Pro tip: stop disparaging voters

It’s still way early in the 2020 presidential election campaign, but not too early to see some really dumb remarks being tossed around. Blundering Oracle is here to help:

Knock it off.

What do Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton have in common? Both were major party nominees to lose the U.S. presidential race. Both also made major faux pas which came to light in the late stages of their campaigns, in September of 2012 and 2016, respectively.

The 47%

Romney said:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

The Basket of Deplorables

Clinton said:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

Romney made his remarks at a high-dollar private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida on May 17, 2012. Clinton made hers at an LGBT for Hillary gala in New York City on September 9, 2016. While Romney spoke in a private home and his comments were recorded in secret, Clinton spoke in a ballroom, behind a podium bearing the “Stronger Together” slogan, at an event where Barbra Streisand would perform.

Mitt wrote off half of the country and Hillary wrote off half of her opponents’ supporters. The problem for both candidates, however, was that neither of the disparaged groups knew for sure that the candidates weren’t talking about them.

Both Mitt and Hillary should have known better. If you’re running for office, especially president, you have to consider how everything you say might sound to anyone who hears it. Actually, you have imagine that practically everything you’ve ever said, every picture taken, every tweet, Facebook post, email message (ahem)… Anything could potentially appear, at the worst possible time. Example: Wikileaks dumped a bunch of hacked Democratic email messages about an hour after Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape became public. Honest.

Presidential candidates, campaigns, and national political parties should know this stuff. If they keep demonstrating that they don’t, what are we to make of the ordinary online citizen trying to influence somebody to support their favorite candidate or just get a few likes? Hopeless, right? Wrong.

This is simple

Here are some tips:

  • Don’t insult people
  • Name calling is childish
  • Avoid sweeping generalizations — grouping is risky
  • You are not a mind reader — don’t assume
  • Your reader may be smarter than you think ¹
  • Get outside your echo chamber

This is personal

What motivated me to start writing this post was the stuff I was seeing in tweets and comments that really hit close to home. Recently, it seems, it has become more common to see large groups of people written off. Groups such as men / white men / old white men / straight white men / white men without four-year college degrees…

That’s right, I am in all of those groups.

Some people in my own party assume that people in one or more of these groups will not vote for their preferred candidate (or won’t vote at all). Those are bad assumptions. What’s a far safer assumption is that dismissing groups of people or taking them for granted is going to put off people who identify with those groups.

If we disrespect, dismiss or ignore large groups of the electorate, then we are going to lose, and we will deserve to lose.

I think all politics is local, especially national politics. But more than that, all politics is personal. — Pete Buttigieg

It’s a big, wide, wonderful world

When I asked my wife for additional bullet points, she gave me the last one, first in the form of “don’t accept a single story.” When I asked her to expand on that, she said get outside your echo chamber. Don’t accept a single story as the story, or the way it is.

One of the things that happens to presidential candidates over time is that they get exposed to a lot of personal stories from a wide range of people. This weird primary process starts in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, then moves to South Carolina and Nevada and everywhere — both coasts and a lot of places in between.

Oddly enough, the candidates seem to make their biggest mistakes when they are speaking to friendly crowds, and sometimes long before the election. In April 2008 we learned that Barack Obama had said some things that, well, here’s how The Guardian reported it:

“Obama was caught in an uncharacteristic moment of loose language. Referring to working-class voters in old industrial towns decimated by job losses, the presidential hopeful said: ‘They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.’

Obama was speaking at a fundraiser in San Francisco. Many of Obama’s supporters knew what he meant (or felt they did) and that he was not disparaging them. People outside were far less generous. More than a decade later you will still find people who remember Obama’s “guns and religion” because they were offended.

We are susceptible to the same sort of unguarded talk, and it can cause more harm than we know. Getting some retweets and likes makes us feel cool, but if it’s at someone else’s expense, watch out. It’s important to get out of the bubble (and its perceived safety) and remember at all times that anybody might be listening.


¹ I admit to the possibility that you are at least as smart as I am. My wife is, and she’s much better educated, so I get a daily lesson in humility.

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