What we can learn from Alabama

Sam Smith – More than a few are crediting Doug Jones’ Alabama win to the increased turnout of black voters. They certainly played a significant role, from 25% of the vote in recent elections to 29% this time. But that’s only part of the story. The big news is that the Jones campaign, aided by the Democratic National Committee, went after votes the way Democrats used to – as they put it, so that “every zip code counts.”

In recent decades, Democrats have become increasingly indifferent to, and even dismissive of, constituencies that didn’t meet liberal cultural and political standards. This reached an absurd peak when Hillary Clinton attacked what she called the “deplorables,” explaining that half of Trump’s supporters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamphobic – you name it.”

Half of Trump supporters amounted to 31 million Americans, a constituency roughly the proportional size of the blacks credited with the Alabama win. This is not the way to win elections.

Doug Jones’ campaign went after everyone. After all when you ring the doorbell of a house where the husband supports Roy Moore but it’s answered by a wife not on the same wave length, there’s always the chance that she won’t be afraid to let her ballot reflect her mind. Even in the most conservative neighborhoods there are potential supporters and the Jones campaign went to tens of thousands of houses to find them.

And then there are those who develop enough reservations not to cast a ballot or write in someone. Consider conservative Lee County. The vote for Clinton and Jones was quite close: 21,230 for Hillary and 19,810 for Jones. But the difference between Trump and Moore was stunning: 34,617 to 14,017 – 60% less for Moore.

Statewide, Jones got 92% of the vote that Hillary Clinton got, but Moore got only 49% of Trump’s total.

The moral: don’t write off any constituency and work from the bottom up.

The other factor that the media tends to ignore is that the Trump phenomenon has all the signs of a desperate but fading culture making a last stab at power. This doesn’t mean that it can’t cause big trouble on the way out, but it is important to realize its time is limited. And the Alabama results reflected this. 60% of those under 45 voted for Jones, while only 40% of those over 65. Already in Alabama the young represent 35% of the voters while the elders were only 23%.

Of course, one reason this isn’t noticed more often is that the young have yet to come alive with their own agenda. But even without, things are changing.

Jones’ supporters all had their own identity but unlike so often these days, they managed to join in a common cause. And so at the victory gathering you saw blacks, young whites and folks with gay signs. And before long some were even dancing together. This is what the Democrats used to do with ease but need to learn again.

As for Jones, whom some journalists implied was boring and not lively enough, he gave a victory speech of the sort common to good politicians before too many thought they were just talking to a TV screen. It was friendly, easy to listen to, complimentary to specific aides and his supporters in general and reminded me of what politicians sounded like before CNN and Fox came along.

One lesson we can learn is that no matter what our identity, progress involves sharing goals, organizing and time with others in order to make it all possible.

 

 

 

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