Successful politics, in a democracy, is not as much about what you stand for, but more who you stand with.
Think about it: who has become the Republican base? What are the economic circumstances of the average, say, Rush Limbaugh listener? Who sends those little checks most faithfully to the various right-wing religious hucksters out there? I'm asking seriously: who are these people?
The somewhat tragic answer is, "lots of former Democrats".
Let me set up a little Socratic thingie to show you what I'm talking about...
Me: But Soc, ol' buddy, you're talking about The Repub's deluded base, here. You know, the people agitating for tax cuts for their boss's boss's boss? What possible use could they be to the Democrats?
Socrates: I can see I'm outmatched here, and must bow to your superior wisdom in this matter. I just have one or two questions, and I was hoping you could enlighten my ignorance.
Me: Sure, Soc. Shoot.
Socrates: Who are these people you call the 'base' of the Republican Party?
Me: Oh, you know...working stiffs...people in our society who are more or less powerless. People with stagnant wages, maybe just a high school education, who have little or no power in the workplace or the rest of society, and feel some vicarious empowerment when they hear Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity "speaking up for them".
Socrates: He speaks for them, does he?
Me: Well, of course. You know, against the dirty, heathen Liberals who want to turn all their wives into hairy-legged, baby-killing lesbians, or something?
Socrates (aghast): The Liberals want to do that?
Me: Are you serious?? No, of course not!
Socrates: Well, that's a relief. I just wonder then: why are they not voting for Democrats? They used to, in huge numbers, as I recall...
Me: I already told you - The Republicans have the wool pulled over their eyes.
Socrates: Ah, exactly so: I can see what you mean now. But I still don't understand: why did they stop voting for Democrats? I remember quite a long period when people like that voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, every single election, starting in 1932.
Me: Well, you know, that was a different time, then...
Socrates: Really? And how was it different?
Me: Well, to begin with, there was the Great Depression, which threw everyone out of work. The Republican response was: let charity take care of the indigent, and let The Market right itself. The Democrats had specific, concrete plans to help the people who were hurting...and so the Republicans just got killed in the '32 elections...
Socrates: Ah, so the Republicans learned their lesson, and sing a different tune, now?
Me: Of couse they...you know, come to think of it, no. They are pretty much saying and doing the same things now as they did then.
Socrates: Then I'm still confused - why are all those poor farmers and minimum-wage earners and economically hurting people now voting for Republicans?
Me: I already told you - the Republicans are appealing to their fears and prejudices!
Socrates: Hmmm...if those folks voted Democratic, do you think the Democrats might do better in elections?
Me: I'm sure we would, but we don't want those people.
Me: Do I have to tell you again?? The Republicans have them all tied up in fear and prejudice.
Socrates: I see. Let me ask you: Have you ever experienced feelings of fear, and even prejudice, within yourself?
Me (thinking): Oh, sure. It's probably a universal human experience to some extent.
Socrates: Did you enjoy it?
Me: Well, no, it pretty much...sucked. What's your point?
Socrates: Do you think the people who now are caught up in the Republicans' fearmongering and pandering to prejudices are deeply enjoying the experience?
Me: Um, probably not...
Socrates: Then why do they allow the Republicans to keep doing it?
Me: You lost me.
Socrates: As we've established already, not only are they powerless, but their prejudices and fears are only adding to their misery. Isn't that true?
Me: I've never thought of it that way, but yes, I guess you're right. What the heck is wrong with them?
Socrates: Do you remember the impassioned speech given at the 2004 Democratic National Convention - the one everyone remembers - where the speaker eloquently called for huge amounts of assistance for struggling family farmers, a living wage for all American workers, card-check legislation to help workers get some power in the workplace, and shooting barbs at the Republican rich, "lolling obscenely in their Opera Boxes"?
Me: Um...(thinking)...No, actually I don't.
Socrates: Neither do I. Do you want to help people who are trapped in economic stagnation, and are being exploited with fear and prejudice?
Me: Well, yeah, that's a large part of the reason I'm a Democrat.
Socrates: Well, how can you help them?
Me: Like I said, they are pretty much beyond help...
Socrates (now genuinely shocked): You don't really believe that, do you?
Me: Well, what can we do for those people?
Socrates: "Those people"? Didn't you describe them yourself as, "Working stiffs...people in our society who are more or less powerless. People with stagnant wages, maybe just a high school education, who have little or no power in the workplace or the rest of society?"
Me: Yes, that's right: the Republican Base.
Socrates: We also went over how the Democrats gained a large and enduring majority in the past by coming up with specific, concrete plans to help people who were hurting, did we not?
Me: Ok, now I'm really lost.
Socrates: How much does gay marriage or the legal status of abortion increase their misery on a daily basis, in the course of living out their daily existence?
Me: Actually, on a day-to-day basis? Probably not much. Not much at all, really.
Socrates: And how much does the fact that they are, in your words, "people in our society who are more or less powerless...with stagnant wages, maybe just a high school education, who have little or no power in the workplace or the rest of society" make their lives harder, on a daily basis?
Me: I imagine it's a constant, grinding bummer...
Socrates: So, if you offered them a whole list of ways to help them out of those concrete, constantly-lived, ever-present miseries - in fact, if you organized your campaign around those issues, and hit the talking points constantly - do you imagine they might just consider voting for your candidates?