Win or lose, this is what Oklahoma Democrats must do beginning Wednesday and beyond
For 14 years I had this salt-of-the-earth father-in-law.
Only 14 years not because he died, but because I divorced.
He was forever consternating because he was all you’d want in almost every part of his life.
Generous to a fault.
Need some money, here.
Need a place to stay, there’s a bedroom down the hallway.
Hungry, come over Sunday noon, everybody will be here, eat and take some home.
He was that guy and it drove me crazy.
It drove me crazy because in his personal and family life, he couldn’t have been more charitable or helpful to anyone who asked for his charity or help.
Yet, he voted for political candidates who didn’t give a damn about the same people he was only too happy to help.
Bill Clinton ruined it for him, he told me.
I don’t know if he voted for the guy, but after Monica Lewinsky, when Clinton’s personal flaws went from accusation to clearly apparent, and after he lied about it under oath — so quaint a misstep now given the orange-skinned glutton who sent an armed mob to the U.S. Capitol — he just couldn’t vote for Democrats any more.
But it wasn’t only that.
Simultaneously, he’d been buying the other side’s narrative.
Its morality mirage, its family first fraudulence.
In my old father-in-law’s mind, what he could not do was issue a morally ambiguous vote.
The narrative that began with Ronald Reagan that carried through George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism had taken hold.
One side good.
The other side bad.
Clinton’s failings only confirmed the direction he’d already been leaning.
Tuesday, win or lose, in the governor and state superintendent of public education races, not to mention the rest, Oklahoma Democrats, after more than 40 years, must finally respond.
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Here, let me make that more clear.
IT’S BEEN 42 YEARS, ARE YOU TIRED OF GETTING YOUR ASS KICKED? I MEAN, COME ON. DO SOMETHING.
No matter how long it takes, Oklahoma Democrats must begin the process of resuscitating the party’s brand.
Ever notice how Democrats in Oklahoma never run as Democrats?
Sure, they run in the Democratic primary and, come the general, the sheet upon which votes are cast say “Democrat” next to their name.
But do you see it on their yard signs?
Do they mention party on the stump?
Do you hear them place themselves in a lineage that includes George Nigh, David Boren, David Walters and Brad Henry?
No, you don’t.
Because just like it had become to my former father-in-law, the Democratic brand, allowed to be defined by Republicans for more than a generation, is toxic.
That doesn’t mean Joy Hofmeister, Jena Nelson, Kendra Horn nor Madison Horn should have embraced party affiliation this election cycle, nor is this an effort to get near-term future Democratic candidates to embrace it.
The object is to win, not go down with an extra ounce of pride that costs the election.
Still, the resuscitation of the brand must begin nonetheless, parallel to future campaigns, but more importantly in spaces in time when there are no campaigns, when advertising’s bound to be cheaper and stand out, the message existing in a playing field all to itself … like, say, from Wednesday until the end of next year.
Seeds must be planted and never stop being planted.
It ought to be well received.
In addition to not demonizing the other side — a positive political ad, what a concept — it would be educational, a history lesson.
Corporations and industries do it all the time.
Like, how long has the OERB congratulated itself for having “contributed more than $2 billion for education” when what it’s really done is pay its taxes?
That and Dems wouldn’t even have to fudge the truth.
Do you realize, statehood forward, until Frank Keating’s election in 1995, all but 12 years of Oklahoma’s gubernatorial history had been Democratic and for eight of those 12 years it had been the same guy, a true bi-partisan, Henry Bellmon*, 20 years apart?
*Oh, by the way, if ever there was ever an Oklahoma Republican bound to choose state and country over party, it’s Bellmon.
One thing Oklahomans love is Oklahoma and the vast majority of our state’s history has been the history of the Democratic Party.
Yes, some Oklahoma Democrats have been on the wrong side of big issues, civil rights among them. Murray State, for instance, might want to rename itself Tishomingo State.
So play the hits.
Create a list of every bold step forward this state’s ever taken and you’re bound to find Democrats pushed it through.
Tell that story.
Again and again.
Remember when public university’s didn’t cost a fortune to attend? Or when public education, from bottom to top, was treated as a priority? Remember when public health was about protecting Oklahomans rather than dividing them? How about workers rights, consumer rights, who do you think championed them?
Oklahoma Democrats have a story to tell, one they haven’t spent any time telling since the 1970s.
Whatever happens Tuesday, start telling it Wednesday, or begin preparing to tell it.
Imagine what 5 to 10 percent of all money spent on Democrats this election cycle might do if spent to remove the toxicity of the brand now and forever between future elections, on changing the landscape upon which each election takes place?
Imagine getting to a place where, debating, a candidate might answer … “Well, as a lifelong Democrat, I’ve always been an advocate of public education, elementary to university, and I think we’re reaching a point where the political will exists to begin doing bunch of things we quit doing a long time ago,” and the “lifelong Democrat” line increased the candidate’s credibility rather than reduced it?
It can be done.
Take the challenge seriously and you might pull it off in 6 or 8 years. Or 20 if that’s what it takes. Begin the drumbeat and every day that day gets closer.
More than any Democratic candidate needed a ton of money to come in over last weekend, our state needs a thoughtful, serious, captivating and accurate ongoing history lesson.
Want to make this a two-party state again?