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April 27, 2005

More on Definition

Digby has an interesting response to my rebuttal to Kos (got all that?). Digby's point is that the Republican definition -- smaller government and lower taxes, family values, and a strong national defense -- is a stance, not a legislative agenda nor a statement of class/constituency solidarity. Instead, it lays out a set of principles as the founding blocks of conservatism. As counter, he suggests the Democrats adopt something like: "fair taxes, a secure safety net, personal privacy, civil rights, and responsible global leadership".

I think he's right, and I think I was unclear. The Republican definition isn't just an agenda, it's certainly a statement of principles as well. The genius thing is that it's both -- it's what they believe in, but also what they'll (theoretically) do. That's why it works. One interesting thing about their platform is that it moves in a certain direction -- lower taxes, smaller government, stronger defense. That's why it succeeds: it not only explains what they believe in, but what they want to do. Digby's alternative, alternatively (redundancy ain't no crime), has principles but no direction. What are fair taxes? What are civil rights? What is responsible global leadership? It say where we'd like to go but doesn't reassure anyone that we know how to get there.

The problem with Kos's idea ("Democrats are for working people") and, to a lesser extent Digby's, is that it doesn't explain what we'll do. It explains who/what we're for, but they're not things the right is explicitly, publicly, against. So it sounds good, and even lays out some clear ideas on what we'd like to see, but it doesn't differentiate us. Attaching ourselves to policy goals that the right doesn't support, however, would offer us our own identity. "Universal health care" lays out a clear path forward. "A livable wage" explains where we think the country needs to go. What we need to do is combine principles with direction, or to use another word, leadership. Being for good things is easy, specifically articulating how to achieve them is more dangerous.

While thinking about this, I rooted around Polling Report some and found these numbers, I think they make the case well:

"Do you think the Republicans have a clear plan for the country, or don't they have a clear plan for the country?": 43% say yes, 48% say no.

"Do you think the Democrats have a clear plan for the country, or don't they have a clear plan for the country?"36% say yes, 51% say no.

"Regardless of how you usually vote, do you think the Republican Party or the Democratic Party cares more about people like yourself?" 33% say Republicans, 52% say Democrats.

"Regardless of how you usually vote, do you think the Republican Party or the Democratic Party will do a better job of helping more people achieve the American Dream?" 38% say Republicans, 52% say Democrats.

Americans know who we're for -- them! But they don't know what we'll do. And that's enough to kill the whole deal. Clinton likes to say that the country will prefer a leader who's strong and wrong to one who's weak and right. Similarly, they'll reject a party that's on their side but lacking ideas in favor of one that's got momentum but may be barreling in the wrong direction.

April 27, 2005 in Democrats | Permalink


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» What Do We Stand For? from The Talent Show
There's been a spirited debate between Ezra, Kos, and Digby about defining what Democrats stand for. I agree with Ezra that Kos's "Democrats are the party for people who work for a living" falls way too short of the mark.... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 27, 2005 3:26:13 PM

» Economic Policy is a Moral Issue, Part III from Freiheit und Wissen
...I would certainly side with Digby here in that the mantra...does not give you an overt legislative agenda...But it does provide a way to unify a legislative agenda... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 27, 2005 6:44:58 PM

» In Which I, Nick Beaudrot, Claim to Have All the A from Electoral Math
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Tracked on Apr 27, 2005 10:18:12 PM

» Democrats In Fifteen Words from Daniel Starr
The Democrats' 2008 platform is finally becoming clear. Right now, the liberal blogosphere is having another go-round (Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Kevin Drum) at the question of "what can liberals identify themselves with that majorities will vote for?"... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 28, 2005 7:33:21 AM


This is an interesting analysis. Never much thought about the directional component to the statement of position.

How about "healthier families, lower poverty, and stronger freedoms for america?"

Posted by: TJ | Apr 27, 2005 1:45:54 PM

"Similarly, they'll reject a party that's on their side but lacking ideas to one that's got momentum but may be barreling in the wrong direction."

