Democrats, Contempt Will Not Win You the Election

Telling voters their opinions don’t matter will not persuade them to vote for you.

Anew story by Jonathan Martin in Politico reveals that top Democrats are looking for ways to “mitigate the threat of disruptions” at the 2024 National Convention. Nearly everywhere he’s gone, President Joe Biden has been confronted by protesters infuriated over his near-unwavering support for Israel as it has committed the full-scale destruction of the Gaza Strip. At a pro-abortion rally in January, anti-war protesters interrupted the proceedings more than a dozen times with shouts of “Genocide Joe” and “Ceasefire now.” And at an exclusive $25 million Radio City Hall fundraiser where former Presidents Clinton and Obama were in attendance, Jewish Voice for Peace activists filled the room with chants of “Let Gaza live!

The Democratic Party is determined to prevent any such ruckus from detracting from President Biden’s coronation. According to the report, the DNC is experimenting with “how far can they go in reprising their virtual 2020 convention.” They are considering bringing back 2020’s pre-taped delegate roll call and removing important convention business—like developing rules and voting on a platform—from the floor to deny protesters the ability to speak. Their attempt to clamp down on rabble-rousers appears absolute. One convention planner is quoted saying, “If there is one peep in that hall, the networks will be all over it.”

Hanging over all of this is the specter of the 1968 Democratic Convention, where protesters flooded Chicago’s Grant Park to rage against a similarly unpopular war in Vietnam and the Johnson-Humphrey party establishment that was prosecuting it. In that year, the Democrats registered their contempt in the form of Mayor Richard Daley’s riot police, who beat and brutalized hundreds outside the convention center with what Connecticut Senator Abe Ribicoff described as “Gestapo-like tactics.” 

More than 50 years later, the Democrats are just as scared of answering to their own base, but they are looking for ways to avoid the ugly scene of 1968 by taking away any forum for dissent in the first place. (In a perfect bit of symmetry, one of the people pushing for the party to clamp down on the proceedings is the late Mayor Daley’s son, William.) Of course, Hubert Humphrey—who pivoted against the war far too late for it to matter—narrowly lost in 1968, and Richard Nixon became president. 

While it’s impossible to know the extent to which anti-war abstentions cost Humphrey the election, it’s now accepted wisdom that they played a part in his defeat. And as modern-day leftists have weighed protest votes against uninspiring candidates, those who withheld their votes against Humphrey have come out to warn them. Back in 2016, as Sanders voters considered staying home to put pressure on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Michael Ansara, a former Students for a Democratic Society member, wrote an op-ed for Vox warning them that not voting Humphrey as a protest against the war is “a mistake I regret to this day,” something that he feared occurring again with disgruntled Bernie voters. That same sentiment has bubbled up again as Biden faces similar disillusionment among young voters. In December of last year, The New Republic published a similar op-ed from another anti-war activist, Michael Kazin, who refused to vote for Humphrey and came to regret it. “The left I was a part of helped elect Nixon. Please don’t make a similar mistake today,” Kazin urged.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of either of these writers and am even sympathetic to their argument that protest votes can lead to adverse outcomes. But instead of trying to shame voters into putting aside their disgust at mass human slaughter, shouldn’t the onus be on Biden to stop doing the thing that’s causing disgust in the first place? 

Polls from the New York Times, released Monday, show Biden trailing Donald Trump in five out of six key swing states. Thirteen percent of those who have dropped their support for Biden since 2020 cite the war in Gaza as their primary reason for defecting. Among voters 35 and under, a demographic that gives Biden particularly bad marks for his policy toward Israel-Palestine, the president also astonishingly trails Trump by 11 points according to CNN polls from late last month (young voters were Biden’s best demographic in 2020). In an election that could be decided by just tens of thousands of votes, for Biden to lose so much support as the result of one issue is a disaster. And it seems likely that the longer the war goes on, the more support Biden will bleed. Support for wars tends to only decline the longer the bodies pile up, and this has been the case with Gaza. Democrats (83 percent) are now overwhelmingly in favor of a permanent ceasefire while even a majority of Republicans (56 percent) support one. The majority of Democrats (56 percent) now even say Israel is perpetrating a genocide. So while pleas for Biden to consider Gaza are often treated as acceding to a fringe minority, this is not the case at all.

