Do You Want to Win, or Do You Want to Whine?

Bill Clinton drove me from the Democratic Party. I sometimes call him the most-effective Republican president of the post-World-War II era. NAFTA and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, drove me away; the first was a middle finger to labor unions, and the second kicked poor people into a litter-strewn pile of nostrums. These were just two of the goodies Bill Clinton handed to Republicans—things they weren't able to secure during Reagan's presidency.

I am a democratic socialist. But do I want the Democrats to overthrow Republicans in the midterm elections? You bet your soul I do. I'm very skeptical that they will. Democrats have become tone-deaf. This isn't the party of FDR or LBJ.

I have criticized them for that. If I have commented less often on the Republicans, it's because there's no point; they have descended to such levels of greed, meanness, and malice as to be irredeemable. A "good" Republican politician is like sighting an ivory-billed woodpecker. (Though Charlie Baker might be one.)

"What's your plan?" I hear. That's ironic, because my beef with Democrats is that they have no plan. Okay, so here's one, though I can tell you that insider Dems won't like it.

Some of it isn't stuff I actually want, but it's stuff the Democrats need to do so they're not renting their garments again in November.

1. "Stop Trump" is not a plan; it's an objective.

Stop focusing on him. He's a monster, but when Democrats fire salvos, they simply fire up his base. Anger is not a blueprint. Democrats need to develop policies that counter the GOP. Trash the anti-Trump rants and focus on a vision for America.

2. Treat the Clintons as toxic.

They are. There is political hay to be harvested in criticizing both on the campaign trail. Is this is "unfair?" Puh-leeze—this is politics! The Clintons have high negatives and unless Democratic candidates repudiate them, Clintonian errors—real and perceived—will make office-seekers vulnerable. The Clintons should not be allowed anywhere near key races.

3. Give measured praise to Trump.

Even fools are right on occasion. Knee-jerk rants send the message that anyone who voted for Trump is the enemy. Basic math, folks: Just 30 percent of voters are registered Democrats; 42–45 percent are independents. You want a goodly portion of the latter to rally to Democrats, not circle the wagons. Here are some places where Trump might be right—even if it's for the wrong reasons.

            a. North Korea: Was Trump suckered by Kim Jong Un? Maybe, but in the short-term, tensions have been defused, and that's a good thing on the volatile Korean peninsula. Let's be realistic—any president takes a risk when dealing with authoritarians. Reagan got duped by numerous Latin American dictators, Bush I and Dubya got tricked into two useless Gulf wars, Clinton badly misread Islamic fundamentalism, Obama got played by Hamas, Trump looks like a child up against Netanyahu and Putin, and the Saudis hoodwinked everyone. But Trump might have North Korea right, and rapprochement should be encouraged.

            b. Free trade really is a farce.

Trump plays the anti-free trade card so he can grandstand without doing much, but he's not wrong that free trade is unfair. Here's why: Labor isn't free. We have a global system in which goods and services can move across borders, but people can't. Those who fear job loss have reason to worry. If labor can't move across borders but capital can, jobs will always flow to the bottom of the wage tank. Trump doesn't give a damn about workers, but there's plenty room to his left to articulate linkages between trade, wages, environmental concerns, etc. .Call it "fairness" on the stump and don't be afraid to peel back bad treaties. It will take more finesse than Trump has, but a slow pullback from China is definitely in order. Anyone who thinks China engages in free trade is delusional.  

            c. "American jobs" is electoral gold.

Democrats used to own the working class—until they forgot who they are. Let's hear more about building jobs here. Obama's Reinvestment Act was a good idea; he simply lacked the stomach to battle for it. Draw new plans, which will be criticized as "too expensive," but then do as the GOP does—stay on message. Just keep saying "American jobs" and bash back. Accuse the Republicans of not caring about "American jobs." Keep saying that phrase. Promise to bring Harley-Davidson back to Illinois!

4. Simplify.

The "American jobs" mantra brings up another crucial thing. Fox News is the most viewed of all TV news shows. Instead of whining about that, learn why. Fox is brilliant at reducing things to the lowest common denominator. So, yes, I suggest Democrats "dumb down" their campaigns. It's elemental: Most Americans don't read a single book in a year, and they are not going to read an online policy white paper. It. Won't. Happen. Dust off your best slogans and make 'em short and snappy: "The rights of all Americans," "Respect for women," "Privacy," "Don't let the government tell you what to do," "Invest in America," "Get tough on all criminals," and "Everyone should do their fair share."

You know why? Because these things will lose votes if you frame them in ways other than above: transsexual rights, feminism, gay rights, abortion rights, government job programs, cracking down of white-collar crime, raising taxes on the rich…. There's a world of difference between shouting "gay rights" and saying that sex is a "privacy issue." Democrats should be for everything on the list, but if they can't frame them, they can't sell them.

A lesson from 2000: Al Gore's lackluster presidential campaign had two big upward spikes: When he planted a wet kiss on then-wife Tipper, and when he attacked "Big Pharma." He should have kept on those tracks. Do you think the electorate's capacity for detail has grown since then? I wish!

5. Get younger, darker, and more ideological.

By 2040, but probably much sooner, the USA will be a minority majority country. The party that prepares for that will be in the driver's seat. Of all the dead-end streets Democrats like to visit, the "move to the middle" is the deadest of them all. Americans don't fear big ideas; Senator Sanders has polling data going back decades on support for infrastructure improvement, single-payer healthcare, workplace rights, affordable college, a millionaires' tax, etc. It's all about how you package it. The rush to the "middle" is a road to … just a word without substance that inspires few.

Democrats need to be seen as people of vision, not as elites, and certainly not as whiny and stale.

6. Immigration reform.

 This will anger those who think our borders should be wide open. Sorry—it doesn't work that way anywhere in the world. Look, I could cite chapter and verse on how the once-open US borders got closed, but that would get us nowhere. Trump is absolutely right—again, for all the wrong reasons—when he says US immigration policy is broken. Democrats should lead on reform—but in ways that will make Trump tear out his orange hair. A few ideas:

            a. Set a reset date. Admit that we can't fix the past. Announce a new policy that, when put in place, will be absolute from that date forth.

            b. Issue non-forgeable ID cards to all who request them and can prove current residency in the United States.

            c. Put in place severe sanctions against any employer hiring non-documented workers after the reset date. Let's talk six figures plus jail time. This takes care of a current loophole. Illegal immigrants can always find employers who won't ask questions. In a new plan, if a card isn't in the database and you hire, you pay the consequences.

            d. Raise the annual quota. What a load of hooey we hear from Trump. If unemployment is as low as his administration claims, how exactly are immigrants "stealing" US jobs? Sell higher quotas as "Building the economy."

Does this plan sound mean? I think not. If more immigrants were legal and the border flow slowed, the US could take in more emergency refugees and political asylum seekers. (A long-term project is for the US to work with the UN on refugees. There could nearly a billion climate change refugees alone by 2050.)  

Above all, "immigration" needs to be rethought because it has become a negative word among a vast swatch of the electorate—44% in recent polls. Again, that's true even if it makes you comfortable. Democrats do not have the luxury of standing pat on the issue. If they do, it will doom them—just like it did in 2016.

So what's it going to be? Whine or win? 

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