In My Ohio

On the Very Poor Writing of Ohio's Democratic Party

Darren C. Demaree
Last night Ohio’s Democratic Party finished what they began.  They were dealt defeat after defeat, and not one of them was a big surprise.  There wasn’t even a death rattle or final ecstatic push to beat back the Republican narrative.  Almost every important seat was held or taken by the Republicans, including the Governorship. 
The reason why the party I belong to was embarrassed and marginalized by the sheer size of the beating is simple; they were passive narrators in a story they hoped would make them all heroes.  They adopted a good versus evil mentality, and that un-nuanced and uninspiring story did almost nothing to change the voter's opinion of the candidates.
I get every mailing.  I open every mailing, including the hundreds or thousands of emails I’m sent from the national, state, and local Democratic candidates and fundraisers.  They showed an almost non-existent understanding of how people view themselves and the people they elect.  They wrote themselves into a corner, turned every candidate they were running to face the point of the corner, and then had them shout to the converging walls.  An echo of a message will yield an echo of a victory, which is to say you can hear the celebration from the other camp’s ballroom.
This was an epidemic of poor framing, poorly chosen language, and flawed, simplistic understanding of how a modern story is constructed.  This fault was statewide, but let’s examine the most important of the races, the race for the governorship between the incumbent Republican John Kasich and the Democratic challenger Ed Fitzgerald.   Fitzgerald was billed as the anti-Kasich.  Every time Kasich would institute new policy or threaten to fundamentally change the framework of Ohio, Fitzgerald would immediately come out against it.  It was as if he was listening for every new Kasich quote so he could interject snidely a “Not” at the end of every statement.  He ran as the other guy.  He was positioned as the other guy.  He was the  “Not Kasich”. 
Everything I read and saw and studied about Fitzgerald showed that he was a good guy, holding some true Democratic values, and that he was legitimate candidate to hold a statewide office.  However, he was never shown to be an actual leader.  His speeches held no gravitas.  His statements to the press were always about how he was different than Kasich.  He had no plan that didn’t involve Kasich as an archetypal foil.  So, all Kasich had to do was run like he was unopposed, which was exactly what he did.  Kasich didn’t debate, spent very little time acknowledging that he was even running for election, and allowed his gigantic financial advantage to run laps around the Democratic we-fight-the-good-fight-because-what-else-would-you-have-us-do strategy.
What Ohio’s Democrats never seem to understand is that it doesn’t matter if John Kasich is evil or bad for Ohio, and it surely doesn’t matter if Ed Fitzgerald is a good guy.  Nobody votes for the good guy if that’s all he is.  Nobody votes to remove the bad guy (this was shown to fail nationwide) just because he’s bad.  You have to take elections with more, better ideas, and with a sense that the time is now for change.  Ed Fitzgerald needed to be billed as the more energetic, more in-touch, more unique candidate, not the other, better man.  I voted for him because he was the Democratic candidate, but I held no great desire to see Ed Fitzgerald be in charge of Ohio.  That’s the greatest flaw in the narrative.  If he was to be positioned as the hero, come to save Ohio, he needed to be a force that Kasich had no choice to do battle with.  In the Medieval version of this story, Fitzgerald fell into the moat, and never even got to confront (let alone overthrow) the dark king.  In the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald is Nick Carraway, discussing the flaws of Gatsby and the opulence before him, but never doing enough to actually save Gatsby from himself.  In 2014, Fitzgerald lost by almost thirty points, he was almost doubled-up in the polls, so ultimately he was Don Quixote without ever embracing that his chance to be Governor was more than flight of fancy.
This election was important.  It was too important to be as unimaginative as the Ohio Democratic party was.  The hope would be that this is bottoming out.  That when it comes time to run again, that we will find inspiring, brave candidates to run, and that when we run them, they will have a focused, dedicated narrative that understands how this landscape functions. 
The better man doesn’t automatically win.  There are plenty of good men that are lawyers or orthodontists or writers or bartenders, but that doesn’t mean they are in any position to unite a state or even a town.  There were many flaws in our 2014 plan, but all of them began with the writing.