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Democrats might take a lesson from FDR
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Democrats might take a lesson from FDR

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Gary Pearce

North Carolina Democrats are torn right now between celebration and disappointment over 2020 and between hope and fear over 2022.

They have cause to celebrate 2020. Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein were reelected. Joe Biden is president. Donald Trump is gone. Democrats won the U.S. Senate.

They also had disappointments. Trump again won North Carolina. Democrats lost a winnable U.S. Senate seat, the lieutenant governor’s race, Council of State races and judicial races.

Their decadelong quest to retake the General Assembly failed. Republicans again control redistricting. They can again throttle Cooper’s agenda.

Some Democrats fear they’ll be stuck in the minority in the legislature until at least 2026. And, even as candidates emerge for the 2022 race for Sen. Richard Burr's seat, Democrats fear the midterm elections will be a wipeout for the president’s party, as they often are.

Opportunity emerges

But there is a contrary view.

“This might be a better midterm than usual for a president’s party,” said Harrison Hickman, a North Carolina native and a pollster for 40 years. Hickman did polling for Gov. Jim Hunt and Sen. Terry Sanford.

I agree. The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up politics in ways we don’t fully appreciate yet. The fallout may give Democrats a big advantage — and a big opportunity in 2022.

Hickman says the most popular governors across the country today, regardless of party, are those who took strong action on COVID-19, like Cooper.

“Passive governors are unpopular, and aggressive governors are popular,” Hickman said.

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Biden has taken that lesson to heart. He is going big and bold. He proposed a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. He signed a series of sweeping executive orders on climate change, equity, inclusion and racial reckoning. He’s aggressive on vaccinations.

If Republicans decide to be obstructionists, the president is in a win-win position. If the pandemic fades and the economy storms back, he gets credit. If things don’t get better, Republicans get blamed.

Two perspectives

People in politics can fall into the trap of looking at the world through a political lens, not through people’s eyes. Washington is caught up in impeachment and filibusters. Raleigh is focused on redistricting, jockeying for 2022 and the governor’s pandemic powers.

North Carolinians are focused on their jobs and families. They’re worried about getting vaccines. They want to get their children out of the house and back to school. They want life to return to normal. They want to go out to eat and go on a trip.

They want politicians to get how they feel — and do something.

Everybody knows that when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1933, he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He also said, “This nation asks for action, and action now.”

During the campaign, FDR had said: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands, bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.

"But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.”

Risk vs. reward

Today, as then, Democrats might offer “bold, persistent experimentation” — a mass vaccination drive, a sweeping plan to reopen schools and vaccinate teachers and students, a higher minimum wage, more help for small businesses, more help with rent and mortgages, a massive infrastructure plan, greater health care coverage, and even a guaranteed basic income.

Politically risky? Maybe. But sometimes doing too little is a bigger risk than doing too much.

Gary Pearce was a newspaperman, political consultant and adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt. He blogs about politics and government at

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