America’s Desperate Need for Optimism (Part 2)

In yesterday’s post, we argued that Democrats must counter the scurrilous conservative meme that times are bad and America is going to hell. By most objective measures, that just isn’t true, and Americans need to hear it. They not only need to hear it, they are desperate to hear it, and Democrats have plenty of proof to back it up. We believe voters will flock to the message if it is delivered convincingly and in unison by Democrats.

We would love to see Hillary Clinton, for example, give a major speech that incorporates a message like this:

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to create a new narrative about America.

I hear conservatives these days talk about how they think America is falling apart, that we’re in some kind of moral decline, that our government is useless, and America isn’t respected around the world.

I hear all of that, and I wonder what country they live in. Yes, we just went through some very tough economic times. But let’s just take a minute to recap where we are now:

Does that sound like a country that’s falling apart? I was secretary of State for four years, and I know for a fact that America is highly respected around the world—especially compared to the last Republican administration—and our economy is the envy of the world.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, as I’m sure conservatives will: I’m not saying America doesn’t have challenges. Of course we do, and many of them are very serious. Just to name a few:

  • The turmoil in the Middle East and the threat of terrorism here at home.
  • Stagnant wages and underemployed workers
  • The growing disparity between rich and poor
  • A shameful gridlock in Congress and the influence of money in politics

Those issues are critical, but we also need to put them in perspective. Our issues today are no worse than those we’ve faced in every other decade of our nation’s existence. And in many cases they’re much less worse.

Have conservatives already forgotten that until recently we were fighting two intractable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, dealing with al Qaeda after 9/11, and facing exploding deficits from ill-advised tax cuts for the wealthy?

Do they remember the violent crime of the 1990s?

The major recession and the AIDS crisis of the ’80s?

The rampant inflation of the ’70s? The gas crisis, Iran hostage crisis, and Watergate?

The Vietnam War, the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation, political assassinations, and social unrest of the ’60s?

The Korean War of the ’50s?

World War II?

The Great Depression?

When hasn’t America had major issues to deal with? By comparison, our problems today seem pretty manageable, don’t they? And we will deal with them the way Americans always have: With resilience, compromise, determination, and the fundamental optimism of the American character.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to move past the dark-hearted anger and pessimism of conservatism. It’s time to turn off Fox News. It’s time to stop listening to Chicken Little politicians who tell us the sky is falling. It isn’t. America is the greatest, richest, most powerful nation on earth, and we will continue to be into the far future.

And the problems we do have will never be solved by conservatives, who want to rush recklessly into wars, who think that rich people deserve bigger tax breaks than the middle class, and that the poor should be mocked and shamed rather than helped.

Democrats have been standing with the American worker for a hundred years. Democrats have been fighting to raise the minimum wage, making health care affordable for millions of Americans, and supporting unions, so that Americans have a voice in their workplace. While we were doing that, Republicans were giving huge tax breaks to people who are already rich and trying to destroy the health care program and unions.

Conservatives have been telling us since Ronald Reagan was president that all their favors to the rich and powerful would “trickle down” to working people. Well, for more than 30 years corporate profits have soared. The stock market has soared. The incomes of the richest people in America have gone through the roof, thanks to Republican policies. Where is yours, America? How much has trickled down to you?

It’s time to bury the fallacy of trickle-down economics once and for all. You don’t need Republicans in Washington doing more favors for the rich and powerful. You need Democrats in Washington doing a few favors for you.

America, stop listening to conservatives who preach anger and fear. Who tell you your country is failing. Who want to put America on a starvation diet and abandon our responsibilities to our own citizens and to the world. You don’t have to hate your government. You don’t have to be ashamed of your government. Americans have actually done a pretty good job of governing ourselves for over 200 years.

Yes, we have work to do. So let’s get to it. America is a 21st-century superpower. Our economy is strong and getting stronger. Our commitment to equality for everyone is greater than ever. Our future is as bright as it’s ever been. Why on earth would you elect a leader who doesn’t believe that?

