The Well Actually

The Wash-Rinse-Repeat of Election Punditry

Our democracy is literally at stake. So why are political strategists wasting their time heeding the words of the same-old pundits and trying to woo the unwinnable voters?

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The prospect of American “democracy” surviving another 19 months seems something of a sketchy bet these days, but since President Biden has officially launched his campaign for reelection, it is nevertheless time for the pundit-politico prediction cycle to begin in earnest. Can Biden hang on to the White House? With a mere 79 weeks to go until Election Day, the answer is clear: Maybe! Unless he’s too old (his most likely Republican opponent, Trump, is just four years younger), or too unpopular (no likely Republican opponent is faring much better).

American political journalism is so hilariously broken, isn’t it? We’re at a point where a news network is platforming an indicted former president and treating him like he’s a normal candidate by giving him a town hall (I’m looking at you, CNN). The only reasonable thing to do at this point is to let the silliness wash over you like a glittering red, white, and blue slime mold. Submit to the great blob of freedom; listen as it hums Lee Greenwood while slithering down your ear canal, going full cordyceps on your brain.

Every time a new election cycle gets rolling, I have to remind myself that it is always like this—all the hand-wringing and horse- racing—or else I’d short-circuit myself writing the same angry Twitter thread over and over again. It was like this in the run-up to the 2022 midterms, and it was like this in 2020, and it was like this before that, before that, and before that. And here I am complaining about it (again), feeding the cycle with my annoyance and my outrage.

To be clear: There’s nothing wrong with speculating about elections, gaming out scenarios, or arguing over who’s got the better shot and why. It’s natural to wonder whether the people in charge the next time around will be the kind who will actively try to kill you. But there’s a point at which the fact that many, many of our elected officials are actively dangerous has simply got to figure more prominently in the calculations of the pundit/politico/PR class. A point at which we have to accept that being objectively right, or even making a coherent argument, actually doesn’t matter very much—if at all.

This is a particular problem on the Left, which maintains, even in the Year of Our Real Estate Baron’s Perfectly Above-Board Luxury Vacation With Clarence Thomas and Purchase For His Mother of a Lovely Little Gratis Retirement Cottage, that there is something meaningful about truth and reality and facts when it comes to the modern political landscape. Even—and the irony of this absolutely kills me—against all evidence to the contrary, Lefties try again and again and again to woo undecideds and centrists to our side with thoughtful reasoning and convincing proof of our objective correctness. It doesn’t work! We know it doesn’t work, and we’ve known it for a while now

And yet. No sooner had Biden announced his ’24 campaign than the strategists began strategizing: Should Biden “convince voters to credit him for the rebound in women’s employment?” Should he embrace his age, or ignore it? Should he resurrect for uncertain voters the memory of the Build Back Better Act, tout his bipartisan gun safety bill, or remind a flagging electorate of what a great job he did in the initial aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Biden could certainly do any of those things. He should definitely do some of them; no harm in it.

But this is so much fretting, and over shortsighted tactics that don’t build power for Democrats across the board or in the future, don’t address some really essential concerns of a terrified and exhausted electorate, and don’t build on recent past electoral wins for Biden and the party. Why in the world are these ostensible policy wonks and campaign experts and media mavens and election forecasters worrying over the fact that Joe Biden will be 82 in 2024 when it is vastly more relevant that his opponent will be a Republican in 2024? 

Democrats and progressives and liberals and Lefties have absolutely got to abandon this ridiculous fucking game of trying to win at four-dimensional chess against an opponent playing that game where you see who can yell “PENIS!” the loudest in public.

I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a foregone conclusion that Biden will win in 2024 simply because the GOP is widely understood to be a platform for criminal bigots both by its supporters (who find this attractive) and its opponents (who find this repulsive), although I do think Republicans are weaker than they have been in many, many years. There are plenty of racists and misogynists and homophobes and transphobes and lazy, comfortable assholes who got theirs and pulled the ladder up behind them. They vote, and they work hard to make sure other people can’t. 

But I don’t believe the thing standing between Biden and a second term is whether he’ll be able to convince enough women that he actually really did us a whole bunch of favors, policy-wise, which we would see for ourselves if we wouldn’t mind looking a little more closely at his record. You know, since we’ve got a lot of downtime on the nine-hour drive to the closest abortion clinic. 

Truly: Good job to Biden on his policy wins. They’re worth highlighting and celebrating. But you know what? The world still feels fucking awful. The last thing I want to hear right now, when basically everything is an emergency so nothing is an emergency, is: Cheer up, buckaroo! Didn’t you hear Uncle Joe’s fixed up an awful lot of bridges?

Infrastructure is important! But so is our tenuous hold on the last vestiges of democracy in this country, which is being dismantled state by state, county by county, even sometimes city by city. And recourse at the federal level seems farther away than ever with a Supreme Court (and a significant portion of the federal judiciary) bought and paid for by the Federalist Society and hard-core Republican power-players. It’s reassuring that, even if the mediafolk and pundits aren’t getting it yet, Biden himself seems to be. His campaign announcement didn’t blow my hair back (say abortion, Joe!), but it struck the right tone—the same tone that got him into the Oval Office in the first place, and the same tone that ushered in cross-country victories for Democrats in the ’22 midterms. Democracy is under attack. The other guy’s a fucking monster. Lives are at stake. 

Republicans have been running on lies and vibes for years; they are impervious to being called hypocrites and frauds. In the long term, Democrats and democracy itself will be much better served by a commitment to values-based messaging and policy strategies that provide more than the cold comfort of being technically correct while the world burns. Giving voters the tools to talk about what they believe and why, and setting them up to translate those values across elections and constituencies and issues isn’t just a good way to get folks to look past Joe Biden’s age, or rising inflation, or his flagging popularity (though it is). It’s the only way to build sustainable, long-term success that doesn’t reset with every election. Hell, it’s the only way to ensure that the future of this country involves elections. Ideally plural. 

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