I am a proud Democrat. I believe the principles of my party — social justice, humanitarianism, protecting the working man from the bosses — are what power the soul of our country. There is no conceivable condition where I would ever join the right, even if the Democrats ran Bugs Bunny or a disgruntled postal worker as their candidate.
That’s why it breaks my heart to see the way my side loses elections. We’ve made an art of losing, even in those races that we should win. In 2016, we faced off against the worst president in American history, a man who could barely string together a coherent paragraph, admitted he learned policy from TV shows and had a plethora of sexual assault allegations. And we lost.
Four years later, after that same man led the world’s worst pandemic response — leading America to record-high unemployment and deaths — we still just barely beat him, while losing over a dozen seats in Congress.
Clearly, we need to study the methods the Republican Party uses to keep winning time after time. While their policies are bankrupt, there’s wisdom in their tactics.
Most importantly, Republicans succeed because they understand what the role of a politician actually is: to be a blunt instrument for wielding power.
The same way an insurance salesman must hawk his wares, the job of a politician is to sell policies. To this effect, conservatives gravitate toward the leaders who can make the pitch, even if that requires using clever rhetoric.
Consider the way Donald Trump used the language of populism to win the presidency. In speech after speech, he stole themes straight from the Democratic playbook: getting tough on trade, protecting the safety net, raising taxes on the rich, and curbing the price of prescription drugs. These arguments went against Republican free-market orthodoxy, but the GOP voted for him anyway.
Why? Because conservatives understood Trump’s job wasn’t to make them feel good with perfect rhetoric, it was to win and they saw he had the skills to do that and advance the Republican cause. And that’s exactly what happened.
Progressives are more goofy about it. We want our leaders to be philosophers, poets, prophets, national healers; as cool as George Clooney, as ethically spotless as Gandhi, and ideologically pure as college freshmen. These impossibly high standards cause all sorts of complications.
In order to excite the base, progressive leaders must compete to “out-woke” each other with bigger and grander proposals, and more fiery rhetoric. Instead of using the time-tested method of centering your campaign around popular issues, Democrats try to prove their moral bonafides to the left by taking on a radical agenda.
In the last election season, our candidates promoted controversial policies ranging from reparations to defunding the police, decriminalizing the border and ending private health insurance. These discussions saddled the party with politically dangerous subjects that made it more difficult to compete against the right.
At the end of the day, Democrats and Republicans simply have two different definitions of what it means to be moral politically. For the left, morality is equated with ideological purity. For the right, it centers around actually winning and getting something done. It is obvious which mode of thinking is more ethical in public life: the GOP’s.
Because at the end of the day, history is not made with great speeches or beautiful policy proposals. It requires power to change the world in a just direction, which makes power the most important thing a politician can pursue.
To use an example: Lyndon Johnson, the titanic 36th American president, the man who slayed Jim Crow, opened our immigration system to all of God’s Children, and laid the foundations for the modern safety net, would never have achieved those items if he didn’t have a manic focus on doing what it took to gain power.
As a young congressman, he quickly saw that the real influence resided in Washington with the racist Southern Democrats who chaired the various committees in the House and Senate. Johnson knew if he wanted to achieve his dreams of a Great Society, he must ingratiate himself to these fellows in order to rise through the ranks.
So he went about doing just that, and utilized every inch of his political genius to advance the Southern cause.
He played the game, becoming a senator, then Senate Majority leader and vice president, before ascending to the Oval Office and revealing his true self — the civil rights warrior within. Once safely in the White House, he used his power to achieve the greatest advances for racial justice since Abraham Lincoln.
We live in a beautiful, diverse country because of him. Go down to a college campus after the pandemic is over, and see the young people of every race and creed walking, laughing and loving together. And you are looking at the world Lyndon Johnson created, because he had the insight to fight like a Republican, not a fuzzy-headed liberal, and gain the power he needed to move our world a little closer to the kingdom of God.
Democrats will never find themselves with unified control of the government again until they realize these central facts and adjust accordingly.
Josh Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.