Inside American Politics 2021 - Karen Finney

Talking Trends
4 min readFeb 21, 2022
Karen Finney

A few days after Election Day 2021, the John Brademas Center and the Brennan Center for Justice convened political experts and strategists for a series of dialogues to discuss President Biden’s agenda, the state of the GOP, looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election, and the political landscape in Washington. In one of the sessions, I joined John Anzalone and Jonathan Martin for a conversation moderated by Kiki McLean. Our focus was on the downsizing of the Democrats’ plans since the 2020 election- whether this will help or hinder the party in the mid-term elections, and how Democrats can move their agenda forward.

Note: the excerpts below appear in the video in the following segments: 4:45–6:09; 6:21–7:08; 13:43–14:11; 14:45–15:08; 19:28–22:17; 26:09–26:43; 32:37–34:19; 38:20–39:22; 41:35–42:48; 48:15–48:35; 49:30–50:38

“As democrats, we need to reclaim our narrative … talking about the things we’ve done … like the COVID Recovery Act — the ways we got shots in arms and money in people’s pockets; childcare; universal pre-K; help for seniors; and expanding the Affordable Care Act. Reclaim the narrative about what it is we’re fighting for.”

“We also need to do a better job of making the narrative about the Republicans, and not us. When I say reclaim the narrative, I mean that in a fulsome way, because I don’t think people understand enough. They simply see what’s changing or not changing in their lives. While we’re fighting about whether or not we should do child care, I can tell you there are businesses in cities that can’t open until four o’clock or three o’clock when school let out so the teenager can go home and watch the kids and then the mom can go to work.”

“I firmly believe that if Democrats do not pass voting rights legislation, then it is game over. Think about how in Virginia it was relatively easy to vote, and people voted at record numbers. Now, let’s say you take away early voting, you take away vote by mail, and you make it harder for people when they show up at the polls — which is what will happen if we don’t get these tools that are in the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act passed.”

“I worked on the Defund the Police and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act last year. When you talk about what’s in it, even white suburban Trump women voters were like, ‘oh, well, that’s okay.’”

“We’re not going to be out of COVID. We already know that — the narrative can no longer be about solely that. We’ve got to tell the American people, ‘Look there’s going to be twists and turns, but we’re going to help you be prepared to keep yourself and your family safe.’ Because if the marker is ‘Out of COVID’ we’ve already lost.”

“That’s what I mean in part by changing the narrative about what success looks like. What are the ways that we can help people feel some relief, help change the mood of the country, speak to their deeper concerns, and again make people feel that something has changed for the better in their day-to-day life.”

“My mother used to say this to me when I was a child, ‘you’re negotiating with the power you don’t have.’ In some instances as Democrats are negotiating it goes like this — ‘Okay but if you can’t get Joe Manchin on this … then we just can’t do it.’ We have to let that mindset go and figure out what we can get done.”

“We have to stop being afraid to talk about race as Democrats … I have been in meetings where people said, ‘let’s just not talk about CRT’. My response is that it is not going anywhere.

“We know that creating a moral panic works; it is a tried-and-true tactic … we have to be able to speak to and understand what fear is being triggered in people.”

“I’m a big believer in persuasion, but those candidates who have done a better job upfront early on in their campaign in cementing their narrative withstood through the disinformation and misinformation campaigns and things like Defund the Police much better than those who didn’t … January is when people are really going to be paying attention early.”

“We need more of a Whole of Government approach … if the President can’t be there, send the Vice President … send the Transportation Secretary.”

“Having been a communications director at the Democratic National Committee, I learned that the idea of what an effective message consists of is very different all over the nation.”



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