The Dem Message Isn’t The Problem

(This post started out as a comment in today’s Open Thread, but it got really long.)

The problem with Ds isn’t really message, it’s the fact that we tear apart our own message. All Ds are for raising the minimum wage and making college affordable, but you’d think we were divided given the fights between $12 and $15 an hour and free college vs free community college. We always look like we’re not on the same page, when we really are.

Raising the minimum wage to $12 or $15 dollars an hour became the message. It overshadowed the real message which was, “We need to raise the minimum wage.” That was the winning message, and we stepped all over it.

Free college vs free community college? This issue came really close to pandering and drove me nuts. Here’s the lie: “If Europe can offer free college, then so can we.” Newsflash: Europe doesn’t offer free college to everyone. Not even close. Children in Europe are placed on the college path when they’re young, and if you aren’t placed on that path, no free college for you! Europe’s model is actually a bit similar to ours. Our college-ready kids find college super affordable because schools offer who they want scholarships. Not every kid in Europe who wants to go to college gets to go. In my opinion, that’s a pretty big flaw – mainly because some kids take longer to get their academic heads together. Whatever. Free college/community college never received an honest discussion. It was, yet again, simply a way to divide. It also showed that it isn’t just Trump/GOP voters that don’t understand policy.

Income inequality? The only division there was where it sat on the list. Every D supported the issue, but you’ll be forgiven if you didn’t get that message.

There was very little policy difference between Obama and Hillary in 2008. Same for Hillary vs Bernie in 2016. But you wouldn’t know that given the infighting. I always shook my head in wonder when I got into a policy debate during those two elections. I came to realize that easy, simplistic slogans win – and Ds had them, until we ripped them apart.

We couldn’t even celebrate the ACA which was, in Joe Biden’s words, “a big fucking deal.” Instead we divided again – which killed any chance of improving the ACA and fixing glitches. We gave the GOP exactly what they needed. My argument when the ACA passed was that, while far from perfect, it would create the mindset among Americans that health care was a right, that preexisting conditions should be covered, that losing your job didn’t mean losing your health insurance, that heath insurance had to cover essential benefits in order to be called heath insurance, etc.. And what do you know? Looks like most Americans now agree with that. That. Is. Progress. But I guess it isn’t Progressive. Hey! We even fight about what we call ourselves!

Our problem isn’t messaging. We have the messages. We just tear our messages apart. All by ourselves.


42 comments on “The Dem Message Isn’t The Problem

  1. Bill Cortes

    I believe the saying is: “Getting the Liberals together is akin to herding cats………”

  2. delacrat

    “We couldn’t even celebrate the ACA which was, in Joe Biden’s words, “a big fucking deal.” – pandora

    I am not aware of anyone celebrating when they saw their new “Affordable” Obamacare premiums shortly before they went to the polls in 2016. That’s not a messaging problem.

    • Do you really want to discuss those premiums? Do you want to discuss how much insurance prices went up before the ACA? How about we discuss how the ACA could have been improved – just like Social Security and Medicare were – if Ds had stuck together?

      You want Medicare for All? So do I, but we won’t get there by tearing apart every step forward as not good enough. But the Republicans thank you. You gave them the negative ACA poll numbers they needed. Oops! Did you think your message about the ACA not going far enough reached voters? It didn’t. So much for messaging savvy.

      • Because, both D’s & R’s, have their OWN agenda, personally. IMHO.

      • delacrat

        “You want Medicare for All? So do I, but we won’t get there by tearing apart every step forward as not good enough”. – pandora

        Uh ….pandora…. the ACA “message” was “torn apart” by the premium increases.

        “You[delacrat ? !] gave them the negative ACA poll numbers they needed.” – pandora

        Now really.

        So the all-powerful delacrat generates “the negative poll numbers”. Do you actually read your stuff before you hit the enter key ?

  3. mikem2784

    Democrats need to find a message and stick to it while keeping it simple. The people passionate about one or more issues have their side chosen already. The reality is that elections are won or lost by appealing to the mass of people who wake up a few days before an election and decide to vote for whoever is the shiniest, newest, most different, clearest thing they see. Trump appealed to this group because he spoke in phrases (albeit disjointed ones) while Clinton spoke in paragraphs. Healthcare for all…a fair minimum wage…less income inequality…equal rights for everyone….these are simple concepts about which we all agree. Once in power, fight over the how. Let’s get in power first.

    • Agreed. We really need to stop getting in the weeds. And stop fighting with ourselves over issues we agree on.

      • cassandram

        And we have t let candidates speak to their constituents. This is not permission to veer from the platform, but if there are local congestion or development or broad educational issues or interests (Tennessee just make community college free!) those candidates should be free to have those discussions. Coal isn’t of much interest in GA but nuclear might be, for instance.