America’s Desperate Need for Optimism

Donald Trump says America is going to hell. He says what’s happening to America is “disgraceful.” Other Republican candidates seem just as outraged.

Americans are full of anger and angst. Or so we’re told by … well, almost everyone, it seems: polls, Fox News, The New York Times, this guy. But are things really that bad? Consider these facts:

That’s not to say America doesn’t have challenges, many of them very serious: ISIS, stagnant wages, gridlock in Congress, just to name a few. But America has always faced challenges. Are our issues today any worse than in any other decade in American history? For example:

  • The Afghanistan and Iraq wars, 9/11, and exploding deficits of the 2000s
  • The soaring crime rate, the Gulf War, the Oklahoma City bombing in the 1990s
  • A major recession and the AIDS crisis of the ’80s
  • Rampant inflation, the Iranian hostage crisis, Watergate and the resignation of a president, and the gas crisis of the ’70s
  • The Vietnam War, the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation, political assassinations, and social upheavals of the ’60s
  • The Korean War of the ’50s
  • World War II in the ’40s
  • The Great Depression in the ’30s

By comparison, our present-day troubles seem relatively manageable. So why all the heebie-jeebies from conservatives?

One reason, of course, is because they’re the opposition party to the president; it’s their job to exaggerate our troubles. Fair enough. But the pure vitriol directed at Obama is more than politics. Years of the Fox News/right-wing radio hyperbole machine have whipped the conservative rabble into a froth of anger and fear. They’ve convinced a good chunk of Americans that our country is falling apart at the seams.

Democrats cannot let that meme go unchallenged. It’s time to start spreading some good news about our country.

And Americans are desperate to hear it. After the trauma of the Great Recession, voters are hungry for an optimistic message. People want to feel good about their lives and their country. And at the moment, there’s no reason they shouldn’t. Americans will love candidates who can prove to them that America is doing well, and getting better all the time.

Positivity is the second of the 7 Winning Messages for Democrats. It is the hallmark of our era’s most successful politicians—Obama, Clinton, and Reagan.

Of course, in an odd way it’s a bit risky to preach good news. It’s always dangerous to tell people they shouldn’t feel what they feel. Democrats should be careful not to blame voters for feeling angry or afraid. They should blame Republicans instead—for their relentless pessimism and negativity. And, of course, the timing will have to be right. This probably isn’t the time at the moment, with Americans focused on the threat of terrorism.

Democrats should also be careful to acknowledge that the U.S. has serious problems that need addressing. The message is that our problems are solvable, and no worse than the kinds of issues Americans have always faced with a spirit of optimism, innovation, compromise, and resiliency.

In our post tomorrow, we’ll give an example of an imaginary speech from Hillary Clinton that will show how this can be done.


As liberal Democrats, it’s hard to know how to react to the Donald Trump freak show. Should we be giddy at conservatism’s spectacular self-immolation? Or should Trump’s dumbfounding success make us re-evaluate our faith in humanity?

For the moment, we’re going with giddy. And a good part of our glee comes from knowing that whatever happens with Trump, he will most likely be doing damage to Republicans straight through November. Trump’s monumental egotism makes that a virtual certainty. Obviously if Trump wins the nomination or leaves the party in a fit of pique to run as an independent, he will be catastrophic for Republicans.

But the deliciousness of Trump is that even if he loses the nomination, he will remain an anchor around the neck of conservatives. Whether he loses in a close fight or he’s gone after South Carolina, it doesn’t really matter. Who in their right mind thinks Trump is just going to fade away?


  1. He’s wealthy enough to stay in the race until he gets tired of spending money.
  2. He crave’s the spotlight. His ego won’t let him go away.
  3. Like Sarah Palin, he makes such good television that the media won’t want him to go away. Every TV network will be clamoring, as they are now, for the next crazy-Donald quote, long after he’s out of the race. They will seek him out as a commentator and pundit.

