People keep telling me Democrats can’t win in Alabama. We can’t win in the suburbs. We can’t win on Sand Mountain or in the Wiregrass. We can’t win because Donald Trump beat Hillary in Alabama by 15 percentage points.
I don’t buy it.
I understand the numbers. I know how to read polls. But I think we’ve forgotten something that Birmingham News political reporter Al Fox explained to me many years ago: That locally, Alabama people vote differently than they do on national issues. The people of Alabama have good hearts and a good dose of common sense. We’ve just forgotten how to appeal to that.
We’re buying into the notion that people in local elections — including congressional and state legislative districts — will automatically vote along national party lines. Even worse, we’ve accepted a national laundry list of terms that have little to do with people’s lives.
Tax cuts? Easy. Control our borders? You betcha. Make folks use the bathroom for the gender on their birth certificate? No brainer. Cutting entitlements? Why not?
Here’s the thing. People look at national issues through the wrong end of the binoculars. They favor things that sound really good … a long way off, when you’re talking about other folks. But there at home, they have a whole different set of values.
I am surrounded by Trump-voting Republicans (83% Trump voters in my county), but I know very few who’d turn their backs on a neighbor who needed help.
From a safe distance, or through the fat end of the binoculars, they’ll line up reliably right on issue after issue. But face to face, looking at real people, they get it. They have parents on Medicare and Social Security, and they understand the concept of a square deal. You pay into the system for 40 years or so, and the system pays you back when you get older.
Don’t talk to them about takers. Talk to them about getting stiffed on a deal.
After all, they understand that you have to pay your bills. They know you can’t take a big pay cut and then go on a spending spree. So we can’t cut taxes, fight wars and build more missiles all at the same time. We Democrats have meekly allowed the slander that we’re the party of deficits, when the opposite is true.
Even down in places like DeKalb County (83% Trump voters), folks are busy. Ask them why they put up with their legislature wasting time on bathroom gender bills. I mean, seriously, when is the last time you saw somebody’s bits in a public restroom? If we have to, we’ll remind them that the guy with a beard visiting the ladies’ room just may have been born with female genitals. Hey, that’s the reality of the bills being pushed.
We can’t win by talking about sensible immigration policies. We win by reminding folks who built their house, and talking about how much more they’ll pay for tomatoes when a wall goes up and shuts out the migrant workers on whom farmers depend.
We lose when we engage in debates about vouchers and charter schools. We win when we ask folks how they feel when their kid can’t get the reading help she needs because the money for it went instead to let people in the next county send their kid to a fancy private school.
We don’t win with high blown language about which lives matter, or about recidivism rates for minor drug offenders saddled with mandatory sentences. We win by talking about the single parent down the street who got a DUI and had no choice but to drive to work without a license. Then we ask (let’s just be honest now) how many times they’ve gotten behind the wheel after one too many, and how they’d get to work if they lost their license, and whether their job would be waiting on them after six months in the slammer for getting to work the only way they could.
Remind people how close they are to the safety net, and how the difference between them and the folks now in that net may be dumb luck, or just a few years.
Even in Alabama, when you talk about real people and real problems, the issues favor Democrats. We just have to remember that folks in Alabama need to hear about things a little differently.
And that’s how we’ll win Alabama back.