That, my friends, is the question of the next several months.
There will be plenty of time to point fingers and blame-storm. I’m sure there’s quite a bit of that going on in the comments of Post Politics as we speak. But at the end of the day, none of the finger pointing is going to change anything, so I won’t be engaging in it.
Tennessee Democrats are in the minority, and there’s no escaping that for some time (at least 2 years). In February or March the Feds will report our census numbers, and the task of redistricting will begin in earnest. What the few districts that we were able to hold on to will look like after that, nobody knows.
But while all this portends doom and despair, I see an opportunity. We’re at the crossroads, and we have the chance to remake the Democratic Party in Tennessee in a way that we haven’t for decades. There will be leadership changes. There have to be.
Regardless of those changes, we need to recognize that right now is not the time to paint our friends as enemies, even if we disagree on the details. This means that the extremes of the party have to be willing to work together, to craft a partnership. To hear each other for the common interests that we share. There are more common interests than we’re often willing to accept.
Will Republican control of the legislature be any different than conservative Democratic control? I believe the answer will be yes, and we have at least two years to see just how different it will be.
As a general statement, I agree with Southern Beale’s analysis:
Simply put, the Republican base was motivated. The Democratic base was not. That’s really all you need to know. Whenever Democrats run to the right they lose. When given a choice between a real Republican and a fake one, voters will pick the real one. Democrats need to show they are the alternative, not a paler version of what the other guys are offering.
Throw in a half a million bucks that flooded many state house races in the final weeks from the deep pockets of Karl Rove and his ilk, and honestly, its easy to see that the bar was just too high.
There’s a lot of confusion and anger in the state. I blieve that last night’s result was the electorate saying you forgot about us more than anything else, though I’m sure that’s not the takeaway the victors want to express. I don’t see this as a rejection of Democratic ideals, but an angry lashing out at a formerly strong establishment that many feel has been disconnected. It’s time to bridge that distance.
On Facebook this morning, one of my friends posted a comment from a worker at a McDonalds who he asked about the election results and the coming Republican control of the state. His reply:
“can’t say as i know any of ’em…the real question though is whether or not they’ll ever take the time to get to know folks like me.”
That’s it in a nutshell folks. People won’t support you if they don’t feel you understand the circumstances of their lives in a real and tangible way. They’ll even support someone that doesn’t necessarily further their interests if they feel that they might listen.
We have to make sure we open up and listen if we want to recover from this.
It’s too soon to prescribe some kind of comprehensive fix for this, but I don’t think ideological presumptions are the likely solution. I don’t believe that most people are ideological like me. I just don’t. People want solutions they can understand, and they don’t care where they come from. They want to be listened to. They want to be talked to. They want to feel like we understand their situation. Ideology just isn’t personal enough to do that.
Our task for the next two years is to rebuild our connection with the voters. To restore their faith in us. To own our achievements as well as our failures, and look for ways to make life better for the little people without belittling them. We have to empower them in order to regain ground. And to maintain any future gains for our party, we have to ensure that we make their lives better, and that they were part of the solution. In short, we all have to have skin in the game, not just the elite or powerful.
Wedge issues can’t prevail when you build an environment like this. Wedge issues become less relevant to regular folks if they honestly believe their lives will be better and have some investment in the solution. If we do this, I feel confident we will find success, but it’s going to be a lot of hard work, and we all have to be willing to invest.
What happens over the coming weeks will be critical. The most important thing we can do is move beyond the results of this election and start working for the next one. The village has been burned down. Now is the time to rebuild it, but we can’t do it alone. The more people we enlist, the faster it will be rebuilt, but we have to have a real plan and work on crafting a solid foundation. Without a solid foundation, anything we build from here on out will be as, or more fragile than the house of straw we just lost.
We have an opportunity, now let’s seize it.