To Win, Democrats Should Stop Talking Down -- And Start Speaking Up

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden
Photo by Gage Skidmore/ CC BY 2.0

Schmaltz. That, and generosity, and a dollop of out loud love for the good old U.S.A. That’s what the Democrats should use this year as we campaign for offices from the White House to the Senate and House to positions in state and local governments around the country.

People are sick and tired of being depressed about everything from you-know-who – we’ll get to him in a minute – to the wars overseas to the “situation at the border” as it is referred to euphemistically these days, to what many of us see as the ongoing threat to our democracy. I’m not saying we should put it all aside and paste smiles on our faces and push feelgoodism as a platform, but I have to tell you that I sure do wish that “It’s morning in America” wasn’t already taken, because that’s exactly the kind of schmaltz I’m talking about.

I agree that this is the most important election in our lifetimes. I just don’t think we need to hear that every five minutes between now and November. What we need to do is start acting like it is and not use that phrase with each other so much. I think independents and undecideds – there are more than a few of them out there – understand that they’re being talked down to by that kind of rhetoric. It sounds like we think they don’t know the election is important, and even if some of them don’t think the situation is as desperate as we do, we shouldn’t act like they need to be led to water to get a drink. Frantic is not a good look for a political party that got 80 million votes in the last presidential election and won the popular vote in three of the last four.

It doesn’t work for us to sound as negative and pessimistic as the other side. Trump’s rally speeches are filled with the words “carnage” and “chaos.” He talks about crime as a scourge at a time when violent crime is going down everywhere, especially in big cities, and blames it on Democrats when the one place violent crime is actually increasing is in rural, mostly red parts of the country. On Saturday, he gave yet another unhinged speech at a rally in North Carolina telling his crowd that Biden is the one who is “engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America.” He is pushing the idea that Biden is “the real threat to democracy” as a major theme of his campaign.

Here's the problem we face: Sure, he has flipped the script. He’s doing that thing of accusing the other side of exactly what he’s guilty of. But it doesn’t work for us to constantly be making the case that he is the one who’s guilty, even though he is. He is cranking up the paranoia of the right-wing, as if it needed to be any higher, but we can’t counter with paranoia of our own.

It doesn’t work to sound like him, to say the things he’s saying. We have to be different. We need to draw distinctions between Republicans and us, not sound like them. Donald Trump and Republicans are running as the party of pessimism. We need to be positive. We need to affirm the essential goodness of people.

Americans want to think better of themselves and of each other. That includes our own base voters, but I think it’s especially true of independents and swing voters who are looking for a reason to vote for rather than against all the time. Teagan Goddard of Political Wire dug an interesting number out of the depths of that New York Times/Siena poll that had Trump ahead of Biden that everyone is flapping their hands about. Among the 19 percent of voters polled who disapprove of both candidates, pressed to pick one or the other, Biden beat Trump 45 to 33 percent.

See? They are the pox-on-both-your-houses people who are mad at both parties because the choice this time is the same as it was in 2020. But why is Biden more appealing to them than Trump by such a wide margin? I think they’re tired of Trump’s pessimism and negativity. Say what you will about Joe Biden, but that man does not come across as down on everything the way Trump does, and that aspect of him comes across clearly. Trump is angry about everything. Biden just isn’t.

If anything, Joe Biden comes across as calm and collected. The way he responded to that disaster with the aid convoy in Gaza is a perfect example. He ordered food and other supplies to be airdropped into Gaza, and 24 hours later, it was happening. It’s decisive. It’s positive. And it’s working.

Every other day, there’s another story about the trouble the Biden campaign has had with convincing people that he has accomplished more than any president in 20 years. You know the drill. All the good numbers are up. All the bad ones are down. The infrastructure bill. Student loan forgiveness. On and on.

If specifics aren’t working, then I say promote pride. America is the greatest country in the world. As a people, we are generous and outgoing and forgiving. We work hard. We love our families. When disaster strikes, we take care of each other.

Americans don’t want to wake up every day and be told how terrible things are, how insoluble problems like immigration and the border are, and I don’t think they want to be told over and over how evil those on the other side are. Sure, we have our problems – poverty and racism and xenophobia and sexism – but on the whole, we are a good people. This is a good country. Americans want to feel good about ourselves and each other. I’m not saying if they go low, we go high. We’re going to have to fight and fight hard to win this year. But part of our job is to give people a reason to vote for us as much as against the other side. If that means vote for the nice guy, not the asshole, then we should say it.

Nice is better than nasty. Positive is better than negative. Sanity is better than crazy. Pride is better than paranoia. It’s a clear choice, and we should run on it.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

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