The Liberal Message was created to help Democrats and liberals make the case to voters that our political philosophy is the best course for America. It is intended for Democratic politicians, strategists, campaign managers, activists, and advocates who are looking for a populist message that will appeal to the broad center of the American public—the moderate and independent voters who decide elections.
This is not a blog about political strategy, it’s about political messaging: What is the best way to communicate liberal and Democratic ideas and values to the American public? How can we persuade more Americans that liberalism represents the highest and best of American values, morals, and traditions? How can we convince voters that the Democratic agenda will improve the quality of their lives and make our nation freer, fairer, and stronger?
The Need for a Liberal Message
What does it say about liberalism and the Democratic Party when polls show that Americans generally agree with progressives on specific issues, yet Republicans control both houses of Congress, 31 of 50 governorships, and 68 of 98 state legislative houses?
It says Democrats have been doing a horrendous job of communicating their message to American voters.
Largely, that’s because Democrats and liberals have been trying to win voters’ minds but not their hearts. While conservatives reflexively link every issue to “patriotism,” “freedom,” the Constitution, and “moral values,” liberal candidates inexplicably seem more reluctant to talk about their own values—the American traditions of fairness, equality, individual rights, freedom of conscience, and the deeply moral belief in helping people in need. Liberals and Democrats have been far too shy about reminding voters of their truly extraordinary, century-long record in fighting for the American worker and improving the lives of the less fortunate.
Liberalism has been on the defensive since the rise of Reaganism in the 1980s, which convinced many Americans that liberal is a dirty word. In the ’90s, conservatives piled on with the rhetorically brilliant hyperpartisanship of Newt Gingrich. In the 2000s, liberals struggled to be heard over the bullhorns of Fox News and right-wing radio.
Now, at last, with the rise of liberal champions like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Paul Krugman, and the stiffened spines of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, liberals seem to be finding their voice again. (The cause has been helped immeasurably by the fiasco of the Bush/Cheney years, the mean-spirited absolutism of ultra-conservatism, and the appalling lowbrow politics of the Tea Party and Donald Trump, which seems to be repelling even thoughtful Republicans.)
But liberals still have a long way to go. Democrats need more than a handful of articulate spokespeople. To retake the moral and rhetorical high ground, they need to speak with a unified voice. They need a message that resonates with bedrock Americans—that speaks to deeply held American and religious values, that embraces Americans’ love of country, and that reflects our nation’s natural optimism.
America needs a liberal message.