Fourth in a series on “The 7 Winning Messages of Democratic Politicians”
One of the most powerful yet vastly underestimated winning messages for Democrats and liberals is fighting for the underdog. It is the only one of the seven winning messages that belongs exclusively to Democrats. It also exposes a major vulnerability of conservatives—the perception that their policies are hard-hearted, selfish, venal, immoral toward people in need, and unworthy of a great nation.
At first glance, an altruistic message of fighting for the underdog may seem wimpish compared to the Republicans’ practiced demagoguery of lower taxes and nativism, but it’s a mistake to think so. Americans are a compassionate and caring people. We have an innate sense of fairness and equality, and we love to root for the underdog. It’s why health care was a winning issue for two presidential candidates—Clinton and Obama—even though most Americans already had health insurance through their jobs. It’s why Americans love superheroes, and why there are six—six—Rocky movies.
What’s more, in a largely Christian society, millions of Americans have been conditioned by our upbringing to believe in the value, duty, and moral imperative of helping the poor and disadvantaged. Make no mistake (although many politicians do): Fairness, compassion, and concern for the underprivileged are powerful messages for Democratic and liberal politicians, and ones that will resonate with moderates and even with many conservative voters. What’s more, the message of fighting for the underdog stands in stark contrast to the policies of Republicans, whose coddling of the rich and contempt for the poor are a moral affront and a direct contradiction to the Christian religion they so often profess (see the essay “The Shocking Hypocrisy of Christian Conservatives”).
The liberal message should be that Democrats have been fighting for a hundred years for America’s underdogs—for people in poverty, for workers and union members, for people denied their civil rights, for the elderly, for consumers, and for all the people who can’t afford a lobbyist. Social Security, the minimum wage, collective bargaining, poverty programs, women’s rights and equal pay, consumer protection from predatory industries, health care for people who otherwise couldn’t afford it—all of these were Democratic ideas (see the essay “The Case for Liberalism”).
Republicans, by contrast, have fought tooth and nail against every one of them. They prefer causes like lowering taxes on capital gains, corporation tax breaks, and eliminating the inheritance tax on millionaires. They’re for loosening industry regulations and consumer protections. They loathe unions. They have voted to reduce food stamps for the poorest of the poor. They want to repeal the health care law and leave millions of Americans without health insurance. They oppose raising the minimum wage. Republican governors are blocking the expansion of Medicaid (health care for the very poor) in conservative states. On issue after issue, conservatives side with the wealthy and powerful over the average American or people in poverty. Democrats must hammer home the stinginess and callousness of the Republican agenda.
America is a nation of morality, compassion, and faith. Democrats, along with most Americans, believe we have a moral, civic, and religious duty to help those in tough times, or who can’t help themselves. That belief is an important part of what makes America great. It is who we are as a people.
America doesn’t turn its back on the poor, or people in distress. For 100 years, Democrats have been a voice for the voiceless. We have fought for those who can’t fight for themselves. That message must be part of every Democratic campaign.