Smack down update: Democrats need a new message

There’s a new idiom in the English language. It’s Gianforte-ing someone. A bit of a mouthful, no doubt, but it gets the point across. If someone is annoying, it’s, “Don’t make me Gianforte you!” Or, a person is asking a bunch of tough questions you can’t answer, “Back off before I go all Gianforte on you!”

I shouldn’t make light of the incident but it’s so damn easy. In reality, what Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte did was give Montana a black eye, and I mean that in all seriousness. He made our state look like a bunch of savages.

Lots of national attention is being paid to Montana’s recent congressional special election. I’ll start with perhaps the most enjoyable read, in the New York Times, from former Bozeman resident Sarah Vowell. She attempts to paint Montanans as more than just violent rubes. It’s titled, “Don’t Judge Montana for a Single Body Slam.” Here’s an outtake:

I heartily disapprove of real-life violence. That includes assault perpetrated on a member of the press by a candidate whose TV ads were all about how bully he is for the Second Amendment because apparently he’s never heard of the First.

There are two pieces from the New Yorker. The first is light reading from one of my favorite satirists, Andy Borowitz. The second is a serious piece from writer Benjamin Wallace-Wells. It could be a metaphor for the nation and something Montanans should not be proud of. From the story:

But, as the race neared its conclusion, for all the weirdness of the principals, it seemed to be following a generic path: D versus R, which in Montana meant curtains for the folk singer. That was before Gianforte attacked Jacobs. In the hours that followed, darker themes emerged. Gianforte’s staffers reported that, rather than shunning the candidate, the conservative grass roots seemed to be rallying around him: his campaign pulled in more than a hundred thousand dollars in donations between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

It’s a depressing indictment. A far-right commentator said it was “a little bit of Montana justice.” The Washington Post continues this meme.

It also showcased how many prominent figures on the right reflexively rally behind Republican politicians, whether the president or a House candidate, even when they are very clearly in the wrong. This is part of a growing tribalism that contributes to the polarization of our political system.

Rolling Stone’s Matt Tiabbi, one of the best political writers on the scene these days, asks what the Democratic Party can do to stem this tide. It’s worth a read. An excerpt:

The standard-bearer for unelectable candidates who were elected anyway will likely always be Donald Trump … but Gianforte (and Trump) are not exceptions. They’re the rule in modern America, which in recent years has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to vote for just about anybody not currently under indictment for serial murder, so long as that person is not a Democrat.

Taking into serious consideration Gianforte’s election, one has to wonder if the Democratic message is completely out of sync with the majority of voters. How can they possibly lose elections in the era of Trump? That’s the gist of Taibbi’s piece and it certainly deserves immediate introspection, Democrats, as we face the erosion of civility, the rise of tribalism and we slouch towards autocracy.

UPDATE: Here’s a NYT column I missed. It’s written by a former Montana resident. A snippet:

The Montanans I know look out for each other, and dislike bullies, frauds and Californians. I thought they would never elect a creationist tech millionaire from San Diego (by way of New Jersey) who had done something so seemingly unhinged.

But I was wrong. So now I’m in mourning for the state I thought I knew.

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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.


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  • Maybe Dems can begin working on a new message (not a new delivery) by apologizing to independents like me who they cast off as being unworthy of giving the time of day. It’s hard to support democrats in Montana when so much of what the party stands for is the antipathy of what people in the state want to hear.

    Less identity politics and more basic rights applied equally across the spectrum. Less politickin’ and more integrity — doing what you say you’re going to do (I put Tester on the hot seat hear for his poor treatment of Paul Richards’ supporters in ’06). Being accountable, instead of talking about accountability for others. Being against the war-mongering tendencies of neocon and liberal interventionist ideologues. Rolling back the military-industrial-coples instead of capitalizing on false narratives to shift funding away from critical domestic needs. Policies geared to benefit the lowly and humble instead of the haughty, holy and wealthy. The list goes on and on.

    But it’s not really about message or messaging. It’s about a new politics. It’s about fairness. It’s about ending the specter of money as speech. It’s about inclusive policies, instead of insider games. It’s about making the right points — like the importance of the first amendment rights of the press — instead of making political hay like Tester, Bullock and Keenan did after Jacobs got gianforte’d.

    I could go on, but I’m already a pariah, and I doubt that anybody really wants serious change in the democratic party. Just a new way of messaging the same old crap. But I can hope.

      • Here’s a nice mainstream discussion:

        We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)

        Or something a bit more radical:

        Progressives must return the public focus to the universal validity of progressive policies and principles, not to the inherently divisive issue of who gets the most out of them. We should prioritize based on the significance of the ideal in its own right, not on the count or demographic of those it affects . . . We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of this election. We cannot afford to alienate a massive demographic due to divisive rhetoric a second time.

  • Well JC, you have a choice, vote for the Hillary’s or be a deplorable, like most Montanans. (I think
    that just explained identity politics, as defined by the Dems)

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