Biden’s position on this war is far out of step with what a clear majority of voters want. Biden has avoided advocating a permanent ceasefire, instead saying his goal is a “temporary” six-week pause to the conflict. He is still giving Israel most of the weapons it needs to continue with its invasion of Rafah despite attempting to act like a tough interlocutor. Biden has the potential to win back these voters by actually cutting off all weapons sales to Israel until they agree to halt the war. Not only did Biden not do this, he instead decided to antagonize the protesters—attempting to further delegitimize their anger—by accusing them of unleashing a “ferocious” wave of antisemitism and defending the crackdown on their protests as “upholding the rule of law.” (For the record, almost all of the protesters who have been arrested were peaceful.)

The idea of persuading dissatisfied voters by directly altering U.S. policy toward Israel appears to be falling by the wayside. Instead, the Democrats’ pitch has been, for lack of better words, that you are a worthless piece of shit if you even consider doing anything other than vote for Biden. Hillary Clinton has emerged from her crypt to opine on late-night shows about the election. At one point, she chortled to undecided voters, “Get over yourself,” then later dismissed campus protesters as people who “don’t know very much at all about the history of the Middle East.” Her husband’s former strategist James Carville was somehow even more contemptuous, telling young Biden skeptics, “Fuck you.” He later carried on, saying that if Biden loses, “There will be no government left. There will be no rights left. You will live under theocracy. You’ll end up Christian nationalism. But that’s alright, you little fucking 26-year-old.” He then broke out into a whiny voice, mocking young people for saying that, “They’re not addressing the issues I care about.” His advice: “Get off your motherfucking ass and go vote.”

It’s not just has-beens like Hillary and Carville, but active legislators who have taken to this left-punching. Driven by a chest-beating Zionist fanaticism that far outflanks even Biden, Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania has spent the last half-year antagonizing and denouncing the progressive voters who helped bring him to power. He’s made a show of taunting pro-Palestinian demonstrators as they have been arrested. And when constituents have attempted to challenge his stances, he’s responded with derision, such as when he told a pro-ceasefire Afghanistan War veteran to “protest Hamas.”1

Fetterman has targeted progressives who plan to stay home on election day out of protest, preemptively blaming them for a potential Biden loss, saying “When you get the second term of Trump, you’ve got to own that tragedy.” But how should these voters respond when they are told to their face how little the Democratic Party cares about their concerns?

The strategy seems to be that if you treat potential protest voters like nuisances rather than a legitimate political bloc with a set of demands, you can demoralize those having doubts about Biden into believing they are alone and powerless. Clamping down on the DNC to prevent protester infiltration is part of this strategy too. Maybe if we pretend they aren’t there, they’ll stop. But if we’ve learned anything over the last few months of protests, it’s that trying to crush dissent only makes it stronger: After all, protest encampments didn’t start to escalate at campuses around the country until the cops broke up the first one at Columbia. 

Somehow I don’t think telling a bunch of rightfully angry people that their concerns are meaningless is going to get them to shut up either. If anything, it only confirms their belief that neither of the major parties represents them. Democrats can stomp their feet with indignation and entitlement as much as they want about this characterization and tell voters they are idiots for saying Biden is no better than Trump. I don’t even disagree with them: As furious as I am with Biden over Gaza and lots of other things, I still think Trump would be worse (including on Gaza) and would prefer to see him lose. But it’s the politician’s job to persuade the voter that they are the better choice. And whether Democrats like it or not, a sizable number who care about the rights of Palestinian people don’t believe Biden is a better choice. It is up to him to change that, or they won’t vote for him. 

  1. Even when challenged by progressives on non-Israel subjects, he now drips with callous indifference. This past week, when a constituent from Pennsylvania asked him why he changed his opinion on a pipeline that runs through her community, he whipped out his phone and began rolling his eyes, mocking and interrupting her before hopping into an elevator to avoid speaking to her. 

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