“This ‘too cool for school’ sh*t doesn’t work, and we have to stop it.” So says James Carville, the legendary mastermind of Bill Clinton’s presidential victory in 1992 and the man who coined the axiom “It’s the economy, stupid.” Now, however, Carville warns Vox’s Sean Illing that it’s the stupidity that concerns him most — and other Democrats, at least privately.
“Wokeness is a problem,” Carville tells Illing, “and everyone knows it.” The remark comes as Carville praises Joe Biden for avoiding “faculty lounge politics”:
CARVILLE: You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? They come up with a word like “Latinx” that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like “communities of color.” I don’t know anyone who speaks like that. I don’t know anyone who lives in a “community of color.” I know lots of white and Black and brown people and they all live in … neighborhoods.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these phrases. But this is not how people talk. This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you’re talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language. This stuff is harmless in one sense, but in another sense it’s not.
Illing asks whether this means voters want to stop hearing about racial injustice. That misses the point, Carville responds, which is that the “jargony” activist rhetoric is harmful to that discussion. The problem is that people are afraid to point out the obvious — that “wokeness” has turned into a bludgeon. Even Democrats are afraid to cross the cancel culture, even though they know full well that it’s a stumbling block:
CARVILLE: Wokeness is a problem and everyone knows it. It’s hard to talk to anybody today — and I talk to lots of people in the Democratic Party — who doesn’t say this. But they don’t want to say it out loud.
ILLING: Why not?
CARVILLE: Because they’ll get clobbered or canceled. And look, part of the problem is that lots of Democrats will say that we have to listen to everybody and we have to include every perspective, or that we don’t have to run a ruthless messaging campaign. Well, you kinda do. It really matters.
I always tell people that we’ve got to stop speaking Hebrew and start speaking Yiddish. We have to speak the way regular people speak, the way voters speak. It ain’t complicated. That’s how you connect and persuade. And we have to stop allowing ourselves to be defined from the outside.
Be sure to read it all, even if you don’t agree with Carville’s politics. He’s a brilliant tactician and strategist, and he offers Democrats good advice. He tells Illing that Democrats have gotten painted as “an urban, coastal, arrogant party,” and that their embrace of wokeness and its rhetoric only cements that perception.
How do Democrats expect to gain traction, Carville asks, without building a coalition that includes rural and exurban white voters? They’re not going to make any inroads with those voters while chanting “abolish the police,” Carville points out, “because almost f*****g no one wants to do that.” Democrats lost in Miami-Dade and the Rio Grande Valley because of the “faculty lounge bulls**t,” Carville insists.
All true, and it seems quite interesting that Vox published Carville’s rant verbatim. Vox hasn’t exactly shied away from The Great Wokening, after all. However, there are lessons here for Republicans too about reaching out to distant constituencies. Base elections are a path to short-term gains at best. The GOP may have done a little better with Hispanic voters in 2020 by focusing on Democrats’ increased radicalism and socialism, but they’re still far off of George W. Bush’s 44%, which came from purposeful outreach rather than sloganeering. Democrats aren’t the only party in need of better strategic planning for long-term health of the party and movement.
Addendum: By the way, I wrote a book about that necessity five years ago. Not much has changed since, although the RNC has at least maintained the organizational structure that could deliver such sustained outreach. Still available on Kindle and audiobook, for anyone interested. There’s even a “collectable” available, although I have no idea what that means…