Watching the Democratic National Convention, I’ve been struck by one overarching thought: whatever you believe about the issues discussed, many of them are not things that should be said out loud, at least if you’re trying to attract votes.
It’s obvious that the Democratic Party has taken this opportunity to speak to their base. The 3-day even included rousing defenses of unions and bargaining rights, women’s reproductive rights, and an expansive government. Intermixed in these defenses is a harsh attack on the proposals of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, who the democrats say want to castrate unions and collective bargaining rights, strip women of their reproductive rights, and eliminate expansive government programs that help those in need (and as I’m writing this, per Elizabeth Warren, “vaporize Obamacare”).
My focus is not the merits of these positions; I think these are issues which should be vigorously debated. But from a political perspective, I’m not sure the democrats are doing themselves any favors.
As much as democrats, and many moderate and even conservative women, value their reproductive rights, entire speeches focusing on how abortion should be readily available in almost any circumstance is not necessarily an attractive optic. It’s a marked change from 2004 when democrats avoided any mention of abortion during their convention, leading Howard Dean to say that “we are not the party of abortion.” And yet even as poll numbers have shifted towards the pro-life position, the Democratic Party seems to have shifted the opposite direction.
They say that this emphasis on women’s reproductive rights is part of an effort to attract young, female voters to the Democratic Party (an electorate that would probably vote that way anyway). But I think the newfound emphasis may have the adverse effect; it may turn off suburban women, and values voters – both significant voting blocs.
On top of the abortion issue, democrats have vocally praised the role of government in the everyday lives of all Americans. They’ve heralded Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, Pell Grants, and a myriad other government programs. These programs do help millions of people on a daily basis; their merits and fiscal sustainability should be an important part of this presidential campaign.
But with regard to the Party, the 2012 convention reflects the democrats’ insistence that politics is about what government can give you. It’s been about how reliant we are on government and government programs and how, as the opening video of the convention stated, “government in the only institution we all belong to.” But as Peggy Noonan rightly points out, “Government isn’t what you love if you’re American, America is what you love. Government is what you have, need and hire.
Voters may agree with democrats on these issues – we all know how popular Medicare, Pell Grants and other programs are. But the optics of an entire convention focusing on our reliance on government portrays democrats as weak and dependent, a party that sees government as the primary source of good in the world.
The democratic headliners may outweigh any negative impact of these optics, but once this narrative is created and fortified, it becomes hard to shake off.