-By Pat Lynch
Michael Avenatti, whom most of us know as Stormy Weather’s articulate attorney (and now possible presidential contender), recently made a speech urging Democrats to toughen up and fight back. In a departure from the ‘When they go low, we go high,’ approach advocated by Michelle Obama, Avenatti told a beguiled Iowa crowd, “When they go low, I say hit back harder.”
The question is, can we “hit back harder” without becoming like the vulgar, hateful and comically stupid Trump? Avenatti thinks we can and so does Princeton history professor Julian Zelizer. “Avenatti is right,” Zelizer says. “With two critical elections on the horizon—2018 and 2020—Democrats need to wake up from their civil slumber and understand that turning back the modern Republican Party…will necessitate engaging directly in the hard hitting, media-centered political combat zone within which elections are now determined.”
Can we enter that zone without tweeting absurd insults and lies? I remember a saying scrawled on the wall when I was a political/hippie kid living in a commune: “Beware when you go to slay dragons that you do not become one.” Avenatti and Zelizer don’t want us to nominate a presidential candidate who has no stomach for a brawl. They think polite, correct and dull doesn’t stand a chance against Trump. Maybe they’re right, but I think they may not have given full consideration to the phenomenon known as “Trump fatigue syndrome.” We’ll see what happens in November, but right now things generally look good for Democrats, and we haven’t had to come up with a Trump of our own.
Still, the next two months will surely tell us how to proceed, and maybe with whom. Zelizer recalls the not so distant past. “In 1992 Bill Clinton…sick and tired of the losing Democratic candidates who treated Reagan and George H. W. Bush with kid gloves…established his war room.” Clinton’s war room, run by James Carville, responded immediately and vigorously to every attack from the Bush team. They hit back fast and hard. But they also had Clinton’s folksy charm and his unswerving focus on the economy. The Democratic team didn’t become like the opposition—they found their own voice and learned how to raise it.
“Democrats need to accept the nature of the political fight they face,” Zelizer says. They “need to find a set of principles that inspire and excite their votes.” Here he and I differ. We Democrats have our set of principles and know what they are. We don’t need to “find” them. (Ironically, our principles include saving SSI, Food Stamps, and Medicare, programs that greatly benefit Trump’s base and are threatened by his corporate axe). And I like to remember that 2016 was not a massive repudiation of decency. Why? Because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million and Trump had foreign help to squeak through the Electoral College.
Still, Avenatti and Zelizer make good points. We have to fight fiercely, and the Clinton rapid-response war room is a good model. But I hope we rise to the occasion, not sink
to the Trumpian swamp.