African American voters, African American women voters… you get the idea. So, why not divide the chore of responding to Republicans by promoting replies from at least five different sources.
Third, much as I hate to break into the Perpetual Campaign Theory of Republican politics which the media appears to have embraced, every major party which truly seeks to find success in national, state, and local races, needs a period of time in which to hone the national messages prior to the onset of campaign season. E Pluribus Unum — out of many possible messages some will move to the top of the program, others will become tangential, and others may fall flat. Sorting takes some time and space. Live with it.
I’d add a fourth point, a purely personal note. We appear to have a President (and his Party) which, devoid of many actual policy perspectives of late, desperately needs a foil. I noted in the Alabama senate race the proclivity of Republicans to try to make the race one between Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi. This tactic personalizes the contest at the expense of any actual policy discussions. It’s WWE time again, Good vs. Evil, Good Guy vs. Villain, simplistic, easy to advertise, and counter productive in terms of policy discussions. Why on this little blue planet would Democrats play into GOP hands and create an obvious foil this early, at a point when the campaign season has yet to officially begin?
It seems better at this juncture to take the shotgun approach, using a good old fashioned cylinder choke, with a forty inch spread at a range of 25 yards, rather than risk a miss with a rifle shot. If this requires the media punditry to do a little more research, and raise a few more issues, so be it. The media is an essential part of campaigning, but each campaign bears the responsibility for crafting its own message. The media may just have to hold its horses and allow opposition forces to coalesce, and acknowledge it does Democrats no great good to prematurely offer up a foil for Republican punishment.