What Democrats should do next

Published November 9, 2021

By Thomas Mills

Democrats had a roller coaster of a week. The began by having tough elections in Virginia and New Jersey and ended it by passing a historic infrastructure bill with bipartisan support. The warnings of the Virginia election still stand, but Biden can now claim that he’s fulfilling his promise of building bipartisan majorities on important legislation. 

The infrastructure bill is the largest investment in the country’s transportation and communications systems since the Eisenhower administration. It’s long overdue and has been promised by both Democratic and Republican presidents. Trump promised to address infrastructure so often that there was a running joke about “infrastructure week” throughout his administration. He never made any progress on the issue, making Biden’s victory even more significant. He got done what Trump and the Republicans couldn’t. 

Now, Democrats need to launch a campaign to educate the public about the bill’s benefits. If they are expecting the mainstream media and administration proxies to do the work, they are going to find themselves on the losing end again. The SuperPACs that waste hundreds of millions of dollars on shitty campaign ads need to pony up and hire public relations firms to let people know how the legislation will affect their communities. It should be an ongoing effort that lasts for weeks, if not months. 

 Imagine if Donald Trump had gotten it done. We would be hearing about “the greatest infrastructure bill in history” ad nauseum. Memes would be inundating social media and he would be scheduling rallies around the country. Democrats don’t need to follow Trump’s over-the-top rhetoric, but they should certainly mimic his PR acumen. 

With the passage of the infrastructure bill, Biden has had a remarkably successful first year in office, despite the bad polling numbers. The latest indicators show an economy rapidly recovering from the pandemic-caused recession. Jobs are up, unemployment is down, and GDP is growing at a healthy pace. The pandemic is largely in check and Biden’s vaccine rollout is a big part of that. And, finally, Biden got us out of the forever war in Afghanistan. All in less than 10 months. Democrats should shouting these accomplishments from the roof tops. 

 The next two month or so will tell us if Democrats can rally beyond their defeat in Virginia. They need to pass some sort of budget that funds a good portion of the Build Back Better agenda to show both good faith within the party and keep the progressive wing of the party engaged. Another prolonged inter-party fight may overshadow the success Biden and the Democrats have seen.

Democrats also need to acknowledge that the pandemic is mostly over and begin reducing restrictions and mandates. People are tired of wearing masks and, now, everybody is either aware of the risk or they don’t believe it’s there. Let local businesses and local governments decide how they want to deal with it. Any mandates and restrictions should be tied to hospitalizations, not case rates. Plenty of people can get the virus without overwhelming our medical system and with the new Pfizer treatment, the risk of severe illness is decreasing even more. Living under a constant threat of closures is stressful and causes resentment of governments, even when they’ve handled the pandemic well. 

For Democrats, Virginia should be a wakeup call. They have had a successful year, but they have done little to let the general public know about their accomplishments. The world of SuperPACs lives in a campaign mentality, sitting on their millions when they should be spending them now on a branding operation, especially in the suburbs and exurbs. They should be attacking the GOP for opposing popular programs like paid family leave, universal pre-school, and expansion of green energy initiatives to combat climate change. And they should paint them as hypocrites who talk about law and order but won’t hold accountable the people who organized an attack on our government and democracy. Democrats need to go on the offensive now so they aren’t playing defense next November.