New Year’s Resolutions for Democratic Candidates

The new year is always about hope and self-reflection. Democratic candidates who hope to win over moderate and independent voters may want to reflect on these suggested New Year’s resolutions.

1. I will not discuss issues without discussing values.

Democrats must appeal to voters’ hearts, not just their heads. To do that, they must explain how their ideas are rooted in American traditions and values, such as:

  • Patriotism
  • Optimism
  • American exceptionalism
  • Faith and moral values
  • Fairness, equality, and fighting for the underdog

Every issue must be linked to the greatness of America and our role as a superpower, to our highest aspirations as a society, or to the moral character of our nation. For examples of how to do this on specific issues, see The 7 Winning Messages of Democratic Politicians and related posts.

2. I will not just run against my Republican opponent, I will run against conservatism.

To win over moderate and conservative voters, Democrats can’t just quarrel about issues—they must delegitimize the very foundations of conservative ideology. They must counter the incessant memes that Republicans are the party of freedom, patriotism, morality, and fiscal responsibility.

It is absolutely crucial that Democratic candidates begin attacking not just Republicans but conservatives. Start using the words “conservative” and “Tea Party” interchangeably with “Republicans.” Every Democratic spokesperson—not just those up for election—must constantly paint conservatives as:

  • Angry
  • Dysfunctional
  • Concerned more about the wealthy than about average Americans
  • Afraid of new ideas
  • Pessimists
  • Anti-government zealots who don’t believe in the ability of Americans to govern ourselves
  • Stingy, hard-hearted, and callous
  • Fiscally incompetent (they exploded the deficit twice under Reagan and Bush and will again with their new tax-cut proposals)
  • Old-fashioned, backward-looking dinosaurs
  • Narrow, constricted, negative thinkers
  • Unable to envision a better future
  • Un-Christian (for Democrats who dare) or immoral in their policies toward the poor (see Winning Message No. 5: Faith & Values for more on how to walk that delicate line)
  • Unable to deal with the complex issues of a modern 21st-century superpower
  • Unworthy of leading a great nation
  • More than a little nuts

Democrats must begin raising doubts in voters’ minds about the competence of conservatives and their ability to govern. Remind voters about government shutdowns. Blame the Tea Party for the gridlock in Washington. The point is to recast “Tea Party” and “conservative” as pejoratives, in the same way Republicans have managed to do with “liberal.” Every Republican candidate is now the de facto spokesperson for every nutty, dangerous, or mean-spirited idea conservatives have, nationally or in the state candidates represent. Eliminating the inheritance tax for multi-millionaires, privatizing Social Security and Medicare, slashing food stamps for the poor, taking health care away from millions of Americans, cutting disability benefits, shutting down the government, threatening to default on the U.S. debt—conservatives own all of it.

3. I will be a proud Democrat.

If you don’t think the Democratic message will play in your purple or red districts, then you are telling the wrong message! Democrats are the party of:

  • Workers
  • Improving the lives of average Americans
  • American values like fairness, equality, and freedom of conscience
  • Moral and religious values like helping the poor
  • Progress
  • Keeping America strong and fulfilling our obligations at home and abroad (rather than shrinking America with drastic budget cuts; see How to Fight the Republicans’ Tax-Cut Message)
  • Ending the corrupting role of money in government
  • Responsible financial leadership and prudent budget cutting
  • Fighting for the underdog

That’s a message that should play anywhere.

It is the job of every Democratic candidate to reinforce the Democratic brand. Every candidate needs to encourage Americans to vote not just for him or her but for Democrats generally. The message is that Democrats are the party of the people. We have been on the side of unions and workers for a hundred years. We are defenders of the poor and middle class. We have been the engine that drives progress in our nation, from women’s rights and civil rights to Social Security, the minimum wage, and health care. Every significant improvement in America’s quality of life in the last century has come from Democrats. Tell the story! America does not move forward without the Democratic Party.

4. I will speak with unwavering conviction.

Americans admire politicians who know what they stand for and fight for it. Do not waver, dissemble, or apologize. Do not abandon your president or your party. That doesn’t mean you can’t be strategic. It doesn’t mean you have to be hyperpartisan, or that you can’t position yourself as willing to work across the aisle. It does mean candidates have to believe passionately in the Democratic cause.

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