I think that generally does describe the current political landscape, but sometimes I feel kind of lonely in thinking that this itself needs to be fought against. I find the very concept of "I don't agree with that person, but at least I know where I disagree with them" to have extraordinary potential for massive damage, certainly as evidenced by Bushism. I contend that the belief that "knowing what you stand for" can never be wrong in and of itself plays a large role in allowing for a lot of the Iraq disaster. Obviously, nobody wants a leader who doesn't stand for anything. But it should be just as obvious that nobody wants a leader who ignores facts and lets ideology rule over everything, and yet "at least I know what he stands for" turns this from a liability into a strength. It's a fundamentally imbalanced and unhealthy part of the political landscape.

Posted by: Haggai | Apr 27, 2005 1:56:07 PM

Okay, digby's given it a good start, so let's push it a little further.

"A stronger safety net, responsible budgeting, a fairer playing field for businesses, and global leadership".

It beats the various riffs on the four freedoms that I've tried, none of which end up coming out right.

Posted by: Electoral Math | Apr 27, 2005 1:58:03 PM

The other side of characterizing yourself, is characterizing the other.

Republicans do do an excellent job of telling people who they are and what they will do.

The also do an excellent job of characterizing Democrats.

Even if Democrats do not know how they want to characterize themselves, they could still do a better job of characterizing the Republicans. The Republican self-characterization, after all, is a lie. Republicans don't want a "smaller government"; Republicans want to redistribute income, wealth and power to the very, very rich. Democrats should start their work, by helping out the Republicans with a more accurate and truthful characterization of what it means to be a Republican. A 20th century equivalent of that 19th century classic, which characterized the Democrats as teh party of "rum, romanism and rebellion."

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Apr 27, 2005 2:03:24 PM

how about, democrats stand for:
a balanced budget, a cleaner environment, peace, and prosperity.

Posted by: colinb | Apr 27, 2005 2:08:30 PM

Cross posted in Digby's comments, building on and tweaking Thief's comments also at Digby's:

"Fairness, security, freedom, and responsibility."

I think Thief almost hits it on the head. I think rights may be redundant and a little abstract as fairness could capture that position. Freedom is a position. By hitting "fairness, security, freedom, and responsibility" we could run and then frame the republicans as being against those. These all allow us to claim the "right" side while labeling our opposition to being against those tenants.

I think they also work because they are broad enough to cover multiple areas. Take fairness, it could be used in civil rights or in tax policy, etc. All of these have multiple meanings that we can use to enunciate our program.

Fairness: We are for the rules applying to all the same. We are for everybody getting a chance to lift themselves up. We are for a tax policy that does not put undue burden on those working for a living. We are for citizens having an equal access and voice like the corporate interests.

Security: We are for a strong, secure America. We believe that economic security is important. We believe that dependence on fossil fuels lessens our security. Responsible foreign policy is required for security.

Freedom: Our constitutional rights are not negotiable. Americans can worship however they please. We want entrepreneurs to be free to build new businesses.

Responsibility: We believe in a government that is accountable to the people. We believe in a balanced budget. We believe in personal responsibility. We believe that business bears responsibility for its actions, e.g. the environment, consumer protection, health, etc. We believe that government has a responsibility to help those in hard times get through them.

Posted by: PlacerDem | Apr 27, 2005 2:16:38 PM

Take a look at the so-called Republican values. Do any of them - taken literally - mesh with the action of today's Republican leadership? In most cases, no; at best, not entirely. They're not really core Republican values. They're carefully-marketed catch phrases that resonate well with a sizable chunk of Americans. Nevermind that each phrase means something different to each and every conservative ('family values,' anyone?), and that they don't really reflect the actions of Republicans. They're mostly-meaningless catchphrases that touch a nerve with many Americans.

The Democrats have no carefully-marketed catchphrases, mostly because we insist on honesty where GOPers insist on marketability.

Posted by: southerner | Apr 27, 2005 2:23:05 PM

How about this one?

Democrats stand for greater protection from corporate abuse.

