Red state Democrats parrot Republicans at their peril

How’s this for a profile in courage? The Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, Michelle Nunn, has boldly confessed that she voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. What an amazing thing – a Democrat admitting she voted for the Democratic presidential candidate.

In a sane world, this should hardly seem a remarkable occurrence. I am hard pressed to remember a time since 1964 when Republican candidates for office were being forced to distance themselves from a Republican presidential candidate. But in some states this year, any association with Barack Obama is considered toxic, even for members of his party.

In Kentucky, as I have noted before, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat who many thought had a chance to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has made a fool of herself by refusing to say which presidential candidate she backed in 2012. Grimes’ inane excuse – ballots are supposed to be secret, she insists – has made her look disingenuous and weak. Kentucky Democrats will now cast ballots for her with embarrassment, rather than pride, and independent voters will have gotten the message that she cannot be trusted to speak with candor and conviction.

This is part of a pattern that too many Democrats have followed for six years. In 2010, after passing the landmark healthcare legislation that came to be known as Obamacare, Democrats took cover in the face of the rampaging tea party instead of defending their accomplishment. The result: Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives.


This year, with Obamacare locked into the American system and proving to be more popular and less costly than many might have imagined at the program’s fumbled inception, are Democrats boasting? Not in the battleground states. There, if healthcare is mentioned at all, candidates on the D side babble about how they plan to fix it and reform it.

This plays perfectly into the Republican narrative that the Affordable Care Act is a disastrous corruption of American healthcare that, in Mitch McConnell’s words, must be torn out “root and branch.” McConnell and every other Republican who is not totally deluded knows that is not going to happen. Obamacare is too popular to be killed, just as they feared it would be. But, for campaign purposes – rallying the conservative troops and putting Democrats on the defensive – preaching the evils of Obamacare is still an effective tactic. This is true, in part, because too many Democrats – even a Democrat like Grimes who is running in a state where Obamacare has been a big success – cede the storyline to the GOP.

Republicans may not know how to appeal to young people, blacks, Latinos or single women, and their base may be shrinking, but they still control the terms of debate in this country. They and their compatriots in the conservative media have molded and marketed a version of reality in which government is always wrong, guns are at risk of confiscation, the federal budget is out of control, poor people are living high off the tax dollars of the middle class, corporations are being crushed by regulation, Mexicans are flooding the southern border and terrorists are running wild while the president cowers under his desk.

Each one of those points is either a complete falsehood or, at the very least, highly debatable. Rather than engaging in a debate, however, Democrats in competitive congressional districts and senate contests in red-leaning states choose to buy into the Republican narrative.


Yes, in a campaign it is hard to present a case that contradicts the fantasies that pervade the right wing media and get lodged in voters’ brains, but, with so many Republicans running on a string of falsehoods, it would be nice to see more Democrats speaking up for a fact-based version of reality.