Could Fareed Zakaria Show Us Where These Dems Who Only Talk About Pronouns Are?

Elections
Could Fareed Zakaria Show Us Where These Dems Who Only Talk About Pronouns Are?

Fareed Zakaria, Host, "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Editor-at-Larg… | Flickr

Oh boy, another week, another op-ed about how Democrats can win elections if only they throw transgender people under the bus!

This week, we've got "radical centrist" Fareed Zakaria lecturing us in the Washington Post with a real doozy titled "Forget pronouns. Democrats need to become the party of building things," in which he imagines that he lives in some parallel universe in which Democratic politicians are spending all of their time advocating for trans people instead of, I suppose, "building things." I have not personally seen this and Zakaria offers literally zero examples of this happening, but I guess we have to take his word for it.

He kicks things off by noting that he got an email from Ron DeSantis (don't get too excited for him — this was fundraising, not a personal invite to his next flotilla) in which DeSantis tries to frighten people about the "woke mob."

“A new enemy has emerged from the shadows,” he continued, “that seeks to destroy and intimidate their way to a transformed state, and country, that you and I would hardly recognize.” As you might by now have guessed, “This enemy is the radical vigilante woke mob.”

What a thing for people who are mounting attacks against libraries and Disney to say!


Some of this is a clever effort by DeSantis to tap into the base of the Republican Party and outflank Donald Trump on the kinds of issues that propelled Trump to the Republican nomination in 2016.

Actually, one of Trump's big things was trying to claim, ridiculously, that he would be better for LGBTQ people than Democrats were, and was therefore able to scoop up a lot of support from younger Republicans who were less invested in that issue. Sure, he went on to do some pretty crappy things, particularly regarding trans people, but that was not how he presented himself in the beginning. Trolls were particularly fond of pointing out that Trump was the first president to go into office supporting same-sex marriage.

This is actually important because it shows how people can turn on a dime when it suits them and allows them to "own the libs." Many Trumpists actually took something of a break from LGBTQ-bashing and anti-sex huffing and puffing, and it is likely that this recent culture war nonsense is a result of them holding a lot in during the Trump era — even though it hardly seemed like that to us.

But go on.

But this also reflects the looming electoral strategy among Republicans, who believe they have found a deep vulnerability among Democrats.

Except they really haven't. Or they have, but not the way Zakaria thinks. What this shows is that conservatives will take absolutely any issue and try to turn it into a cudgel with which to beat Dems. This exact same scenario has played itself out a thousand times already and it has never worked out. Republicans attack Democrats for something that is likely more of a strength than a weakness and Dems go "Oh no! This thing is a liability! Throw it overboard, quick! Surely if we capitulate to this one thing, they'll leave us alone!" Which never, ever happens.

There is no magic amount of neutral that Dems can be in order to keep Republicans from attacking them in this way. There will always be something and if there isn't anything, they will make something up.

A recent, comprehensive New York Times poll seemed to confirm this view. Analyzing some of the findings of the poll, David Leonhardt wrote, “Many Democrats — both politicians and voters, especially on the party’s left flank … seem more focused on divisive cultural issues than on most Americans’ everyday concerns, like inflation.” To be fair, President Biden still beats Trump in a head-to-head matchup, but that dynamic might not help the Democrats in the midterm elections, when Trump is not on the ballot.

That's weird, because Republicans are the ones driving these culture war debates.

There is plenty of evidence that the Democratic Party has moved left, that it is out of sync with Americans on many of these cultural issues, and that it needs to correct course. But it needs to do so clearly, forcefully and repeatedly. Republicans are clever at weaponizing the words of a few left-wing Democrats and branding them as the face of the party. For example, I have not found a single senior national Democratic leader who has ever endorsed the idea of “defunding the police” — Biden actually proposed increased funding for cops — and yet Republicans have repeated this mantra constantly.

It should be noted that the piece Zakaria linked to for "moved left" was last month's particularly ridiculous New York Times article about how Democrats can win by partying like it's 1992, doing Sister Souljah moments all over the place and praising law enforcement.

