Open Forum

On Communicating from the Heart

On Communicating from the Heart


e can recapture the South. The problem is not ideology, “left” or “right.” We need to stop thinking in terms of “left” and “right.” They are an artificial dichotomy that lazy journalism and lazy political operatives have imposed on the nation’s political discourse. Most working people and farming people do not think in terms of a left-right spectrum. It is not real to them, nor should it be, because it is, in fact, not real. What is real is whether one is on the side of the people or against the people. And if one is going to win the people’s trust that one is on their side, actions speak louder than words. The Democratic Party needs to stop giving the people an academic issues symposium as its political “message.” That is all just words. The Democratic Party needs to show the people through action that it exists to fight for them. For example, nominating for President a hugely wealthy man who lives in a gilded mansion and who obviously crafts his political communications based on what he thinks will win an election rather than based on the convictions of his heart is not the action of a party that exists to fight for the people. What I will, for the sake of language, call “heartland” voters—rural and blue-collar voters—are not dumb. To the contrary, they are very smart. They have to be smart to survive in the face of a ruthlessly exploitive economy. The Democratic Party’s continued use of patrician elitists of the political aristocracy is transparent to them. The Democratic Party’s continued failure to give them distinct choices in opposition to what the Republicans offer them is the main thing that prompts them to vote Republican. Yes, there is a smattering of genuine theocrats among the Republican base, but they are only a small minority of the voters who put Republicans in office. (I am not referring to Republican leadership, I am talking about voters.) Ordinary Republican or Democratic voters don’t any more want their churches to run their lives than the man in the moon. They don’t let their churches run their own lives. But when the Democratic Party does not offer them boldness, distinct choices, and a fighting spirit, they say to themselves (in some cases subliminally, in some cases consciously), “The Democratic Party offers me nothing, they don’t really believe in anything, so what the heck, I might as well vote the way my church recommends, because that’s the only thing I have to go by.” As a candidate, George W. Bush did offer voters a clear message and the gumption to fight for it, even though it was all based on lies. A political campaign is an adversarial process. For the voters to understand that the Bush message is all lies, it takes the opposition campaign, i.e., the Democratic campaign, to point that out, aggressively with no holds barred. But the Democratic campaign didn’t do that. It does no good for Democrats and progressives to complain to each other about Republican campaign tactics. They are going to do what they are going to do, and we cannot control their actions. But we can control our actions. I know that a meaningful number of heartland voters will vote Democratic if they are given real choices and if the facts and the ethics are presented in down-to-earth fashion, with passion and conviction and fight, rather than as if we’re all in a university symposium. I know this from personal experience. In my recent race for the Texas Supreme Court against a right-wing, pro-corporate Republican, I carried some rural Texas counties that John Kerry lost handily. I traveled to those counties, met people, listened to their concerns, spoke truth to power exactly as I see it, and was well-received by good people who hadn’t seen a statewide Democrat in their towns in a long time and were glad to see one again. John Kerry is so used to basing his votes and his positions on what pollsters tell him, he doesn’t even know what he feels or believes. The difference between his campaign and mine was that I directly challenged corporate power in a give ’em hell manner that wasn’t crafted on the basis of any damn polls, but from my own passion because I’m mad as hell about the corporate takeover of government and Republican Party totalitarianism, and I said it on the stump just exactly the way I really feel it. Rural Texas audiences didn’t lynch me; to the contrary they responded with standing ovations. They are hungry for fighting Democrats to return, in a way they haven’t seen the Democratic Party act in years. Their mommas and daddies loved “give ’em hell” Harry Truman, and they were brought up to think of the Democratic Party as the party of the people. But they don’t see that any more. “Party of the people” means you mean what you say and say what you mean, and you don’t run away from fights, and you fight for the people. I won’t campaign for any Democratic nominees any more who are softies, who are afraid to confront corporate power and Republican totalitarianism with passion and toughness. Yes, the Democratic Party can get the heartland back, whenever it rediscovers a politics of the heart and throws all the polling, Democratic participation indexes, computer projections, and targeting, and the consultants who peddle that stuff, out the nearest window. That includes throwing out the “battleground state” tactics. We damn sure aren’t ever going to win in the South if we don’t have the guts to fight for the South. Communicating from the heart will reclaim the heartland. David Van Os is a San Antonio-based lawyer concentrating in civil rights and union-side labor law. His political commentary can be found at

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Published at 12:00 am CST