We all do better when we all do better
In a few short weeks, Michigan has fallen from being part of the “blue wall” to a state that some suggest Democrats should give up on in favor of sunbelt states like North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia. Nothing would be more depressing if life weren’t a Golden Corral filled with things to be depressed about right now.
Giving up on Michigan would be ridiculous for a few reasons.
Trump barely eked out a win in Michigan by a margin much smaller than what third-party candidates received blasting a message aimed toward the working class that has already proven to hollow with Trump’s attack on organized labor and the massive giveaways to the rich he’s plotting that have given Wall Street an orgasm now heading into its fifth week.
If we take this glancing win and the suppressive ID law proposed since as a harbinger of doom for Midwest Democrats, that means the GOP will likely get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and Democrats start off 2020 needing to win states they haven’t won in decades.
It’s also ridiculous because Democrats showed that they know how to win in these states just two years ago. In 2014, which was a nightmare for Democrats, Tom Wolf was elected governor of Pennsylvania as Gary Peters and Al Franken won their respective Senate seats easily. And Franken’s convincing relection was stark contrast to his win in 2008, which was one of the closet wins in U.S. Senate history in the midst of a historic Obama landslide.
Peters and Franken were both strong enough candidates that they managed to draw relatively weak Republican opponents. But both candidates ran exactly the kind of race that provides a convincing alternative Trump’s faux populism.
“While other top-of-the-ticket Democrats ran to the middle, these candidates planted their feet where they were,” Bob Moser wrote in the American Prospect.
Franken’s message emphasized his ability to be pragmatic and “work across the aisle” but also emphasized what he was againt — a key element of effective populism.
“I work for all Minnesotans,” the Senator said. “Wall Street wasn’t happy about that. But I don’t work for Wall Street. I work for you.”
Through the magic of Twitter I reached out to Matt Burgess, Franken’s 2014 campaign manager, to ask him about the race.
Did you consider that campaign to be populist at the time?
A lot of the messaging was absolutely populist, but most importantly, it highlighted how Sen. Franken was working hard for Minnesota. The ads “Rigged,” “Hedge” and “All Together” are great examples of how he is taking on Wall Street, working so people can refinance student loans and in general fighting for the middle class.
You also might remember that Sen. Franken holds the seat once held by his friend Sen. Paul Wellstone. His famous quote “We all do better when we all do better,” definitely played a big role in our campaign from Al’s speeches to being written on the wall in our campaign offices. And it’s true too!
What went wrong for Democrats in 2016?
There is a lot that didn’t go right in 2016 and it’s important to look at every race and its individual dynamics on its own. You often learn a lot more by losing than you do by winning — and that gives me hope.
Overall, it is clearly important that Democrats have a strong economic message demonstrating how they are fighting for the middle class and also taking on the institutions that are holding people back.
Some argue the Senator is the closest thing to a Trump-like elected official in the Democratic Party. Do you think an outsider is better choice for opposing Trump in 2020?
I think voters are looking for someone who will stand up and fight for them. There is a heck of a lot of time between now and 2020 and I think Democrats will have a lot of good candidates who will want to run. Whether they are an elected official or a total outsider – they’ll have to make an honest and thoughtful case about why them — why they are running and what they want to do for the American people.
I’d sum the Franken message up as reinforcing the ideal of empathy for all Americans while standing up corporate greed. It’s not much different than the message that Obama used to win hold the blue wall twice. And it can work again.