I don’t know.
I have no idea, and it’s been that way for awhile. I know we need a message, I just don’t know what that message is…or really how to come up with one.
You know…I’m not alone. I think most everyone around the country has no idea what the Democratic message is in 2016, including the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.
So we’ve got problems. What can be done? How about we play around and see what’s out there now for the 2016 Democratic message, while also coming up with a bit of our own?
In December 2014, Huffington Post had a story called What Democrats Stand For: Four Messages for 2016. Those messages were:
- Fight for the Middle Class;
- Fix the Broken Immigration System;
- Address Global Climate Change;
- Defend Affordable Healthcare.
“Attitudes about Obamacare are likely to be critical differentiators between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates,” in the 2016 election, the article states. “It shouldn't be difficult for Democrats to remember what they stand for,” it then goes on to say. The messages Huffington Post put forth were “populist values” that “serve to differentiate the likely Democratic presidential candidate from any Republican.”
That remains to be seen, but they are starting points.
Being oppositional is something that unites the populist right and the left because of a now commonly held set of concurrent attitudes. While many Americans agree that economic prosperity is not reaching the middle class and the poor, most also don’t want more government. The public’s trust in the federal government has hit near-record lows in the past year or two, disillusionment that has been fed in the past few years by scandals at the Internal Revenue Service and the General Services Administration, and the disclosures of spying on Americans by the National Security Agency. That makes it much harder for Democrats to credibly propose a new course of government action, and hampers their ability to craft a compelling message reliant on using government for the common good.
In addition, many Democrats believe they focused too much on social issues in 2014. For example, in Colorado, incumbent Sen. Mark Udall focused almost exclusively on his opponents’ position on contraception in an attempt to win female voters, but lacked a bigger message and lost a state President Obama had won twice.
Bill Burton, a former top campaign and White House spokesman for Obama, said he is also concerned about the Democratic Party’s relationship with white working-class voters. “Democrats are not worried enough about [them],” he said.
“If we’re not attentive to the fact that we have a massive problem with middle-class white voters, we’re not going to solve our problem,” Burton said. “I’m worried that Democrats don’t see the problem. … The Republican coalition doesn’t look like America. It’s mostly just white people. But the Democratic one isn’t looking like America either, because there aren’t a lot of white people.”
“People right now are feeling so much pressure on their pocketbook, and Washington is so disconnected from the reality of their lives. It’s the one place that never felt the downturn. It always feels when I’m up there like living in an alternative reality,” he said. “I’m for legalizing gay marriage and all these things, but I think sometimes we spend a lot of time talking about them to people who agree with us, but in the end, those aren’t the things being talked about at the dinner table.”
"When you look at the polling, [it] shows a vast majority of Americans agree with our positions on virtually every issue, it's just that they don't always know that we have those positions," said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the chairman of a new 16-member group – the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee – formed to address outreach.
Isreal went on to say that there’s “going to be one message, and that's a message that's going to resonate with the American people.”
What that message is, the article doesn’t state.
On May 22, 2015, Roll Call had a post called Moderate Democrats Get Leadership’s Ear on 2016 Messaging. Steve Israel was back, talking about that damn message again. Did he get anywhere since January?
“Fundamentally, what we come down to is this: In order to win, you have to get people to vote for you who haven’t voted for you, and the only way to do that is with a message that resonates across a broad swath of voters,” Israel said. “You can’t keep doing the same thing to the same people. You have to resonate with people who may vote for you or may not vote for you.
“Our research and the New Dems’ research agree on the sense that voters have that the economy is changing quickly and [they] want tools to help them stay ahead, so we’re completely aligned on that,” he said. “Making sure we have an economic agenda that supports growth and prosperity for all. … New Dems have a very substantive, positive, solution-oriented agenda, and our data tells us we need to have the same.”
The article makes a point to note that the agenda of Israel is not “particularly contentious.” It’s said that Israel wants to “craft a narrative that can speak to as wide a reach of voters as possible.” Something else that’s important is a message where “a majority of [House Democratic Caucus] members can agree.”
Some of the key points of the 2016 Democratic message are:
- Framing issues using inviting, non-incendiary language;
- Overhauling the tax code;
- Policies to boost scientific and technological innovation;
- Making America more competitive;
The problem is progressives, who will mung up this message big time.
The article calls these folks people “who want to see the party take more aggressive stands on the environment, women’s rights and minority issues” and they’ll “balk at seeing leadership” push the above issues. What’s more, they’re intent on using the term “liberal” and pushing “policies that fall clearly on the left of the political spectrum.”
So you have a lot of competing voices trying to shape that 2016 Democratic message, and that’s probably why it’s taking so long to come up with that message. Worse, Democrats are worrying the party may split, with the progressive wing supporting fringe candidates in primaries, third-party candidates in the general, or no one, staying home in protest instead. “Progressives and moderates caucus have already clashed this year,” the article says, “pointing fingers at each other over November’s midterm elections,” the ones “that gave Democrats their smallest House minority in almost a century.”
Let’s look at some ideas that Montana Democrats can get behind. While this isn’t a firm message, it is one that can be chipped away at.
- Raise the Minimum Wage: We keep talking about this and we point to certain cities. Why not just stop spending so much on $13 billion aircraft carriers and make that happen?
- Legalize Marijuana: This should be a no-brainer, but a lot of people still have hang-ups. They don’t like that people can do what they want behind closed doors, and feel the government should intrude into their lives. I feel that should end, so let’s let people smoke pot.
- Build Infrastructure: Roads, bridges, high speed rail…Americans want this stuff. You know who doesn’t? Large corporations and offshore account holders. They’d end up paying a large portion, and it bothers them. Doesn’t bother me – let’s do it.
- Tackle Student Debt: America and Americans just can’t compete on the world stage. We can’t make big purchases and we can’t save for retirement. All our money goes to debt. How about we just start talking about this, which we’re not doing at all?
Environment – Change You Can See
This is a great slogan we should adopt so people can feel good. This could include things like:
- Getting rid of plastic bags
- No more smelling diesel when you’re driving (bio fuels)
- We’ll make your home energy efficient
People can get excited about things like that, a lot more than “overhauling the tax code” (Boring!) Yeah, people want to be entertained, they want to have fun, and they want to feel like their life is changing. If you can make them feel that way, they’ll vote.
I hope the Montana Democratic Party considers some of these ideas. If it has any others…I’m all ears.