Winning Message No. 1: Patriotism

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

Patriotism probably doesn’t need much explanation as a winning political message. In this context, it simply means demonstrating pride in and commitment to your country, something that most politicians reflexively do well. But Democrats and liberals need to be much more overt in connecting their policies to their patriotism—that is, to love of country and to American values such as fairness, justice, freedom, equality, and fighting for the underdog. At every opportunity, Democrats must show how their policies are connected to cherished American ideals.

This is something Republicans do habitually, and they have been very effective with it. They hardly seem to mention an issue without dressing it in liberty, freedom, the Constitution, and the Founding Fathers, as if they were the sole caretakers of American values.

Democrats have been completely outflanked on the patriotism front. Liberals seem squeamish about projecting overt patriotism, maybe because they know that too often that hand-over-heart ostentatiousness degenerates into simpleminded jingoism and demagoguery. It doesn’t have to, of course. Love of country belongs as much to liberals as to conservatives. Democrats are the inheritors and protectors of freedom, liberty, and the Constitution as much as Republicans.

Patriotism is an unabashedly populist message, but conjoining it with Democratic policies isn’t marketing, or cynicism, or spin. It’s what Democrats already believe; we just have to make sure we say it out loud. Doing so reminds voters that Democratic positions are thoroughly grounded in American values and traditions. It’s a much-needed counterpoint to the insipid and relentless sloganeering of conservatives, who cannot be allowed to corner the market on patriotism.

Democrats need to become more comfortable talking about issues with phrases like:

“These are the values I was taught…”

“Americans believe in …”

“America stands for …”

Here are three specific examples of how patriotism and Americanism can be woven into speeches and policy discussions:

Health care

Our Founding Fathers said that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And while Thomas Jefferson certainly wasn’t talking about health care when he wrote that, health care enhances all three of those rights. In America, freedom means more than just how little you pay in taxes. As Franklin Roosevelt said, it also includes things like freedom from want, and freedom from fear-like the fear of going bankrupt if you happen to get seriously ill or injured. There are benefits that come from living in the greatest, richest, freest, most powerful nation on earth, and one of those benefits should be protection against losing everything in case of a devastating illness or accident.

Immigration reform

Americans believe in justice, but we also believe in fairness, mercy, and the chance at a new beginning. From my family and from my faith I was taught that people deserve forgiveness and a second chance. Republicans want justice without mercy or understanding, which really is no justice at all. They want to break up families, separate parents from each other and children from their parents. They want to send children back to countries they may not even remember. Those aren’t American values, and they aren’t religious values. That’s not the kind of thing we stand for. If an immigrant came to this country illegally, but they’ve been here 10 or 20 years, worked hard, stayed out of trouble, raised a family, and established a life in this country, they deserve another chance. That’s the American way.

Income inequality

“America’s greatness-and the gift our nation has given to the modern world-is based on the idea that all of us are created equal. Equality means the freedom to fully participate in the American Dream. That freedom belongs to all Americans, not just the wealthy, and not just the ones who can afford lobbyists.

Why is it, then, that America—the founder of modern democracy—has one of the highest levels of disparity between rich and poor of any developed nation?

Equality doesn’t mean that we should all be equally wealthy, of course. But it does mean that one group shouldn’t be given unfair advantages or favors over another group. It means, for example that if the wealthy are given massive tax breaks—as they have been twice by Republicans, under Ronald Reagan and George Bush—or if CEOs are being handed multimillion-dollar bonuses, then we shouldn’t also deny other people a raise in the minimum wage. That’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not what this country is about.

As Americans, we love our country, and we cherish our ideals of equality and equal opportunity. And as Americans, we have to be concerned by the growing gap between rich and poor. We have to be concerned about the policies that are making that gap wider. All of us deserve a shot at the American Dream, and we have to make sure that millions of Americans don’t fall so far that that dream is out of their reach.”


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