Maureen Dowd: Can the Democrats dodge doomsday?

President Joe Biden in the White House. Photograph: Al Drago/The New York Times


It may be a TikTok world, but sometimes old hacks know best.

James Carville helped Bill Clinton get elected against stiff odds. David Axelrod helped Barack Obama get elected against stiff odds. And Stan Greenberg was the first to identify the fateful trend of Reagan Democrats.

All three Dems are speaking out with startling candour about the impending Repubocalypse. Many Americans are fed up. The jumbled Covid-19 response has eroded an already shaky trust in government. Inflation is biting. War is looming. Things feel out of control. People are anxious and reassessing their lives. Democrats have to connect with that.

The Democrats are stepping all over themselves. And Republicans are doing all they can to prevent the Democrats from accomplishing anything, and then are trashing them for not doing anything.

Voters like to punish the people in power. So if the Democrats don’t figure it out, Jim Jordan is going to be running the House and pushing investigations of Biden and Hillary. They can’t quit her.

Exhausted, confused, isolated and depressed Americans are not buying the Democratic line that things are better than they look. Joe Biden’s superpower was supposed to be empathy, but nobody’s feeling it.

“He is depriving himself of his strongest assets: empathy and an identification with the day-to-day lives of people,” Axelrod said. “One of Biden’s strengths is that, at his best, he speaks the language of America, not Washington. But he has been speaking more in the voice of government officials than he has of Scranton Joe. He needs to get back there.

“Gary Hart told me the smartest thing I ever heard in politics: ‘Washington is always the last to get the news.’”

Axelrod understands, from his days in the White House, that the Biden team is frustrated because they feel the public doesn’t appreciate their achievements, and they don’t understand why. Biden’s advisers are urging him just to sell harder and people will get it. Axelrod disagrees: “You cannot persuade people if their lived experience is telling them something different. We’ve been through hell in America and around the world.”

In a New York Times opinion piece, Axelrod said Biden should avoid “off-key” triumphalism in his State of the Union address, and remember the country is traumatised.

Nutty slogans

Carville, still a Ragin’ Cajun, took time out from his Mardi Gras planning to reiterate points he has made in a Vox interview and elsewhere: Democrats should not be defined by their left wing or condone nutty slogans like “Defund the police.” They should work not to seem like an “urban, coastal, arrogant party” indulging in “faculty lounge politics” that appeal to reason rather than emotion and use “woke” words like “Latinx”.

“Seventy per cent of the people in San Francisco tried to warn us,” he said of the battle among Democrats that ended up with voters firing three far-left school board members who mandated a long break from in-person learning during the pandemic and who wanted to re-christen schools named after Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

“They’re not popular,” Carville said of such far-lefties, adding in a line spoken directly to them: “People don’t like you.”

Right now, he said, Americans are seeing “confusion and disorder”. “You’ve got to give people the sense that they may not be all that happy in 2022, but if they vote for the Republicans, they’re going to lose a lot of the things they have now,” Carville said.

He’s mystified about the Trumpified Republicans. “If there’s one thing we were kind of united about, it was that you couldn’t trust the Russians,” he said. “Now people on Fox are pulling for the Russians. Go figure.” (Tucker Carlson asked, “Why is it disloyal to side with Russia but loyal to side with Ukraine?”)

Carville is also flummoxed that Republicans could defend the January 6th madness as “legitimate political discourse”. “Ninety-eight per cent of people on the Mall on January 6th were white,” he said. “We need better white people in the United States. ”

Obama dilemma

In a blunt piece in The American Prospect, Greenberg warned Democrats not to use Obama as a closer in campaigns anymore or to present themselves as the party of Obama. Once, Democrats believed that Obama’s multiracial coolness would animate his party. But his failure to prosecute any bankers after the near-collapse of the economy solidified fears that Wall Street and Washington were in cahoots.

“Obama did not give voice to the hurt and anger that working-class voters were feeling,” Greenberg wrote, adding that Democratic leaders “stopped advocating for workers against corporate excess and stopped challenging the exceptional corruption that allowed billionaires and Wall Street to dominate politics. The result is that the Democratic Party has lost touch with all working people, including its own base.”

An Associated Press story’s headline echoed his point: “‘The Brand Is So Toxic’: Dems Fear Extinction in Rural U.S.” Greenberg said he’s tired of trying to warn Democrats that they’re driving people away.

Fretting about the threat of Trumpism, given that the Democrats are bleeding working-class voters, including black and Hispanic ones, he told me, “If they don’t listen this time, we’re going to end up with fascism, damn it.” – This article originally appeared in The New York Times