The biggest crisis in the Democratic Party today is its utter failure to present a coherent, inspiring message to Americans. Voters have no idea what Democrats stand for or how the party plans to improve their lives. If you want to see a perfect example of why Democrats are so god-awful at communicating, take a look at the clip below of Ohio senator Sherrod Brown’s appearance on last Sunday’s Meet the Press.
Host Chuck Todd sets up the segment with the premise that voters simply don’t know what Democrats are for beyond being anti-Trump. His first question to Brown: “Is that a fair criticism?”
It’s a big, slow softball over the heart of the plate: a perfect opportunity to explain—now, at last—what the party stands for. It’s a question that Brown—who certainly knew why he was on the show—should have knocked out of the park and into the Allegheny River. Instead, he fouls it into his own dugout. Watch the first 1:40 of this exchange:
Brown gets a piece of the answer right: The Democratic Party is about helping the American worker. Terrific! But he doesn’t say that—at least not clearly and simply. He dances around it, obscures it in verbiage, and generally makes it seem like it’s a much tougher question than it is. Why, why, why is it so hard for Democrats to say what we believe in?
How much better would it have been if Brown had given an answer like this:
“Yeah, Chuck, that is a fair criticism. The Democratic Party hasn’t done a very good job of telling Americans why we deserve to lead the country. But I’ll tell you exactly what Democrats stand for. Democrats believe in the founding principle of America that we are all created equal. We’re the party that fights for the underdog. We fight for workers. We fight for the poor. We fight for minorities who need a voice in society. In the last hundred years, virtually every important advance in society or the workplace came from Democrats. We’re the party that gave America Social Security, Medicare, health care, civil rights, consumer protections, and so much more. Now we’re fighting for a livable minimum wage, guaranteed sick pay and family leave, and affordable child care and college tuition.
“By contrast, what have conservatives ever done for the average American? Conservatism isn’t about anything but helping the rich. It’s a mean, heartless, stingy, backward ideology that fears any new idea.
“Chuck, we live in the greatest, richest nation on earth. Americans have a right to ask for a better life. But the only way that ever happens is when Democrats are leading the country.”
We’re not just picking on Senator Brown; this is par for the course with Democrats. Every Democratic spokesperson should have a one-minute elevator speech about what Democrats believe in. And they have to learn the three steps of answering any question on any issue:
- Don’t talk about issues; talk about values. Start by relating the question to a fundamental American, moral, or humanitarian value. (For example: equality, personal freedom, fairness, compassion, American greatness and leadership, and so on.)
- Answer the question simply and clearly, and support it with facts.
- Attack conservatives (not “Republicans”—conservatives). The goal is not just to engage in a political debate over policy, it’s to undermine the very foundation of Republican ideology.
Every Democratic politician should be doing this for every question on every issue, all the time.