That being said! It is not just the words of "far left-wing" Democrats they weaponize. They literally attacked Hillary Clinton for voting to give their president permission to invade Iraq — and it was incredibly successful. They also claimed she ate babies. If all of us on the Left were legally barred from speaking or using the internet, they would still "weaponize" things that Democrats say and do or, again, just make them up.

It also seems fair to note that Bill Clinton did not escape this either (very famously, in fact!). As centrist a Democrat as he was, he and his entire family were viciously attacked by rightwing media and no capitulation to the Right ever slowed that down for a second.

Democrats need to learn how to fight back — for example, by highlighting the most extreme abortion laws passed in Republican states and branding the Republican Party with them. In Oklahoma, abortions are now banned, with very few exceptions, from the moment of conception onward. In Mississippi, a doctor could face 10 years in prison for performing an illegal abortion.

Sure, that's a thing we can and should do. However, if you notice, nothing makes the GOP back down. They walk it off every time, even when they know they fucked up. Jim Jordan refused to apologize for posting misinformation about the 10-year-old victim of rape who had to go to Indiana to get an abortion, and he will very likely suffer no consequences at all for that.

If there is one thing I have learned in my life it is that being unapologetically yourself may make you more of a target for a while, but it limits the amount that people are able to really fuck with you. It's also more likely to endear people to you than being a people pleaser is, because people hate people pleasers.

The reason Republicans can weaponize anything is because certain Democrats will react the same way to anything they weaponize. They're too quick to give up, to try and Sister Souljah moment their way out of it. If Democrats had not flipped the fuck out over "defund the police" and spent so much time and effort trying to prove they love the police, it never would have been the thing it became. They saw how upset Democrats got over it and kept sticking their finger in that wound. It's what they do every time. And every time they get about a million op-eds from people ostensibly trying to "help out" the Democrats by telling them to abandon the issue and the voters who advocate for it.

That's another way this helps them, by the way. People don't like being told to shut up, for one. For another, no one wants to come to your party if you say "Ew, all of my friends are total losers but if you're there it might be cool." By dragging the Left in order to not seem "extreme," Democrats run the risk not just of alienating voters on the Left, but of telegraphing leftwing and even liberal policies as something people should be scared of.

Yet Democrats have another big weak spot, and it centers on performance. Democrats in power often seem unable to get anything done. Democrats squabble more — and more in public — than Republicans. Despite the fact that much of the GOP establishment despised Trump, once he was elected, they nearly all fell in line, mostly passed his agenda and supported him unfailingly.

Hey! Guess who was the problem there? Who was it that wouldn't "fall in line"? I'll give you a clue — it wasn't the Left.

Zakaria then goes on to say that what Democrats really need to do is build more things and do more infrastructure, but that they can't, because there are too many regulations in blue states. This really could have been a whole other article. But he comes back to the pronoun thing at the end.

This is not a perception problem. It is a reality problem. Democrats need to once more become the party that gets stuff done, builds things and makes government work for people. That’s a lot more important to most Americans than using the right pronouns.

Why not both? Arguably, it is perhaps even less difficult to do public works programs and also use people's correct pronouns than it is to walk and chew gum at the same time — from a coordination perspective.

Really, these problems are not especially related in the way that Zakaria thinks they are. I could be wrong, but I do think that part of the reason some Democrats don't go around touting their achievements or what they do or what they believe in isn't just that they find it gauche, but rather that they are afraid those things will be weaponized by the Right and then destroyed, which will then result in lost elections.

It is highly unlikely that those of us on the Left are ever going to shut up or stop using social media or stop having opinions on things. It's just not going to happen. Trans people and allies aren't going to shut up or cede their fight for their own rights so that Democrats can run on building stuff and totally get to their things later. Social media is not going away. Republicans are going to weaponize everything. Fortune favors the bold and if the meek inherit the earth it will be because everyone else found a cooler planet and left them behind.

This is the reality we live in and if Democrats want to win elections they have to figure out how to work within that framework instead of just blaming everyone else for not being good enough to deserve them.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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