Juan Williams: Democrats need to fight and win the culture wars

Why are voters so grumpy?

The conventional answer is inflation.

It turns out the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Concern over inflation and the overall economy is “not as dominant a concern as it has been in the past,” according to Gallup.

“In fact, economic concerns have come down significantly since 2011,” says Lydia Saad, the director of US Social Research for Gallup.

And Americans’ “satisfaction with their personal lives” is high, at 85 percent in Gallup polling. That fits with low unemployment, wages going up, strong stock market returns, progress in fighting the pandemic and the US so far successfully standing up to Russia.

So, why the sad face?

The real reason Americans are grumpy, according to Gallup, is because politics is crazy. It is shrill and hyperpartisan.

The out party is upset at not getting their way. And independents are unhappy with the screaming and problems going unsolved. That is the heart of voter dissatisfaction with “the direction of the country.”

“Of our three major political groups [Democrats, independents and Republicans] at any given time only one – the president’s party – is likely to be satisfied with the direction of the country, ”Saad said. “The opposing party is dissatisfied because of heightened partisanship.”

In addition, Americans under 40 of all political groups are very pessimistic about the future, especially those under 25, according to polling done by Civiqs in January.

Those polls found 93 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Democrats under 40 say there are angry or frustrated with Washington politics. The discontent with Washington politics is consistent across racial lines – everyone is angry.

“It’s about a growing feeling of disappointment that action hasn’t risen to the level that they hoped for,” Drew Linzer, the director and co-founder of Civiqs told Time magazine about the discontent of young voters.

They want to see politicians accomplish positive change. Under Republicans and Democrats, they don’t see things getting better.

This is particularly true of young men.

For the past three years, the level of “anger among men in the US” has been going up, according to Gallup. It has been rising among older men too but for young men the anger and stress levels are approaching record levels.

Overall, there is low voter satisfaction with the direction of the country.

Social media and talk radio are a constant blast of culture wars over divisive issues such as abortion, race, and transgender rights.

Culture wars are effective in exciting partisan extremists. But they turn off a lot of voters.

Right-wing media’s success in riling up voters led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to warn its candidates in February to get serious in dealing with the energizing impact of cultural wars on partisan voters.

GOP culture war attacks are “alarmingly potent,” the DCCC memo said.

Even outrageous distortions appeal to partisan extremists, according to the memo. That means that outright lies about a Supreme Court nominee being soft on people convicted of child pornography offenses require pushback.

Culture war wedge issues may help explain why President Biden has been stubbornly trapped below 50 percent in his approval ratings since last August, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

Biden has a record of real accomplishments that in past years would have been rewarded by voters.

He got more than 65 percent of Americans fully vaccinated despite efforts by Republicans to politicize vaccinations; he succeeded in getting COVID-19 relief checks to millions of Americans, thereby avoiding a coronavirus recession; and he signed a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill to spur growth. Now Biden is beating back Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Republicans have no policy solutions to big problems.

Instead, they are joining Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, in hunting votes by stoking culture wars. DeSantis famously opposed mask mandates and now is threatening to punish The Walt Disney Company for opposing his “Don’t Say Gay” law.

It is easy to shake your head but as comedian Bill Maher is fond of pointing out, most culture war issues end up in the “blue bin.” That is to say, Republicans win by hammering the general impression that Democrats have no “common sense” on cultural issues.

Thirty years ago, in the 1992 presidential campaign, then-candidate Bill Clinton skillfully reverse-engineered the GOP’s culture war playbook.

He jumped into the culture wars by picking a fight with a Black female rapper named Sister Souljah. She had made crude comments about Blacks killing whites after riots in Los Angeles. Clinton harshly criticized her, gaining widespread attention for daring to take on a Black woman.

It worked in recasting Democrats as moderates.

Today’s Democrats need to tackle the culture wars head-on, too. But the threat they must confront is on the hard right, not the hard left.

If Biden or perhaps Vice President Harris are going to save their party from a wipeout in November, how about calling out Republicans for being a Trump-worshiping cult trying to end American democracy? That’s a vital argument to make – and it would rightly position Democrats as the moderates and Trump’s enablers in the GOP as the extremists.

The bottom line is this: Democrats can’t ignore incendiary cultural issues. Trying to float above the fray won’t work. It will only leave Republicans unopposed on the battlefield.

Democrats need to understand why voters are grumpy. Then they must pick culture war fights they can win.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.


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