Since we live in an age when actual governing is secondary to strategizing for the next campaign, much of the political chatter for months has been about the 2022 election and the contrasting messages our two political parties are likely to project over the next year.
Currently, the critiques of the pundit class are aimed at the perceived failure of Democrats to drop jargon about the budget reconciliation process and Senate filibuster rules and make a clear pitch to voters touting the varied benefits of the big infrastructure bill that they just sent to President Joe Biden’s desk and the Build Back Better package they are intent on passing soon. Part of the messaging problem, of course, is that it has taken so long to get that legislation enacted. Up to this point, the news has been dominated by the messiness of the political process, not the benefits at the end of all the wrangling.
But, in much of the commentary about the need for Democrats to focus their storytelling, there is an underlying assumption that may prove fallacious. That assumption is that voters will be receptive to a message about all the good stuff in the Democrats’ legislative product and will reward the party accordingly. Is that really true?
Republicans have achieved quite a bit of success by dispensing with any coherent legislative agenda. They run on red-meat issues like abortion, immigration fears, wars on Christmas, creeping socialism, antifa fantasies and stolen elections. The most pertinent current example is the success of the Republican gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, where suburban female voters were scared away from the Democrats by GOP rants about racial propaganda being foisted on schoolkids.
Elections are decided by about 10% of citizens in the middle of the political spectrum who do not pay a lot of attention to the details of legislation. Polls show that a disturbingly high number of Americans are unaware of the hundreds of billions of dollars the Biden administration pumped into the economy last year to keep businesses afloat and to keep solvent the many people who lost their jobs due to pandemic shutdowns. It is quite likely that, next year, Democrats will not get the credit they deserve for the important and possibly transforming legislation they are passing now, no matter how smart their messaging campaign may be.
The real lesson is this: Democrats need to accomplish as much as they can now while they control Congress, not because it will help them win in 2022, but because it is the right thing to do.
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