Narrow majorities and massive ambitions

by | Jan 14, 2022 | Editor's Blog | 8 comments

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.


  1. Rick Gunter

    There is so much in your post that screams for comment.Let me just mention one thing.
    Maybe it is my age. Maybe it is my profession. I am lifer newspaperman. I hardly consider myself an elitist. Most of my peers are retired or dead. I still work seven days a week and the ink soils my hands and clothing even in this age of PDFs and computers. But I am sick up to here with being told Democrats don’t understand the people who oppose us. The problem, or one of them, is that too many Americans have lost all sense of responsibility. How any human being could not understand the magnitude of he January 6 insurrection is egregious. How any human being could belittle the COVID vaccinations is the most disheartening thing imaginable.
    In terms of politics, we have one party dedicated to the rule of law and democracy. We have another party that is so radicalized that it has sold out our democracy. It is about damn time we Democrats stuck to our guns and not worry about pacifiying the fools who simply are dumb.
    Joe Biden said exactly what he should have said. Peggy Nonan, for crying out loud, is a former Reagan speechwriter. She is about as nonpartisan for her cause as I am for mine.

    • Nancy

      Thank you!

    • AnnJ

      Thank you! Your point about Nonan is right on.

  2. Rob

    Can people see the pathetic nature of the left-wing media which like the party they front, routinely engages in cheap race and identify politics to further division for political gain?

    And yet when real diversity happens in politics (the ascension of conservative “minorities” in politics), they completely ignore it (or worse outright attack them).

    For the record:

    Virginia Attorney General: First Hispanic Male
    Virginia LT Governor: First African American Female

    You know as well as I, if these two were liberals, CNN and MSNBC would be covering this as historically significant.

    It only goes to prove, the Left isn’t concerned about minorities, only the power they can gain by using them and perpetuating the mentality of (their) victimization.

    It’s also quite telling in Brandon’s extremely caustic speech earlier in the week, where he equated 50% of the population to bigots, he compared them to historical Democrats.

    These events are clear cases of a culturally and morally bankrupt political party.

    When will the voting block of this party wake up and see this for what it is?

  3. KyCowboy

    Isn’t this a reflection of the lack of critical thinking of the masses? Just because some are not concerned about voting rights does not make it a trivial matter. It is not. I applaud the president and what he said. The right wants us to ignore their attempts to stifle democracy. We cannot ignore it. The president gets dinged no matter what he does and those who criticize the most act like the office of the president is all powerful and can solve any problem. Some folks don’t realize there are three branches of government.

  4. George Entenman

    I think we damn Dems ought to start talking about freedom and liberty for a change. Why is that a Republican mantra and not ours? Our messages seem so negative, almost as whiny and victimish as the Republicans. We need some happy warriors again.

    • Greg

      Bingo! George.

    • cocodog

      Freedom and liberty do not mean you can do what you want, whenever you want without regard for the interests of others. The classic illustration used by Justice Holmes in The Supreme Court case of Schenck v. United States is Freedom does not give anybody the absolute right to cry fire in a packed theater. We currently live in a country that has a constitution that allows folks to vote for their representatives and leaders. However, there are some among us who believe that vote is a threat to their personal authority. Moreover, seek to take the authority of the vote away from the individual citizens by self-serving laws and suppression. What these folks are undertaking is hardly freedom and liberty!

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