Democrats love policy. We dream of being policy advisers and writing policy papers. We just know that those working-class whites who voted for Trump would love us if they got a load of our worker-retraining policy.
That’s the impulse behind the “Better Deal” policy agenda that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi rolled out this summer. (“Better Deal,” get it? Like New Deal, Fair Deal, Square Deal, Art of the Deal, Let’s Make a Deal, Have We Got a Deal For You!)
Stop. Please. Just stop.
Stop thinking policy. Start thinking empathy. Empathy for people.
Empathy is defined as “the ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts or feelings.”
Until Democrats give voters some empathy, voters aren’t going to give us votes. The 2016 election demonstrated pretty conclusively that a lot of voters across America – of all races, ages, regions, backgrounds and income level – don’t think Democrats get, care about, understand, relate to or empathize with them. Choose your own verb.
Too many voters think that Democrats think they’re better and smarter than voters. That Democrats look down on people. Consider them to be rednecks, racists and unreconstructed ignoramuses.
Granted, there’s an unhealthy dose of racism and know-nothingism abroad in the land today.
But the inability of Democrats to relate to a broad swath of Americans is real. And troubling.
Think of this as the difference between Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. Both are policy wonks. But Bill Clinton always communicated caring, concern and compassion for people. Hillary seemed cold, disconnected and even condescending.
Voters thought Bill “got” them. So they gave him a chance. When they give you a chance, they don’t care so much about your policy proposals. They trust that if your heart is in the right place, and you’re smart, then you’ll figure out what to do.
Empathy was one of the great strengths of Governor Jim Hunt. Voters all across the state, from the country to small towns to big cities, believed he cared about them, understood them and really wanted to help them. So they gave him a lot of latitude on policy, and they gave him winning margins of 10 and 20 points in his races for Governor.
Hunt understand this concept at a gut level. He showed it during hurricanes and floods. He heard from people who were hurting, and he heard from bureaucrats who said they were doing everything they could. But he wasn’t satisfied until people who were hurting got help.
He believed his job was to represent people in their government. Not represent government to the people.
This is why it’s so wrong for Democrats to debate whether they should reach out to a broader spectrum of voters, or just focus on turning out loyal voters.
If you want to represent all North Carolina or all America, why wouldn’t you pay attention to, listen to and talk to all North Carolinians and all Americans?
Why make people think you don’t care enough about them to even ask for their votes?
Here’s a better deal for Democrats: Stop talking policy. Start listening to people.