Juan Williams: Democrats must fight and win the culture wars

Why are the voters so grumpy?

The conventional answer is inflation.

It turns out that the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Concerns about inflation and the broader economy “are not as dominant as they used to be,” according to Gallup.

“In fact, economic concerns have diminished significantly since 2011,” said Lydia Saad, director of US Social Research at Gallup.

And “Americans’ “satisfaction with their personal lives” is high at 85 percent in Gallup polls. That fits with low unemployment, rising wages, strong stock market returns, progress in controlling the pandemic and the US so far successfully holding its own against Russia.

So why the sad face?

The real reason Americans are grumpy, according to Gallup, is that politics is crazy. It’s flashy and bipartisan.

The outside party is upset at not getting their way. And independents are unhappy with the clamor and the unresolved issues. This is at the heart of voter dissatisfaction with the “direction of the country.”

“By our three major political groups [Democrats, independents and Republicans] at any given time, only one — the president’s party — is likely to be satisfied with the country’s direction,” Saad said. “The other party is dissatisfied because of increased partisanship.”

Additionally, across all political groups, Americans under 40 are very pessimistic about the future, particularly those under 25, according to a January Civiqs poll.

Those polls found that 93 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Democrats under the age of 40 are angry or frustrated with Washington politics. Dissatisfaction with Washington politics is consistent across racial lines – everyone is angry.

“It’s about a growing sense of disappointment that the measures haven’t reached the level hoped for,” Drew Linzer, the director and co-founder of Civiqs, told Time magazine of the dissatisfaction of young voters.

They want politicians to bring about positive change. They see no improvement among Republicans and Democrats.

This is especially true for young men.

In the last three years, “anger among men in the United States” has risen, according to Gallup. It has also increased among older men, but among young men, anger and stress levels are nearing record levels.

Overall, voter satisfaction with the country’s orientation is low.

Social media and talk radio are a constant explosion of culture wars over divisive issues like abortion, race, and transgender rights.

Culture wars are effective in exciting partisan extremists. But they scare off many voters.

The success of the right-wing media in stirring up voter excitement prompted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in February to warn its candidates to give serious thought to the energizing effect of culture wars on partisan voters.

GOP culture war attacks are “frighteningly powerful,” the DCCC memo said.

Even outrageous distortions appeal to partisan extremists, the memo says. That means outright lies about a Supreme Court nominee being soft on those convicted of child pornography offenses must be dismissed.

Culture war issues may help explain why President Biden has been stubbornly stuck below 50 percent in his approval ratings since last August, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

Biden has a track record of real achievements that would have been rewarded by voters over the past several years.

He has achieved more than 65 percent of Americans to be fully vaccinated, despite Republican efforts to politicize vaccination; managed to send COVID-19 relief checks to millions of Americans, avoiding a coronavirus recession; and he signed a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill to spur growth. Now Biden is repelling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Republicans have no political solutions to big problems.

Instead, they join Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in chasing votes by fomenting culture wars. DeSantis has notoriously opposed mask requirements and is now threatening to fine the Walt Disney Company for bucking his “Don’t Say Gay” law.

It’s easy to shake your head, but as comedian Bill Maher likes to point out, most culture war issues end up in the “blue bin.” That is, Republicans win by hammering down the popular impression that Democrats lack “common sense” on cultural issues.

Thirty years ago, in the 1992 presidential campaign, then-candidate Bill Clinton deftly rewrote the script of the GOP’s culture war.

He jumped into the culture wars by picking a fight with a black rapper named Sister Souljah. She had made rude remarks about blacks killing whites after riots in Los Angeles. Clinton sharply criticized her and drew widespread attention for daring to take on a black woman.

It worked in transforming democrats into moderates.

Even today’s Democrats need to confront the culture wars head-on. But the threat they must face is on the hard right, not the hard left.

If Biden, or maybe Vice President Harris, wants to save their party from a November wipeout, how about calling out Republicans for being a Trump-worshipping cult trying to end American democracy? That’s an important argument — and it would rightly position Democrats as the moderates and Trump’s trailblazers in the GOP as the extremists.

The bottom line is this: Democrats cannot ignore seditious cultural issues. Trying to hover above the fray will not work. It will only leave the Republicans unhindered on the battlefield.

Democrats need to understand why voters are grumpy. Then they must choose culture war battles to win.

Juan Williams is a writer and political analyst for Fox News Channel.


Leave a Comment