Messaging Beats Identity Politics
The real lesson to learn from the midterm elections of 2014 is that the Obama-Axelrod theory of aggregating individual constituencies into an electoral majority by special interest appeals can be defeated by shaping a national consensus.
What do Latinos want? Immigration reform? Yes. But also a growing economy and a thriving country.
Gays? The right to marry? Yes. But also a government that works.
Single women? Abortion? Yes. But also a chance for wage growth and upward mobility.
Students? Relief from the burden of loans? Yes. But also career opportunities.
The formula of national messaging, if properly done, can trump the appeal to atomized special interest constituencies. That’s the lesson of 2014.
In his executive order granting amnesty to 5 million illegal immigrants, President Obama has moved decisively in the direction of special interested identity politics at the expense of national messaging. By increasing competition for low wage jobs and retarding income growth by pitting newly legalized immigrants against current lower middle class workers, he costs himself more votes than he gains.
Two theories have always dominated American politics — moving to the center to gain national support vs. polarizing to generate turnout at the extremes. Bill Clinton’s victory in 1996 stemmed from the first strategy while Obama’s in 2012 was due to the latter approach.
But the results of 2014 show the limits of the Obama strategy. At best, it provides a razor thin majority and leaves everyone else out in the cold. At worst, it falls short and totally disempowers those it sought to help.
But, on an even deeper level, Americans are coming to realize that ethnic and gender targeting — the Balkanization of America — has grievous unintended consequences. It leads to Fergusons that, in turn, lead to Bedford Stuyvesant police assassinations.
If the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, America will be riven by division and discord which threatens the good of all interests and all peoples. Atomization comes at a price of a lack of social cohesion and common ground. It undermines a president’s capacity to govern and leaves his nation divided and bitter. Ultimately, we really do rise or fall together, a fact of which Obama’s political strategy fails to take account.
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