An alarming number of people employed as professional political strategists by the Democratic party do not seem to understand what “politics” actually means. If this sounds too cute to be true, think of it another way: if all of the professional political strategists employed by the Democratic party do understand what “politics” actually means, they are negligent and willing to do harmful things for short-term gain. Either way, it ain’t good.
The most glaring manifestation of this in the current election cycle is the fact that Democrats across the country spent millions of dollars to boost the candidacies of right-wing Maga candidates in the Republican primaries, on the theory that those extremists would be easier to defeat in the general election.
Washington Post found that Democrats had spent close to $20m in eight states on ads meant to elevate the profile of far-right candidates and election deniers running for governorships and for Congress. A number of those candidates, like the maniacal Christian zealots Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and Darren Bailey in Illinois, did in fact win their primaries, setting up, in theory, easier races for the Democrats in those states to win, because, in theory, swing voters prefer not to vote for lunatics.
A common objection to this strategy is, “What if one of those lunatics wins? And you helped him? Wouldn’t you feel stupid? Sure. But that objection, reasonable as it is, accepts the underlying premise that the rightness or wrongness of spending millions of dollars to increase the support of dangerous religious fascists within one of America’s two main political parties comes down to whether or not those dangerous religious fascists win the 2022 elections. The Democratic strategists who engineered this will say: “They won’t win, so the strategy was sound.” And that is where their blinkered view of the nature of politics begins to show its true futility.
Because – my god, it’s hard to believe – politics is more than the next election. And it is! Time marches endlessly into the future! And the things that we do today help to shape the things that happen next in an infinite and largely unpredictable chain of cause and effect! It’s crazy, I know. It is now accepted as conventional wisdom, for example, that perhaps it was not strategically wise for the United States to arm mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan fighting the USSR in the 80s, because later on some of those same people with those same weapons were fighting the US.
But this same sort of elementary insight has not permeated the Democratic consulting world. If you help to make the Maga candidates stronger today, it is possible that that will have negative social and political consequences even if they do not win the election in November 2022. Reality, which is real, unfolds slower and longer than a political campaign, which is an artificial construct with an arbitrary timeline. Duh.
Imagine for a moment the possibility that the goal of “politics” is not just winning the next election, but rather reshaping the deepest power arrangements of the world in a more just way. In this conception of politics, the important thing is not just bringing along a handful of high officials in order to engineer a 51% voting majority in Congress, but rather evolving the views of hundreds of millions of people in a way that will bring the officials along with them.
Electoral politics follows social change, not vice versa. And “changing society,” rather than “targeting a narrow slice of swing voters,” requires deep and ongoing organizing – the sort of organizing that creates movements, not campaigns.
When you take a moment to step back and view history as the endless stream of struggle that it is, it is not hard to see why it is dumb to dedicate resources to making Maga Republicans more visible and viable within their own party. You are promoting an awful ideology in hopes of winning votes – but in the long run, politics is a battle of ideology. The votes follow the ideology.
The consultants are fighting on the wrong battleground, and no matter how many polls they have, they are not clever enough to predict the chaotic long-run effects of fueling a movement that is the opposite of the movement we should be trying to build.
Part of wisdom is understanding your limitations. Neither you nor I nor the Democratic National Committee can predict the future with confidence. What we can do is to fight for justice today. We can do the hard work of organizing today and tomorrow. We can try to push society in the right direction. By changing society itself, we can make the ground more fertile for political candidates who will do the right thing.
The historic figures who have done the most to promote justice did not do it by deviously clever manipulations of voter data. They did it by fighting for stuff that was right. Spending money to try to dupe hapless Republican voters into backing the goofiest fascist is not just stupid; it goes against justice. Tricking people is not part of organizing.
These sophisticated Democratic strategists are pouring poison into the well that we all, sooner or later, will have to drink from.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism