Winning Message No. 7: Self-Interest

Last in a series on “The 7 Winning Messages of Democratic Politicians”

We have left self-interest as the last of the seven winning messages, but of course it may well be the most important. Voters often judge a political campaign (quite rightly, probably) on the basis of “What’s in it for me?” They want to know, “How will you make my life better?” Often, and more specifically, that means, “How will I be better off financially?”

Republicans have had a significant leg up on Democrats in this category, with their earworm message of lower taxes—the ultimate self-interest issue. But with income inequality now a campaign issue, Republican’s may have to play without their favorite toy this election cycle. Most voters understand by now that the nation can’t afford more huge tax cuts, especially those that fall mostly to the wealthy.

That means Democrats may not have to shout so loudly to have their own self-interest issues heard. President Obama pointed the way in his State of the Union address, with tax cuts for the middle class, tax credits for child care, and paid sick leave.

Beyond that, Democrats need to do a much better job of positioning themselves as the party of the people. Democrats have done a decent job of painting Republicans as the friends of the wealthy, but for some reason they haven’t yet established their own brand as the champions of the working class, middle class, and poor. Liberals have a tremendous story to tell as defenders of everyday Americans; they should tell it loudly, proudly, and in unison. At the same time, they must continue painting Republicans as coddlers of the rich and indifferent to the needs of hard-working Americans and the poor. Democrats, in unison, must portray the GOP as a backward-looking party of pessimists, afraid of new ideas, who spend their time telling Americans all the things they can’t have.

While Republicans will continue to beat their one drum of lower taxes (which Democrats can counter with this, Democrats have a symphony of policies that have protected and improved the lives of the average American. Democrats:

  • Strongly support unions and the right of workers to have a voice in the workplace
  • Provided health care to millions of uninsured Americans
  • Support raising the minimum wage
  • Fought against cuts in food stamps for Americans living in poverty
  • Passed a law to curb the worst abuses of the credit card industry (Why is this not touted much more often by Democrats? It’s a hugely populist issue.)
  • Created an agency to protect consumers from financial fraud and predatory practices
  • Kept the internet fair for everyone
  • Fought to keep low-cost college loans for kids who can’t afford college

Here is a two-minute campaign speech excerpt or debate response that explains to voters why voting Democratic instead of Republican is in their best interest:

“If you’re a worker in America, why in the world would you ever vote Republican? Democrats have been fighting for the American worker since the turn of the last century, since the days when organizing a union could get your head busted in. Conservatives have always—always—come down on the side of big business, the wealthy, and the powerful.

  • Democrats are still strong supporters of unions; Republicans want to destroy them.
  • Democrats have given health care to millions of American workers who have never been able to afford it; conservatives want to take it all away again.
  • We’re trying to raise the minimum wage; Republicans are opposing it.
  • Democrats passed reforms that curbed the worst abuses of the credit card industry; Republicans made it harder for Americans in debt to declare bankruptcy.
  • Democrats created the Consumer Protection Agency to guard against predatory finance and lending practices; conservatives want to get rid of it.
  • We kept the internet fair and equal for everyone; Republicans wanted to sell it to the highest bidder.
  • Democrats gave America Social Security and Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights, collective bargaining, paid vacation, and the 40-hour work week.
  • Now we’re trying to give you help with child care, a guarantee of paid sick leave, and a livable minimum wage.

“These are real solutions that help American workers and families every day. Conservatives have vehemently opposed every one of them. Democrats have made America what it is today. If you’re a worker in America, Republicans are not your friends. They never have been. Democrats have been fighting for you for a hundred years, and we still are.”

Here’s another approach to the self-interest issue:

“Each generation of Americans has a right to enjoy a better quality of life than the generation before. It’s called progress. Whether it’s health care for all Americans, child care for working parents, a raise in the minimum wage, or a fairer, more equal society, Americans can’t be afraid of new ideas. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for better lives for ourselves and others. We shouldn’t be afraid to create the society we want. And we shouldn’t be insulted by narrow, constricted, conservative thinkers who say we just want to be taken care of by our nannies. No! What we want is a better life for ourselves, our families, and our fellow citizens. We have a right to make that happen, and we don’t need to listen to backward-thinking pessimists who tell us America can’t do it, that it will never work. America is the world’s only superpower. Our nation has never been afraid of new ideas, and we can’t start now. As Democrats, we know we can accomplish new and better things, we know we can make the lives of Americans better, freer, fairer, and easier—because Democrats have done it, time and time and time again.”

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