23 years ago Newt Gingrich laid the foundation for winning with the “Contract with America.” There were 8 government and operational reforms listed that no one actually remembers, but the message was that government would be reduced and austerity would cut wasteful spending.
There was no resolute policy, but that didn’t matter. It said to Americans: “We understand that government works for YOU, and this is our pledge to fight for YOUR values.” It was dovetailed to the Reagan dictum: Government isn’t the solution, government is the problem.
It resonated by saying (and repeating over and over) that government is too big, too invasive, is taking your liberties and your money, and not enhancing your values. Values are never defined either, but patriotism was enveloped by Christianity, imperialist doctrine, a destiny of unbridled wealth, and it was cloaked in a spirit that embraced Americans’ cherished belief that we are the Shining City on the Hill.
It inspired, and inspiration doesn’t need definition or even justification; it only needs to run through our veins.
When Democrats lose, we get together to figure out what went wrong, and then issue a proclamation to say that “We’re going to learn how to listen so that we can serve you better.” That might even be the most genuinely intelligent way to get better and to do better things, but it doesn’t inspire, and that’s where we fail.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look critically at ourselves, and build new alliances, use polling and collect data (and everything liberals tend to do by nature) but we cannot keep missing the bigger picture- What do we offer to voters that says “We are America and hold the values that can make your dreams possible”?
We cannot avoid policy, as that is what makes us Democrats, but policies are the apples on the tree, not the root system that makes them come to fruition.
People are not necessarily looking for the math and science behind why one idea is better than another or where they have been failing, rather they seek a feeling of belief in something, or someone; they want to believe their own hard work will pay off.
The take away should not be that Democrats have to admit defeat or be self-deprecating; the take away is that we have to show what motivates us so that we will motivate voters.
I say we are motivated by making America stronger, more productive, safer, and more successful across the board so that everyone feels they can be the best of America; that they are in the game.
Here’s my volley into the slogan arena: The Democratic Party: Building a stronger, healthier America.
How do we turn that into a “contract”? We are Democrats in the 21st century; the progeny of the Age of Enlightenment to challenge the status quo and break the molds that confine us to our lesser selves. Our order is to expand society to a greater consciousness. Good stuff. But it doesn’t serve us well on a bumper sticker.
Republican/Conservatives have so engrained patriotism into their brand that to tell a Republican that they are voting against their own interests is like trying to convince a devout Christian that Christ wasn’t the Messiah. Or to a devout Muslim that he was. It is simply their identification to their core belief. As Democrats we have a long history of believing that we can use logic and facts to make our case; to show that person at the door that we are the better fit to match their goals and that they have, in fact, been voting against their interests. It isn’t convincing.
So, is there room for us at the door if “God and Country” have already been taken?
No party has ever actually cornered the American Dream. All we have is an abstract, amorphous thought that contains feelings of security, experiencing happiness and freedom. Maybe it buys a house, puts the kids through college, takes a vacation every year; who knows what the American Dream really looks like?
Telling Americans that they are not serving their own interests is not how we can communicate our values. It will be found when our message marries better health with their dream; higher wages with that dream; safer communities with that dream; expanding opportunities for our kids and grandkids with that dream.
When the Democratic Party joined corporatism to chase Republican success at raising money, it lost its primary directive of being “the party of the people”; sold was our ideological soul to gain the White House. We were no longer who we preached and it was easy for the Republican Party to carry that water door to door, farmhouse to farmhouse, and establish a base from the ground up that appeared to be what they said: Genuine America.
Democrats must marry policy to the inspiring message of our preeminent values; the dream of personal prosperity, a landscape of productive lives for our elderly, the infirmed, our children, businesses, our military men and women, working families, and for those who have fallen into, or were born into poverty. And, yes, the continued prosperity of the wealthy and fortunate, as well.
Every one of us falls, at one time or another, into one of those categories. Our dream must respect the health and well being of every American. That is a message for a real America.
The Democratic Party – Building a Stronger, Healthier America.