Who’s Gonna Tell’em?

US Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen (R) listen while US President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 relief from the State Dining Room of the White House February 5, 2021, i... US Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen (R) listen while US President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 relief from the State Dining Room of the White House February 5, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
February 23, 2021 2:31 p.m.

Of the many lessons of the last decade, one of the most salient is that good policy does not make for good politics. Not automatically. That’s simply not how it works. It was one of the underlying premises – intertwined with much else – that led to the disappointments and failures of the Obama years. Ex-President Trump got grief when he wanted relief checks to go out with his name on them. That’s not at all legit. But he had the right idea. You need to tell people when you’re doing things for them. No one else is going to do that.

This belief that good policy will take care of itself is deeply rooted in the technocratic, meritocratic mentality that animates so many professional Democrats. There’s a lot to that worldview that is good and we should celebrate. This is one of its blindnesses. There is no good policy that isn’t conjoined to good politics. You just have to do the politics because there’s no good policy without building, nurturing and sustaining constituencies for good policy. That’s the only way good policy can be sustained over time, from election to election. Because the most ingenious and humane policy is a failure if it isn’t sustained, if voters don’t know that it happened, why it happened and what they need to do to make it keep happening.

To wit with all of this, Democrats are in the midst of passing a massive COVID relief bill which will spend almost two trillion dollars to revive the economy, speed the vaccination program that will crush the COVID epidemic and address entrenched inequalities that predate and have been deepened by the crisis. It will also send out fat checks to tens of millions of households – ones two Georgia senators ran on with the explicit commitment of the incoming President himself. The bill is overwhelmingly popular with the public at large and it seems likely that few and quite likely no Republicans at all will vote for it. When you do something that popular, that you promised you’d do and your political opponents are all refusing to support it … you absolutely, positively have to tell everybody. It’s negligence not to.

As soon as the bill passes, Democratic party aligned groups need to be running ads in every district in the country that is remotely in play and frankly even ones that aren’t in play and telling everyone this: The country is in crisis. President Biden just delivered and every Republican including [add name here] refused to support the plan.

Politics isn’t just something that happens at election time. You need to start telling the story now. The precise inflection of the story will be different in different regions, communities. But it’s absolutely critical to tell the story now. Because if you don’t – actually regardless of what you do – Republicans will be picking little chunks out of the bill to lie about and make that the story.

It is always the case. But it is especially the case now – given the that everything the Democrats do over the next two years has to be part of an integrated plan – both doing and publicizing – to convince as many Americans as possible to go into the 2022 midterm election believing that it is important to them personally that Democrats retain and expand their congressional majorities. Did you like your $2,000 check? Well, Democrats brought you that, even after Senate Republicans tried to filibuster those checks. Every Republican including [add name here] voted against it. Again and again and again.

Are these ads being prepped? Is money billing allocated for this? Which groups are taking the lead? I have no idea and frankly I haven’t heard anything about anything like this happening. But it needs to. So if you care about saving the country, it’s time find ways to make this happen.

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