  4. As far as the free community college goes…Quoting Section 6 of the Arizona State Constitution: ” The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible.” Yeah, that hasn’t turned out very well. Community college was free for a while out here, but it is now 84 dollars per credit hour. Although possibly a great idea, it would need to be funded (and the legislature out here hasn’t funded the State Schools appropriately for a while)

    And yes it’s hot out here……100 degrees at 9:00 AM 🙂

    • That’s hot!

      And you’re correct about funding. It’s what makes free college/community college a non-starter. And we can wax lyrical about it all we want but until we deal with the funding part it’s all just pretty talk. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with funding it. That said we’d need rules in place so our colleges don’t follow the path of charter schools.

      • Free college? Now is this just for US citizens? There are a number of students, who come to the US, to go to college, will they be asked to pay?

        • shhhhhh, no one tell him most of the students who “come here to go to college” are either fully scholarshiped, or in the case of grad-students and researches, often paid.

          • And many of those students who attend college here are funded by their country.

            • cassandram

              Yes, one of the reasons students from other countries are valued here is that they come ready to pay the full freight most times.

              • The ridiculous part is; we, as a country, make no real attempt to keep them here after they finish their education. You’re student visa is up? GO HOME…
                We should be competing for the best and brightest from all over the world… instead, we price our own students out of college and give China and India (for example) the best engineers (for example). Please dont mistake my comment. We should be welcoming students from all over the world… then also employing those talented people.

  5. Wondering

    What scares me the most is that Republicans have learned our rhetoric from those of us who are disenfranchised and they have methodically adapted it to their own sinister purposes. The Republicans haven’t gotten better, they just continue to out smart us by not being so obviously bad anymore and walking that fine line playing us against us.

  6. The message you talk about in this post is Not The message of elected Democrats. If that were the case we would have had a minimum wage increase years ago quite easily

    • delacrat


      The “elected Democrats” don’t “walk” the Democrat “talk”.

  7. Perhaps it’s not the message but the messengers. In the words of a Republican operative on NPR today: “May Nancy Pelosi live long and stay active, she’s the gift that keeps on giving for us”. Clean house at the DNC, new faces, new ideas and above all a changing of the guard. Pelosi and company have presided over the loss of 1,000 seats in state and local governments over the last three elections and accept no blame for it. Total self serving crap. Out with the old rich white people and in with the diverse, strong and willing to fight newcomers. We need change, then perhaps we can hope.

  8. Counter to your claims that the Democratic message isn’t the problem, many accounts of Ossoff’s loss say he offered a moderate message in the general election. He said he’d work with Trump. He wouldn’t say he’s in favor of medicare for all.

    So, with that in mind, I disagree with your premise. I think the Democratic message, whatever you or anyone else thinks it is, apparently is a problem in that it doesn’t win elections.

    • And there are just as many accounts that say Ossoff’s loss wasn’t about messaging. I posted this article in yesterday’s open thread. It’s worth a read.

      And my post is bigger than the Ossoff race. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate or perfectly implemented policy. If that’s our standard, we will lose.

    • cassandram

      A moderate message in an R+10 district. Go figure. Most of the serious discussion is around the GOP moderates he was able to pull off — especially women — to make such a dent in this district. At the end of the day, the GOP in Cobb County came out to vote for who they usually vote for — someone with GOP behind their name, no matter how vile that person might be.

      • Shorter version: Democrats lost. Again.

        • cassandram

          And this might be a meaningful comment if Ossoff had lost Wilmington. But he lost in a district that was built for Democrats to never be competitive in and he was. All of the specials lost were more competitive than anyone had any right to believe they should have been — because gerrymandering was supposed to have it all on lockdown. Winning is way better, but the trends are still fantastic for Dems. If they can take advantage of it.

        • They lost a district they were supposed to lose – and not by a lot.

          That should be the message here, and it’s the flippin’ point of my post. The Georgia race made Republicans and their PACs spend money on a race they shouldn’t have had to spend a penny to win – a race that should have never been close.

          • This is exactly the sort of district Democrats must win to retake the House. It’s exactly the sort of district they are targeting. The message, whatever it was, didn’t get the job done.

            This is not horse racing; there is no prize money for coming in second. And the money isn’t important. Ossoff got most of his from people like me. I’m not going to donate to the next guy if he can’t decide what he’s in favor of.

            • cassandram

              The Districts they have to win are the Red ones that voted for HRC. That’s where the real possibility is. Not in Districts that are built to be noncompetitive and don’t have much framework to go Blue. There’s 25 (+/-) districts across the country held by the GOP that voted for HRC for President. Those have been the targets from early on.

              I did not donate to Ossoff for this runoff. While I wanted him to win, overcoming the structural deficits was going to be a massive lift. His shot was in the primary.

