Opinion | Republicans Are Going to Use Dog Whistles. Democrats Can’t Just Ignore Them. – The New York Times

Instead of ignoring race while Republicans beat us silly with it, Democrats must confront it and explain that powerful elites and special interests use race as a tool of division to distract hard-working people of all races while they get robbed blind. Then pivot back to shared interests. The pivot is critical: Without it, Democrats are simply talking past voters, while Republicans play on their racial fears.

This strategy is known as the “race-class narrative,” pioneered by Prof. Ian Haney López of Berkeley, the author Heather McGhee and the messaging expert Anat Shenker-Osorio (whom we have worked with). To be clear, Democrats should not seek to impose a racial-justice frame; to the contrary, research found a focus on racial justice to be less persuasive than the race-class narrative. The strategy we suggest here is a middle way: It is more powerful than a racial-justice-only frame but also more powerful than a strategy that ignores race altogether. Race is the elephant in the room, and Democrats must stop fooling themselves into thinking that they can prevent it from becoming an issue.

Second, Democrats must put aside the false choice between the tactics of persuasion and mobilization and embrace them both. By confronting race as a tool of division, and then pivoting to shared interests, Democrats can offer an optimistic, inspiring and even patriotic vision. This is the approach that rocketed Barack Obama to the White House. As an African-American, Mr. Obama was never allowed to ignore race. Forced to confront it, Mr. Obama offered Americans a vision that mobilized a broad, diverse coalition — while also persuading white voters. In 2008, Mr. Obama won the highest share of the white vote since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Race has infused American history and politics since our founding. It threads through most aspects of daily life, and stirs up complicated feelings that Americans of all backgrounds find difficult to discuss. But Virginia showed that race is impossible to ignore.

The simple fact is that Republicans have long used race to achieve victory, and Democrats are fooling themselves if they think they can avoid it. Democrats have to get real about race, and forge a way to win.