Go high or go low? Democrats face a rhetorical crossroads

At the end of the day, it's the votes that really count:

In 2016, Michelle Obama’s words became the Democrats’ defining creed to counter Donald J. Trump’s battering ram of a presidential campaign: “When they go low, we go high.” Two years later, the appeal of “high” seems low. As much as any policy tensions or messaging debate within the party, this question of tone — of how to combat Mr. Trump effectively without slipping into a pale imitation — is perhaps the central divide of this Democratic moment (and the next one, with the 2020 campaign looming).

How will Democrats choose to revise Mrs. Obama’s sentence, with Mr. Trump heaving insults from the White House and the rally stage — his pre-midterm bully pulpit? “When they go low, we kick them,” Eric H. Holder Jr., the former Obama administration attorney general and a possible 2020 candidate, said this week.

I think the first thing we need to remember before making any decisions on our "tone" is that it doesn't need to be an "either/or" situation. Maintaining a high level of anger and outrage is not only exhausting, it threatens to dull the senses, allowing truly outrageous things to occur with little opposition. There are values associated with each incident or issue, and how we assess those values sends a message about our own judgment and moral character. The second thing we need to remember is that things happen even when we don't "fail.":

Few but Mrs. Obama seemed inclined to defend the original refrain. “Fear,” Mrs. Obama told NBC on Thursday, “is not a proper motivator. Hope wins out.”

But for many Democrats, it does not seem to be winning out, at least for now.

Going high, these Democrats say, got them a Trump administration and minority status in Congress. Going high got them a Supreme Court justice accused of sexual assault, nominated by a president accused of sexual assault (both deny it).

It gets tiresome to have to keep repeating this, but Hillary Clinton received 2,868,686 more popular votes than Trump did. That's a 1.2 million larger spread than Carter's winning race against Ford. Granted, our population has increased a great deal since then, but when Gore won 543,816 more than Bush but still lost, people were livid and ready to shred the Electoral College. But when it was five times worse for Hillary, it's not a broken electoral system but evidence the Democrats are "out of touch." Good lord.

Now, you can say our tactics did not work, and not enough effort was put into swing states. But you can't say the majority of Americans rejected the Democratic Party because our "tone" was too soft. It just doesn't compute.

The truth is, our country has become somewhere between confused and suicidally reckless. Rage won't fix that, only stability and reason can bring them back from that edge. Yes, we should stand up to injustice and deceptive leaders. But when we do that, we need to *also* show people a better way, what just and honest leader would do. Because when we stop giving people that option, there's no turning back.

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Comments

High and low

I think it really requires us to think about behaviors in the political arena.

There's a difference between personal attacks, based on nothing but hatred, and genuine outrage over policies, rhetoric, and actions.

There's also a difference between spreading outright lies or organizing teams of "hit men" to push false charges, as was done with the Clintons, and efforts to expose the truth about corruption or illegal activity.

The GOP has used "dog whistle" racism or homophobia, baseless charges, and voter suppression tactics for so long, that many on their side regard any kind of fighting back by the left as some kind of "low" attack.

Democrats and liberals shouldn't be afraid to fight. Period.

Good to see dems

It was good to see so many candidates and the party at Winston-Salem Pride today!