The 2016 Presidential Election is less than a week away and every person has a very loud and particular opinion on each party’s candidates. That includes former spokesperson for Democrats Abroad and the Democratic Party in Belgium during the 2008 presidential campaign cycle, J.P. Bernbach. Bernbach recently published Beyond Reason: Debunking Conservative Lies, Delusions and Falsehoods and What You Really Need to Know Before You Vote (Astor + Blue Editions, September 1, 2016), a comprehensive look at American Conservatism and how we’re experiencing a complete breakdown of our democracy as we know it.
We asked Bernbach, in order to better understand where the divide currently happening in this country is coming from, about Beyond Reason and some of the issues facing the Democratic party. Here’s what he said:
BookTrib: What inspired you to write “Beyond Reason?”
J.P. Bernbach: I wanted to help set the record straight about some very critical issues. Also, to provide people on the Left with a set of irrefutable arguments against much of the Right-wing propaganda that has come to dominate the beliefs and attitudes of tens of millions of Americans over the past thirty years or so.
BT: If you could choose three main messages you’d want readers of the book to come away with, what would they be?
- Our most serious problems are political, not practical – we actually have the money, the know-how, the resources to deal with all of our major problems. The problem is that our political system and our media encourage conflict and discourage cooperation.
- Conservatism has been terrible for the U.S. economy, especially for working people.
- Even if you’re a Conservative, you shouldn’t trust the G.O.P. The book makes it clear why you shouldn’t.
BT: Why have conservatives created their own reality and when did this first start happening in the U.S.?
JPB: In the 1960s and ’70s American society began to change dramatically in ways that left many conservatives behind – civil rights, women’s rights, concern for the environment. Many conservatives have been reluctant to accept that these changes represent the views and values of the growing majority of Americans.
By the 1970s, liberalism had dominated American politics for over forty years. Conservative leaders recognized that they couldn’t win elections by openly declaring their agenda (i.e. rolling back the popular and successful liberal programs like Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights; enacting more business-friendly tax and regulatory policies). Their solution was to appeal strategically to voters fears (emphasis on crime, social breakdown) and desires (offering tax cuts). These formulas have been so effective and so essential to G.O.P. success that they can’t abandon them – for example, even when crime and illegal immigration are at historically low levels, as they are today, conservative candidates claim the opposite. Over time, conservatives got used to saying whatever would most terrify or excite their base, regardless of whether it was true or not.
BT: How is Donald Trump as the GOP candidate in line with the conservatives you mention in the book?
JPB: Trump isn’t really a conservative, but he’s certainly not a liberal either – he’s a professional opportunist who seems primarily, if not exclusively, concerned with his own interests. But he is the G.O.P. nominee for a reason – he’s the logical conclusion of 40 years of conservative anti-government rhetoric, culture-war politics, and general fear mongering.
Trump has exposed the fault-lines of the conservative movement. He lines up with conservatives with his anti-immigration and tough-on-crime rhetoric. But he differs from establishment conservatives in his hostility to free trade, favorable tax rates for the financial industry, and foreign interventionism. He has revealed the fact that millions of “conservative” Americans are actually quite radical in their desire to smash government, disregard the Constitution, and abandon long-standing international commitments and treaty obligations.
BT: What do liberals and Democrats need to do to improve their image with the American public?
JPB: Two things:
- Remember their own history of accomplishment, then own it and proclaim it. The New Deal; Social Security; the G.I. Bill; Civil Rights; Medicare and Medicaid; putting a man on the moon; environmental protection laws; education programs from Head Start to Pell Grants… These are all liberal achievements that huge majorities of Americans support and are proud of.
- Democrats need to become more skillful and organized communicators. One of the unhappy realities of our age of cable television, internet, and social media is that it’s not enough to know and speak the truth – facts on their own are not persuasive. Republicans as a group communicate with more consistency, coherence, clarity, simplicity – they promote strong narratives that communicate their messages effectively.
BT: Why haven’t Democrats marketed themselves and what they really do stand for better?
JPB: They are disorganized and undisciplined as a national party – they’re not all on the “same page”, they don’t all use the same talking points and buzz words. They also tend to be more concerned with not alienating moderate voters than with firing up their own base, which makes them seem unprincipled or at least wishy washy. Americans love a fighter.
The Democrats are essentially a centrist, majority party. They don’t have to be as unified as the Republicans in order to win elections because they actually do stand for things that majorities of Americans support. This is a strength, but it’s also a weakness since it mean they can get away with being undisciplined and disorganized and still manage to win much of the time. If they communicated as effectively as Republicans, they would be unbeatable in much of the country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J.P. BERNBACH served as a spokesperson for Democrats Abroad and the Democratic Party in Belgium during the 2008 presidential campaign cycle. His responsibilities involved informing the press and the public, and briefing European officials and organizations about then-Senator Obama, Democratic Party policies and the US electoral process. He participated in forums and debates as a representative of the Democratic Party and blogged about US politics for the website of the Belgian newspaper, De Standaard. He is a former board member of DL21C (Democratic leadership for the 21st Century), where he served as Chairman for Foreign Affairs. He is a screenwriter who works on documentaries with political themes.