  9. My point is bigger than the Ossoff race, too. Check out the difference between Ossoff in the primary and Ossoff in the general. He went soft in the general, and his appeal to voters apparently went with it. Being against Trump is not enough, and I hear precious few Democrats going beyond Trump to attack the long-time GOP policies he is enacting.

    Too many Democrats insist on insisting there’s nothing wrong with the party, when Delaware itself proves there’s everything wrong with the party, unless the only goal is to have centrists with D next to their names in office.

    • I don’t see evidence that Ossof ran against Trump. Can you point me to it?

      • I didn’t keep notes while reading, but I’m not making it up. Here’s a paragraph from a post-mortem in the Atlanta Journal -Constitution:

        “For a candidate who once put his opposition to Trump at the center of his campaign, Jon Ossoff has been walking a much finer line in the final days before Tuesday’s runoff. It’s all about navigating the middle ground between enticing Democrats and capturing the slice of Republicans he’ll need to win the seat.”

        People who vote based on reason rather than emotion reach their conclusions early on. Making reasoned arguments, as we keep demonstrating, doesn’t change minds. And with the voter suppression and gerrymandering, changing some minds is going to be necessary to take back the House next year.

        • Oops, not a post-mortem; it ran just before election day.

          • So… he really didn’t run against Trump in the special?

            As I watched this race, I was surprised by how little Trump’s name was mentioned.

  10. anonymous redux

    imho, the democratic message likely to draw enough additional voters to actually win would be tougher/farther left on the economic issues and less strident on the social issues. I think that’s what Bernie was getting at. I believe this combination would appeal to many of those non-hillary voters who are not particularly political and are certainly not committed right-wing partisans. and it pretty much describes voters who went for Obama but did not vote for Hillary. if this coalition can get liberal democrats back in office — including the highest — they will be in a position to undo a lot of trumpian/right-wing republican harm. if not, all the left has is the self-satisfaction of being right without being able to do much about it.

    • Good luck trying to thread that needle without alienating the core D base (women, POC, LGBT, etc.). Personally, I think this strategy is the equivalent of chasing unicorns (white, suburban moderates).

      Why is it that a segment of white, progressives are so quick to push aside social issues? Why can’t we pump up economic issues and social issues? I’ve been asking this question for over a year. This strategy not only makes me uncomfortable, it makes me less willing to actively back a candidate that would take this path.

      The backbone of the D party is the African American community, more specifically, black women. I’d be very careful to not lose their support or votes chasing the mythical white moderate vote. And how you win that vote with a progressive message escapes me. Personally, I’d focus on registering more people and getting them to the polls

      There’s so much talk about Dems being Dems. I’m beginning to think that’s all it is – Talk – since it seems we’re ready to toss certain Dem issues overboard. There’s plenty of room for all these issues. If you need to jettison social issues in order to woo white moderates you’ve already lost.

  11. anonymous redux

    the main thing you’ve lost is the ability to win elections. I thought that’s what all this handwringing was about. also, not to “jettison” social issues but to tread more lightly in that area until you actually get some power back. even people who agree with us on these issues don’t want to hear about them all the time. they do want to hear a populist economic message. win the elections first, then work on implementing the liberal agenda. and, of course, registering more people is a good idea.

    • Women are fine with hearing about social issues. So are black and brown people. So is the LGBT community. So are Muslims. So are immigrants. People impacted by social issues are all ears.

  12. Stump speeches are supposed to excite crowds. Demands from each of the Democratic tribes does little to excite those in the other tribes. Why is that so hard to understand? You yourself don’t get excited about economic ideas framed as economic ideas. Can you really not put yourself in someone else’s place and see why white guys don’t get up to their feet and cheer when you talk about rape culture or affirmative action or any of the stovepipe issues of our individual tribes? It all seems quite obvious to many people. At some point you must bear at least some of the responsibility for your lack of understanding.

    As to the message, it must be one that affects everyone. Right now, health care is that issue, because death affects everyone. So do taxes and government spending, the issues we should be focusing on. Nobody is talking about neglecting social issues in practice. We’re pointing out that having a major issue over a bathroom bill in North Carolina during the election made liberals seem like loonies to nervous white people. We never said, “Don’t fight the bathroom bill.” We’re pointing out that fighting it right then played into their hands, and they wanted that fight when it occurred for exactly that reason.

    • When have I ever discounted/dismissed economic issues? I haven’t. I’m not the one (general “one”) trying to cut things out of the Dem agenda.

      • Whenever I suggest a more economically oriented message you complain that said approach throws core Democratic constituencies under the bus. If that’s not what you’ve been doing for the past two years, you’re sure communicating it poorly, because that’s how it comes across.

        • Nope. Whenever people have said we need to downplay social issues while making economic issues the priority I have always said we can focus on both. In some cases the conversation moved from that starting point because of things that were said, but that has always been my starting point.

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