All of which means Democrats will have Trump to kick around till the last ballot is counted. And Democrats will have to take advantage—mercilessly. Whoever the eventual Republican nominee is, he will own Trump’s legacy. Democrats should not let anyone forget. The Republican Party is now indelibly tainted this election season.

What’s more, Democrats must tie Trump not just to Republicans but to conservatism. In our last post, we showed you how. Thanks to Trump, conservatism is on the defensive at the moment, and Democrats must press the attack.

The message from now till November should be: “The GOP is dysfunctional. Conservatism has devolved into a sad, mean-spirited shell of what it once was. This is not a party or a political ideology that should be leading a 21st-century superpower.”

For Democrats, smug triumphalism may be premature, unfortunately. And no doubt this election season will be full of surprises. But if Democrats can manage to retain the presidency and take back the Senate (dare we hope for more?), liberals should give Donald Trump a big, wet kiss.

Conservatives on the Run

Earlier this week Hillary Clinton sought to link all Republican candidates to Donald Trump and his incendiary plan to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

This is exactly the right message. Democrats must start globalizing their issues with Republicans. But we wish Clinton and every other Democrat would go a step further from now till November: They should use Trump as the cudgel to bash not just other candidates, and not just the Republican Party, but conservatism itself.

This is the second of the 4 Unbreakable Rules of Democratic Campaigning: Don’t just run against Republicans, run against conservatism.

Donald Trump presents the perfect opportunity to send conservatism on the run, to discredit not only the party but the very philosophy conservatives stand on.

The message should be:

The problems we’re seeing now with Republicans go far beyond Donald Trump, and even beyond a dysfunctional Republican Party. Trump has exposed the dark underbelly of conservatism itself. Conservatives in America haven’t just lost their way, they seem to have lost their minds. Rational, moderate conservatives don’t even have a voice in American politics today. Instead, the Republican Party and the conservative movement have been overrun by Donald Trump demagogues, anti-government zealots, gun fetishists, Jade Helm conspiracy theorists, Tea Partiers, religious bigots, birthers, anti-intellectuals, science deniers, xenophobes, and more than a few full-on racists.

Do the “crazies,” as Republican Sen. John McCain called them, represent all conservatives? No, of course not. But they are the most vocal and most active. And perhaps they are the natural progression of an ultraconservatism that:

  • encourages absolutism
  • urges religious and political zeal
  • refuses compromise
  • demonizes political opponents as un-American or even traitors
  • employs brinksmanship and government shutdowns as political weapons
  • reflexively resists every new idea
  • bases its political philosophy on a heartless social Darwinism, and
  • shows not just indifference but antipathy toward the poor

We’re beginning to see now where all of that leads.

A while ago Gov. Bobby Jindal lamented that Republicans “have to stop being the Stupid Party.” They have failed completely.

American voters must ask themselves: Are these really the people who should be running a 21st-century superpower? Conservatives every day are proving themselves unfit to lead a great nation.

Why Aren’t Democrats Getting Credit for Low Unemployment?

Here’s a dull, under-the-radar economic story that is actually tremendously positive news for Democrats: Last week Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen gave a speech about the state of the economy in which she raised the question of whether the U.S. was at full employment.

Her answer, alas, was no, not yet. But the fact that she would even bring up the subject is amazing. She felt compelled to ask the question after job growth of nearly 300,000 in October and 211,000 in November (and 2.3 million jobs so far this year). The Wall Street Journal says that if job growth continues to average 200,000 a month, the nation should reach full employment in 2017. Which means we would be very, very close by the time of the November elections.

In any case, the nation’s unemployment rate now stands at just 5%, among the lowest rates in the last 60 years and a full point below the average of 6% since 1955.

These figures demolish two of the Republican Party’s most precious talking points:

  • That Democratic policies are job killers, and
  • That immigrants are somehow stealing jobs from Americans

These numbers also raise another question: Why aren’t Democrats getting more credit for a pretty rosy jobs picture?