Gives a direction that's in line with Democratic policies like:
- Livable Wages
- Curbing offshore tax loopholes
- Protecting union rights
- Reducing corporate pollution
- Affirmative Action (maybe)

I don't think Republicans can plausibly say that they are for Greater Protection from Corporate Abuse. Instead, their brand is about reducing 'government-interference' in the free market. Not a bad brand identity for Republicans, but there is an opportunity for Democrats to capitalize on the fact that:

- Businesses are making more profit than ever, while wages are not keeping up with inflation
- Businesses are profiting from the War on Terror (Halliburton and others), while they are avoiding paying the taxes necessary to fund the War on Terror
- Businesses are demanding that government strengthen their hand against consumers - ie. the Bankruptcy reform bill (I know, I know many dems voted for it too), while asking the government to bail corporations out of their own bad decisions - think the United pensions the gov't has agreed to subsidize.

Posted by: timshel | Apr 27, 2005 2:25:58 PM

I'm sorry but the direction I see this moving in...

"lower taxes, smaller government, stronger defense"

...is the elusive perpetual motion machine. My crazy neighbor has been working on one in his basement for years. He swears it's powered by Adam Smith's invisible hand.

Posted by: SJS | Apr 27, 2005 2:38:39 PM

Teddy Roosevelt, whom in my opinion is the father of the modern Democratic Party ( by supporting people over corporations) Had the SQUARE DEAL


Theodore Roosevelt, Progressive presidential candidate

"The principles for which we stand are the principles of fair play and a square deal for every man and every woman in the United States." (New York City, 1912)

On August 7, 1912, Theodore Roosevelt, the former U.S. president, was nominated for the presidency by the Progressive party, a group of Republicans dissatisfied with the re-nomination of President William Howard Taft. Also known as the Bull Moose party, the Progressive platform called for the direct election of U.S. senators, woman suffrage, reduction of the tariff, and many social reforms. Roosevelt, who served as the twenty-sixth president of the United States from 1901 to 1909, embarked on a vigorous campaign as the party's presidential candidate. During one stop in New York City, he appeared before the Boy's Progressive League, and spoke to the future voters on the "Square Deal"--Roosevelt's concept of a society based on fair business competition and increased welfare for needy Americans.

Of course FDR, had the NEW DEAL, ( too much to even write about ) which included the 4 freedoms.

Truman had the FAIR DEAL -

In his January 1949 State of the Union message President Harry S. Truman characterized his legislative agenda as providing a "Fair Deal" for all Americans. Building upon the New Deal legacy of reform, Truman advocated full employment legislation, an increase in the minimum wage, economic assistance for farmers, extension of Social Security, and enactment of antidiscrimination employment practices based upon the wartime Fair Employment Practices Committee. The president had previously mentioned these points and called for national health insurance, federal aid to education, and government support for housing in a message to Congress shortly after he took office in 1945. He also advocated antilynching and anti-poll tax legislation.


So I think some kind of a "deal" is required.

I also love the idea of a new "contract with America" - especilly highlighting that Republicans that came in on it have all broken all of their promises.

Posted by: fasteddie | Apr 27, 2005 3:04:55 PM

As I listen to all this talk about the Democrat Brand, I really have to roll my eyes. I'm a brand director. I've done it for some huge brands and some small ones. And no one--not Kos, not you, not Digby-- is talking about what a brand actually is.

So you might as well be talking about astrophysics, since I think that conversation could be had with the same degree of knowledge, insight and authority.

Posted by: cvcobb01 | Apr 27, 2005 3:22:05 PM

Well cvcobb01, you sure showed us! Why not offer some kind of constructive comments, or is that just so much less fun?

Posted by: TJ | Apr 27, 2005 3:35:28 PM

Now now, don't be mean. I, for one, welcome our highly educated branding overlords.

Posted by: Ezra | Apr 27, 2005 3:41:14 PM

"But they don't know what we'll do. . ." yup. I would add "they don't know what we'll do, and how it is supposed to affect them". The Republican's pitch is very simple: "we'll cut your taxes, and you'll have more money". The Democrat's pitch is more complicated.

