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Democrats Need Progressive Voters. Blaming Them Should Stop.

Surrendering to Republicans on Black Lives Matter and reforming policing isn't the way to motivate voters and win control of the Senate in Georgia's runoffs.

In this file photo, protesters hold "Black Lives Matter" signs and pictures of George Floyd as they march through Greenwich Village in a demonstration over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police on June 19, 2020 in New York. The Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd on Derek Chauvin is recently released from state prison. (Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
"That's how they beat the living hell out of us across the country, saying that we're talking about defunding the police." Those were the words of Joe Biden, from a leaked audio of a virtual meeting among the president-elect, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and leaders of several civil-right groups.

Biden was referring to Democrats' down-ballot losses in last month's elections, but many progressives and Black Lives Matter supporters who worked hard for Biden's victory in the presidential race would find such a statement offensive, scapegoating, devaluing and probably not even accurate. If Biden and other moderate Democrats continue with such attacks, it could have a chilling effect on progressives returning to the polls for two Georgia runoff elections that will determine which party will control the U.S. Senate.

Beyond conjecture, there doesn't seem to be any evidence to support Biden's assertion, which has been echoed by other influential moderates including U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. In fact, the evidence from recent polling points to the opposite. According to CNN's exit poll data from the November election, for example, 53 percent of Georgia voters held a favorable view of Black Lives Matter versus 42 percent who didn't, and Biden received 78 percent of that favorable vote. That tracks with national numbers: A Pew Research Center survey conducted in September found support for BLM running at 55 percent; Pew found that 86 percent of African Americans and 87 percent of Democrats supported BLM.

The Georgia exit poll data was illuminating in other ways, finding that Biden won 56 percent of the 18-29-year-old vote and 54 percent of those between 30 and 44; 87 percent of the liberal vote and 65 percent of the moderate vote; and fully 90 percent of those who identified racial inequality as the most important issue to them. It seems that Biden's biggest problem — and that of the two Georgia Democrats running for the Senate — is going to be keeping these voters motivated, not blaming them for down-ballot losses.

It should go without saying very few Democratic candidates endorsed actually defunding the police. Most candidates for state and local offices advocated for reforming, not eliminating, the police, and holding them accountable. Republican challengers knew they were distorting the positions held by their Democratic opponents, but they found it to be an effective political tactic to try to force their opponents to distance themselves from some of their most ardent supporters: young, Black and Latino progressives.

How did the Democratic establishment so quickly surrender the moral high ground to the Republicans on the question of policing in America? No matter the answer, the public has an abiding interest in knowing that our president-elect is who he says he is: a unifier who listens to all of the American people. Lecturing civil rights leaders on racism and police reform does not inspire confidence.

Early voting is already under way for the Jan. 5 Georgia Senate runoff elections, and the two Republican incumbents have challenges of their own: President Trump is not at the top of the ticket this time, and he continues to attack Republican leaders who won't buy into his unfounded claims of voter fraud that have been overwhelmingly rejected by courts. This might convince his base that, despite the absence of evidence, their votes might not be fairly counted. The media have focused attention almost exclusively on how Trump's attacks could suppress Republican voter turnout for the Georgia runoffs, while ignoring how the Democrats' attacks on the liberal wing of their party might turn off its voters.

Biden's victory is not a mandate for returning to moderation and a romantic belief in a bygone era of bipartisanship in which politicians agree on milquetoast policies and appeal to the lowest common denominator. Americans need public officials to make bold, value-driven decisions based on fairness and equity. Alienating youth and progressives who represent the future of the nation will not achieve this objective. The president-elect must instead promise our future leaders that their lives matter and that he wants to pass on to them a better America than what we have today — even a society where our present concept of policing may not be relevant.

Governing's opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing's editors or management.

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