Shape, don't chase public opinion
by Tom Sullivan
"Democrats rely on polling to take the temperature; Republicans use polling to change it," Anat Shenker-Osorio wrote last week in The Hill. Republicans shape opinion; Democrats chase it. That's pandering, not leadership. People won't vote for that.
When Fight for $15, a movement to raise the minimum wage in the retail sector, came on the scene in 2012, the odds were against them. They faced prominent Democrats — including President Obama and Hillary Clinton — balking at what seemed too audacious a demand, out of step with public opinion.Screw "the economy." Help the people without whom there is no economy. Fight for $15 didn't chase public opinion. Fight for $15 reshaped it. Never out front of an issue, Democrats are always playing catch up. Always playing defense. Never offense. Obama and Clinton didn't lead on Fight for $15. They followed.
But instead of using the moderation approach, the Fight for $15 movement used a bold strategy reminiscent of the right: They demanded a hike to $15 on the proposition that people who work for a living ought to earn a living — not as a means to grow or help the economy.
Democrats' reflexive desire to refashion their appeal to appease even a committed opposition in order to court a mythically fixed middle demonstrates lessons still not learned. The job of an effective message isn't to say what is popular; it is to make popular what we need said.That takes vision. It takes leadership.
This requires understanding not merely where people are but where they are capable of going.