"Democrats are to political courage what Valveeta is to cheese."
- Bill Maher
Wow, talk about not leaving anything in the bullpen. On last Friday's "New Rules" segment of his Real Time with Bill Maher show, Maher took issue with Democrats for not having the "balls" to stand up for their beliefs. Too often they "backpedal" and allow Republicans to define the issues. He defended Nancy Pelosi for her accomplishments while Speaker of the House and criticized then candidate Hillary Clinton after she flipped on coal.
"Learn the lesson that's staring you in the face every day in the person of Donald Trump," he said. "Voters don't care about how smart you are; just don't be a pussy."
While I agree with Maher about the lack of conviction that many Democrats have, not to mention their complete ineptitude when it comes to messaging - my God, they're the only group of people I can think of that can turn a sentence into a novel - I must respectfully disagree with his overall assessment of the Pennsylvania special election: I think the only reason Conor Lamb won was because he distanced himself from Pelosi. Had he run on the platform Maher and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party wanted him to run on, Rick Saccone would've beaten him. Jumping out of a plane without a parachute isn't courageous, it's suicidal. And insisting on a purity test for Democratic candidates is the political equivalent of jumping out of a plane without a parachute.
Yes, it's true Trump insulted the voters of Iowa and then went on to win that state's primary. But leaving aside Trump for the moment, there is an important issue that Maher and progressives are missing, and it's one that that threatens their electoral prospects in the upcoming midterms. The country has never been as divided as it is now. I'll explain.
For well over a century, the nation was divided between the North and the South. The Civil War didn't just end slavery, it ostensibly ended the South's agrarian economy. The resentment that ensued endured for generations; many Democrats in the southern states switched parties after Lyndon Johnson signed into law both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and '65 respectively.
Then a seismic shift started to occur in the '90s. The Reagan era tax cuts of the '80s didn't just funnel hundreds of billions of dollars from the middle class to the upper class, it set in motion a series of events that allowed manufacturers to move their plants to countries with lower wages and less restrictions. Well before NAFTA was passed, both the auto and steel industries had scaled back production in America. Communities that were home to tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of blue-collar workers who were making a good living and enjoying the fruits of their labor were decimated. They have never fully recovered.
The seething resentment took years to boil over, but boil over it did. When you look at an electoral map, the old North / South divide is still there, but another, even more ominous, divide is forming in the Rust Belt region. What were once reliably blue states have now moved into the red column. The people who live in these states have had it with Democratic promises and, let's face it, Democratic lies. They gave Obama an overwhelming reelection in 2012 and what did it get them? Nothing but more of the same old, same old.
Many of them still call themselves Democrats but believe the party they once supported has abandoned them. Conor Lamb reassured the people that he was not one of "them," and by them I mean the establishment Democratic Party. And they, in turn, took a chance and voted for him. Yes, the final margin was less than three tenths of a point, but considering this district went for Trump by 20 points in 2016 and Mitt Romney by 17 points in 2012, any victory by a Democrat is quite a feat. The last thing the party needs is to look this gift horse in the mouth.
What Dems needs to do is tailor their message to the needs of the constituents in each district or state. The needs of people in rural America are vastly different from the needs of people in cities. If Conor Lamb could figure this out, there's no excuse for other Democrats to not follow suit. In sports you coach the team you have, not the one you'd like to have. It's no different in politics.
It wasn't that long ago that there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats serving together in Congress. They did extraordinary things together like pass legislation on a bi-partisan basis. With the retirement of Ben Nelson of Nebraska and the recent defeats of Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, the electoral map for Democrats has shrunken considerably. It could potentially shrink even further if the remaining Blue Dogs are defeated in November. The only way to keep that from happening is to abandon the one size fits all approach.
There are worse things than a conservative Democrat in the House of Representatives or Senate. Bill Maher may not think so, but then Bill Maher lives in California where the biggest threat to his way of life is the 405.