When I was growing up, there was a joke about a priest, a hippie and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in an airplane. The plane’s engines gave out but there were only two parachutes. Kissinger quickly said, “Well, I’m the smartest man in the world and the world needs me.” He grabbed a pack and jumped out of the plane. The priest looked at the hippie and said, “Go ahead, my son. I’ve already lived a long and good life.” The hippie replied, “No worries, Father. The smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane wearing my backpack.”
That’s how I feel about the consultants who’ve decided the way to keep the Senate in Democratic hands is to try to wrap every Republican candidate around the Koch brothers. I’m just dismayed that candidates like Kay Hagan are following them and not finding real parachutes. If some group wants to take it on themselves to discredit the Kochs, fine but the guilt-by-association strategy seems so obviously flawed that watching the resources go into it is disheartening.
In North Carolina, we’ve built a cottage industry attacking Art Pope and wrapping Republican policies and candidates around him. So far, it’s succeeded in getting us the first Republican governor in 20 years and a Republican legislature with veto proof majorities. Now, the Washington Democrats are adopting the model.
Most voters don’t think about elections the same way political professionals or junkies do. They don’t see a great battle of ideas and ideologies playing out. Instead, they ask, “How does this affect me? Is this person going to help my bottom line, make better schools, protect my health, keep my family safe and secure? And by the way, what’s she running for again?” They don’t know the Popes or the Kochs or the Soros or the Brocks of the world.
The Democrats have taken a defensive posture with a reactive response. In essence, they’ve ceded the political agenda to the Koch Brothers and the Republicans. They should be attacking GOP policies and candidates, not GOP funders.
In North Carolina, they are nationalizing the election while ignoring fertile ground in the state. If they need to wrap Thom Tillis around something, wrap him around the legislature. Under his leadership, they’ve cut funding to public schools and universities, limited women’s access to health, tried to disenfranchise minorities and young people and raised taxes on our poorest workers. There are issues that will motivate the base and persuade the middle. Use them.
And consistently, Tillis has tried to be something that he’s not. When he’s talking to country clubbers, he’s a moderate. When he’s talking to Tea Partiers, he’s a conservative. He says he graduated from the University of Maryland, but he didn’t. He even says in his latest commercial that he was a “partner at IBM,” when IBM is a corporation not a law firm or accounting agency. And he doesn’t even mention serving as speaker of the house. He’s just another phony politician. Expose him, not the Kochs. He’s the one on the ballot.
Granted, the national environment is tough for Democrats. But they need to be making the case for what they’ve done right instead of basing their campaign on what they say some shady group of billionaires wants to do. Even if it’s true, it’s not very believable and, for voters, the leap of faith is a big one.
I don’t believe an incumbent U. S. Senator can win re-election without first making the case for herself. There is plenty of time to attack the GOP nominee. Right now, Democrats need to be making a full-throated defense of their record. If they’re going to lose, they should at least go down telling voters what they stand for.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >