How Democrats Can Fix a Broken Message and Heal a Broken Party


As lawmakers return to Capitol Hill following their August recess, all eyes are sharply focused on a Republican majority enveloped in chaos. Scrambling to tackle heavy legislative challenges such as preventing a default on the debt and providing billions of dollars worth of aid for the storm-torn areas left in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, the Republicans have much on their plate, and much on the line. Yet, despite the public woes of the majority party, the Democrats have no shortage of internal issues themselves moving into the fall. In fact, when examining the minority party’s ability to articulate an attractive message and identity, political pundits are uncertain if winter is coming or if winter is here for the Democrats.  

To put it mildly—the onetime party of FDR and Kennedy has neither a concrete message nor does it have unified goals. Moreover, the Democrats lack inspirational leadership in both the House and Senate leaving their likelihood of regaining their legislative majorities in 2018 unlikely at best. Here’s a sobering fact: if Democrats were to win every congressional race in the districts that Hillary Clinton won along with those Trump won by less than 3 points, they would still not be able to regain the House majority—in fact they would still lose five Senate seats. The party of pandemonium resulting from a devastating defeat, the Democrats only have one way for which they can return to notability: by returning to their roots. For years identity politics has plagued the Democratic party. A quick scroll through House minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s Twitter feed will illustrates that claim with ease. On it, one can find a trove of ‘ism’s’ tweeted out throughout the years: racism, sexism, xenophobia. 140 characters at a time, the former Speaker has posted strong condemnations of others, yet rarely has she found a way to use the same number of characters to type out plausible solutions; plenty of finger pointing and Internet trolling rife with moral superiority, yet devoid of a legitimate, fact-based perspective.

And all for what? To energize a coastal and metropolitan base who would rather spend time patting themselves on the back for self-aggrandizing than to take a moment, look around and acknowledge that there is a very real economic angst flooding our country? Remember, this is the very same base who still, after possibly the most transformative presidential election of their generation, continues to purposely ignore the fact(s) that many Americans are losing hours of sleep each night as they are stressing over their financial situations, that much of nation still believes that the economy will be worse for the next generation than that of the present, and that almost three quarters believe the US economic system is rigged in favor of certain groups.

Democrats must readopt the leftism that led to the historic success of FDR’s New Deal and the patriotism that defined Kennedy’s “Responsibility of the Educated Citizen.” They must adopt a message not of the culturally and financially elite, but one of the silently disenfranchised individuals who are struggling every day to keep alive the lost promise of the American Dream.

As August turns to September, the opportunity for Democrats to act on such a message is as available as a low-hanging fruit. In order to take full advantage of the other majority party’s misfortune stemming from internal mayhem, the Democratic leadership must acknowledge a very basic rule of politics: problems with policy proposition are inevitable, but problems with messaging are avoidable. The Democrats have every right to condemn the President’s response to Charlottesville, and they have every right to come out in support of the legislative preservation of DACA, but they’ll never be in the right for using the identity politics of these issues in the prelude of their messaging, or defending their stance through de haut en bas.

Post-recession millennial Democrats and older and whiter Reagan Democrats are not ideologically opposed. Both groups look upon the political class with massive distrust, they’ve lost faith in their economic prospects, and both are fervently opposed to neo-liberalism and neo-liberal economic consensus. Democrats can take advantage of this ideological meld by showing their support for the curtailing of student loan debt, campaign finance reform, and supporting legislation that aids negatively affected job markets forever transformed by globalization and automation. If this political wish list seems too good to be true, let the fact that these legislative policies have already been publicly supported by the likes of Tim Ryan (D-OH), Dan Kildee (D-MI), John Yarmuth (D-KY), and other Rust Belt Democrats in the House and Senate wash over you. If the current Democrat leadership continues to waste their time by preaching to the fanatics instead of the converted, 2016 will not only mark the loss of an election, it will mark the beginning of the end for what used to be the party of the working class, and with it the death of the American Dream as it is currently defined.

As Steve Bannon said in his last week at the White House, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” The Right understands the messaging dilemma faced by the Left, it is time the Democrats catch up and catch on.


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