Wall Street Journal columnist and former Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote a piece this week blistering Joe Biden for his voting rights speech in Georgia. She called it a “breaking point” that would unify support against Biden. Noonan cited Mitch McConnell’s response to Biden, calling the speech divisive and unpresidential.
Noonan’s article, which is getting a lot of play among conservatives, probably overstates the point and the second half of it mainly echoes McConnell’s criticisms. I suspect Biden’s speech will largely be forgotten, especially in light of what Sinema and Manchin did to his call to reform the filibuster yesterday. But Noonan makes one very salient point. “When national Democrats talk to the country they always seem to be talking to themselves,” she writes. “They get in the habit of talking to themselves, in their language, in a single, looped conversation. They have no idea how they sound to the non-left, so they have no idea when they are damaging themselves.”
While I think everyone in the country is living in their own bubbles, Democrats have become too insulated from middle class families who don’t pay much attention to politics. And they’re the people who decide most elections.
As the party has become younger, browner, and more urban, they’re losing touch with middle age suburbanites and exurbanites who don’t think too much about voting rights or gender equality or even student loans. When pushed, many people may agree more with Democrats than Republicans on these issues, but they aren’t spending much time thinking about them. Their priorities are much more mundane matters that have to do with their immediate concerns, like school closures or the rising price of eggs.
Democrats keep talking among themselves, assuming that the middle is following along, when, in reality, those middle class voters feel left out of the conversation altogether. McClatchy reporter Alex Roarty described a focus group recently when participants were asked about how they felt about January 6th. The moderators were met with blank stares until a woman asked what they were talking about.
The episode reminded me of talking to a young woman in her mid-20s on the day of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict. I got a phone call telling me about the jury’s decision. When I told the woman that Rittenhouse had been acquitted of all charges, she asked me who Kyle Rittenhouse was. Even after I explained, she didn’t know what I was talking about. In contrast, everybody on Twitter knew exactly what happened and that drove a conversation that the portion of country that decides elections was not having.
Democrats still need to hold accountable the people responsible for January 6, but they’ve lost the attention of much of the country. While the focus group participants almost all condemned the action of the insurrectionists, it’s clearly not something they spend much time pondering. The attack on the Capitol will not likely be a salient political point in the 2022 elections except to maybe fire up the base.
Democrats have tried to do too much with too little. They have narrow majorities and massive ambitions. Their appetite for change should reflect those realities.
Biden and the Democrats started off with a bang, but squandered their momentum with infighting and changing priorities. The public wants, first and foremost, to get past this pandemic. In just one year, Democrats have jumped around from COVID to infrastructure to Build Back Better and back to voting rights as related to the 2020 election.
It’s like they have gone full circle. They probably should have started with voting rights when the attack on the election and the Capitol was still fresh on people’s minds. Regardless, they need to get a victory very soon if they hope to salvage 2022. They should go to Manchin and Sinema and find out what they can get.