Anyone who has taken a Psychology 101 course is familiar with the famous chart that details “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” Crafted by researcher Abraham Maslow in the 20th century, this list details the various stages of human development on the path toward happiness, starting from what’s most important.
As a brief refresher, it is laid out as follows. To have peace of mind, an individual must achieve, in order:
1. Physiological needs (access to air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, reproduction).
2. Safety needs (personal security, employment, resources, health property).
3. Love and belonging (Friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connection).
4. Esteem (respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom).
5. Self-actualization (desire to become the most that one can be).
Maslow’s keen insight was to point out that people focus on basic survival first. How can I get my next meal? Where is my shelter going to come from? Where can I go to the bathroom? All other desires are only considered after those priorities are met.
Democrats need to remember this truth when it comes to structuring our political campaigns. Far too often we get lost in the weeds, and prattle on about concepts that are very important to college professors, but have little to do with making it easier for folks to live.
During the Trump era, for example, liberals went on and on about Russian collusion, Stormy Daniels, the Mueller Report, and the latest crazy presidential tweet — when we really should have been talking about how our policies would help voters pay their bills better than the Republicans’ policies.
At the end of the day, if a political party doesn’t effectively address that issue, no one cares what they have to say about anything else.
Heading into the 2024 election, my fear is that the left will get distracted by focusing too intensely on non-economic issues again. Progressives will argue to the country about the shame of sending the former president back into the White House, after his years of dishonorable behavior.
Donald Trump will retort that despite his overwhelming flaws, he has a plan for getting Saudi Arabia and Russia to supply us with oil again, stopping the migrant crisis, the crime wave of “smash and grabs,” and cleaning up homelessness.
While many of these proposals will undoubtedly be half-baked and insane, that’s not the key point here. If Democrats are busy making arguments that appeal to privileged elites, while Trump is responding with rhetoric that explains how he is going to address everyone’s basic concerns, that’s a dangerous political space to be in.
Instead, the next election should prioritize things a little differently.
The left must run their campaigns according to Maslow’s famous hierarchy. Democrats must focus first on the essential survival issues – housing, health care, education, the importance of public safety – before moving on to more idealistic matters.
That sort of an approach can be boring, certainly. Talking about reducing inflation doesn’t have the romance of say, political revolution.
But at the end of the day, it’s what the average family cares about.
Working parents want to know they’ll have enough money each month to keep a roof over their heads and pay for a trip to the movies.
That matters more to them than a flowery speech from some celebrity at the Oscars.
Social justice is important and essential, but folks need stability first. Then they will be interested in showing compassion for others.
Call it selfishness or whatever you like, but a starving man doesn’t care about wokeness, microaggressions, or whatever may be the cause of the week. He wants to know how you’ll get him some dinner.
One of the reasons Democrats were so popular in the 1960s was because the masses were doing great economically.
They felt comfortable enough to then take a risk and support the beautiful dreams of the Great Society.
By contrast, the combination of high unemployment and inflation a decade later eroded the nation’s enthusiasm for the left, and ushered in the Reagan era.
Voters choose a political party in the same way a woman picks a husband. At the end of the day, no matter what the romance novels tell you, a lady will always ask herself, “Is this fellow going to help pay my bills?” If the answer is no, it’s game over for him.
She is not going to care about all his pretty words and high-minded ideals about romance. She’ll marry a bore with a paycheck before deciding to live homeless under an overpass with the dreamy poet.
Quite similarly, if Democrats don’t campaign next year the right way, America may return to her ex-husband, Donald Trump.
The public will bring him back if they believe he is the man who will lower gas prices, reign in inflation, solve the borders, and maintain law and order.
That’s why it is key that we show how our side is far better equipped to address these critical problems.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.