Just an idle thought: to get universal health care, the Democrats have to pose the trade-off: tax cuts or health care? But since most people already have health insurance, they'll take tax cuts, all else being equal.

So to get universal health care, any Democratic health care reform plan has to have two components: covering the uninsured, and improving health care quality and security for Americans who already have insurance. Even if the overall plan is more expensive, there has to be an incentive for Americans who already have health insurance to support the plan.

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Apr 27, 2005 4:16:40 PM

And no one--not Kos, not you, not Digby-- is talking about what a brand actually is.

Would you feel better if they all explicitly said they were talking about the Democratic "brand promise"?

Posted by: Swopa | Apr 27, 2005 4:29:17 PM

By the way, I feel I should point out, for the purposes of this discussion, that I have a degree in brandology from Brand U., a masters in branding from Harvard, a PHD in the hermeneutics of branding from Princeton, and am a respected lecturer and well-received corporate presenter on the relationship between brands and an independent judiciary.

Posted by: Ezra | Apr 27, 2005 4:32:15 PM

TJ, Ezra:

I've posted about the Dem Party brand ad naseum. Look it up.


Yep, brand promise is probably what this all seems to be abhout, but the problem is not knowing what the brand stands for in the first place. So difficult to promise anything without a clear definition.

Posted by: cvcobb01 | Apr 27, 2005 4:33:28 PM


a degree in brandology from Brand U., a masters in branding from Harvard, a PHD in the hermeneutics of branding from Princeton, and am a respected lecturer

Wow. Fantastic. So when are you going to post something that demonstrates it?

Posted by: cvcobb01 | Apr 27, 2005 4:37:21 PM

I prefer not to flaunt my knowledge. Makes the commoners feel bad.

Posted by: Ezra | Apr 27, 2005 4:40:58 PM

Actually, the Republicans are giving you an imaginative rendering of the illusion they hope you'll buy. The lower taxes were only for the rich and other investor spare change. The rest is fertilizer.

Posted by: Scorpio | Apr 27, 2005 5:35:39 PM


First: who are you and why would I know what you've written? Note that in comments you probably oughta put that out there, maybe.

Second: Your post on the topic is interesting stuff, and I have no reason to doubt what you say about selling the lifestyle rather than listing the features. However, there has to be some use in thinking about the right way to talk about the features. Perhaps for the non-professionals, it may lead to the conversation you think we need to have.

Third: I have to take issue with the contention that we have the best creative guys. Among other things, the speech-writing has not exactly been on high display by the democrats. The single best political speech I've heard in a couple of years was given by Bill Clinton, after he left office. After that, not a thing has been all that memorable- except dirty Zell Miller throwing punches and challenging people to duels. (I don't think his party affiliation is really meaningful).

Posted by: TJ | Apr 27, 2005 7:17:31 PM

How about:

Level the playing field. Protect the defenseless. Promote Democracy.

Gets some nice action verbs in there. Broad enough to be usefull in most situations. Three things that most every American would agree are good. And, as an added bonus, all are Liberal (and liberal)values.

Posted by: maj | Apr 28, 2005 9:11:42 AM

It’s the Dem Elevator Pitch game. And the rules seem to be: not a slogan, not a list of policies, and it must wrinkle the noses of conservatives. Here we go:

Strong government, community values, personal and religious freedom.

Strong Government - Conservatives will hate it. But you can use it to usurp the "strong military" piece by talking about: strong against terrorism, smart and modern military, respect in the world, Homeland Security. You can also be strong against crime, strong against corporate abuse, strong against discimination... consumer protection, job and salary security...

Community Values - Someone in one of the threads mentioned this as a counter to "traditional family values" and I like it. Unpack it as small-town America stuff: look in on your neighbor, support your local sheriff, shop the local businesses, be involved with the local schools, ...universal health care, quality education, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, clean environment...

Personal and Religious Freedom - This one is simple: FOCUS ON YOUR OWN DAMN FAMILY...

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