Ronald Reagan’s presidency was also hit by a major recession in its first years, when unemployment hit almost 10%. But by his last year in office the jobless rate had fallen to 5.5%, and Republicans crowed that it was morning again in America. Now it’s significantly lower—5% and falling—yet Donald Trump and his fellow conservatives are pretending that America is somehow going to hell.

What gives?

For one thing, Republicans are moving the goal posts. They love to point to a broader set of labor statistics that take into account workers who are working part time but want full-time work, plus discouraged workers who aren’t even looking for jobs but say they would like to. Under these “alternative measures of labor underutilization,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the real unemployment rate is now 9.9%.

But this isn’t a new phenomenon. Here’s a BLS chart showing the alternative unemployment rate going back to 1994. As you can see, this so-called U-6 number (the top line in the chart) tracks proportionally with the unemployment rate (the black line in the middle labeled U-3). Presumably this was also true a few years earlier, in 1988, when it was “morning in America.”

Alternative unemployment chart

(Click to enlarge)

The Republicans—and the media, too—aren’t comparing apples to apples. The truth is that unemployment—however you measure it—is still not far from its historic lows.

Another reason Democrats aren’t getting credit is no doubt because Americans are still psychologically hung over from the Great Recession. Wages have been stagnant for a couple of decades, relatively high-paying manufacturing jobs are disappearing, and many Americans are underemployed.

To be sure, these are serious issues, and ones Democrats must pay attention to. But the relentless drumbeat from Republicans and Fox News that America is somehow falling apart is clearly, empirically false. By most objective measures, and certainly by comparison to the rest of the world, the American economy is doing pretty well.

In a coming post, we’ll talk about the desperate need for optimism in America, and why it’s time for Democrats to start bringing some good news to the nation.

Selling the Democratic Brand

Why is it that every election season the airwaves are clogged with campaign ads for specific candidates, but we almost never see ads for a political party itself? No doubt it’s because TV ads are wildly expensive, and party leaders would rather put that money toward winning specific races.

Fair enough, but one of the biggest problems Democrats have, in our opinion, is that voters don’t really know what we stand for, in the same way they know that Republicans stand for lower taxes, guns, “family values,” freedom from government intrusion, etc.

We believe that well-done Democratic branding ads would be tremendously effective, especially in key swing states. They would help not just specific candidates but all candidates, by putting the election in a broader context and reminding voters about the values and American traditions Democrats believe in:

  • Helping the American worker
  • Fighting for the underdog
  • Helping people in need
  • The right to follow our own conscience and beliefs
  • Fairness and equality for everyone

These ads would serve two critically important purposes:

  1. Establishing the Democratic brand. They would create a positive identity for Democrats in the minds of moderate and independent voters. And they would promote loyalty and pride among Democrats. Americans like to feel good about their votes, and they would feel better if they are voting not just for a candidate but for a cause, a belief system, a strong and proud political party. Voters need to know what Democrats stand for and the long, proud history of the party in supporting working Americans and the poor.
  2. Contradicting destructive Republican memes. In the battle for American hearts and minds, something must be done to counteract the powerful Fox News and right-wing memes that, for many voters, are already accepted and unchallenged “facts”:
    • The country is going to hell.
    • Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility.
    • Government must be cut dramatically.
    • Democrats are tax-and-spend liberals.

    The relentlessness of these Republican truisms has to be countered, and right now they’re not in any visible way. The occasional Meet the Press interview will not get the job done (and even then, Democrats aren’t doing much to fight these memes).

A national branding campaign may never happen, but imagine, in our fantasy world, a series of ads featuring interviews with average American workers saying why they vote Democratic (and why they wouldn’t vote Republican): ranchers and farmers, factory workers, young military veterans-many of the types of voters Democrats are hoping to sway.

Or they could be scripted ads, something like this one-minute commercial:

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