Democratic Message for 2018 & 2020

I had an interesting week as a DFL volunteer. On Tuesday May 30th,  I attended the first town hall meeting for Dean Phillips, who wants to run against Eric Paulsen (it was excellent). On Friday evening, I attended the annual Humphrey-Mondale fundraising dinner where I heard speeches by Governor Dayton, Senator Klobuchar, and a bunch of other DFL officials and dignitaries.

The highlight of that night was a speech by Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Great speech – and what a personal story she has. Then on Sunday, I attended an Al Franken book signing event in the early afternoon and got an autographed copy of his new book. Later in the afternoon, I attended a fundraiser for Amy Klobuchar where she was delighted to also sign Al Franken’s new book. She made sure to sign it as the SENIOR senator from Minnesota.

As I listened to the speeches, I was thinking about what the Democratic message should be for 2018 and 2020. This question is a common discussion topic among the shocked Democrats after the election of Trump. Just google “Democratic message for 2018” and you find lots of articles discussing it. One opinion is that the Democrats just run as anti-Trump in 2018, and then let the presidential candidates provide specific messages for 2020. An alternative opinion is that the party can’t just be against Trump; we need to explain more effectively what we are for.

This is not a new problem for the Democrats. Ever since the Republicans decided to run on the platform of lower taxes, the Democrats have had difficulty in developing an equally compelling and easily-stated message. Most people would like to have lower taxes. The problem is that a sizable minority of voters will still want lower taxes no matter how often we explain to them that taxes provide a strong military, good public education, safe infrastructure, beautiful national parks, and an effective legal system. Unfortunately, taxes are now also providing us a dysfunctional congress and executive branch, but we’ll ignore those for now.

If I summarized the Republican message, it would be “Lower Taxes, Less Government Regulations, Strong Military, No Abortions.” Nine words. What could be a nine-word Democratic message or slogan for 2018 and 2020? We need something as effective as Reagan’s “Are you better off now than you were four years ago” or Bill Clinton’s “It’s the Economy Stupid” or Obama’s “Change we can believe in.” We definitely need something more effective than Hillary’s “I’m with her,” “We’re Stronger Together,” or whatever else she threw against the wall to see if it would stick.

Here is my answer for a nine-word 2018 and 2020 Democratic message: “We all do better when we all do better.” Most Minnesota Democrats over the age of 30 will recognize those words as a Paul Wellstone quote. This message or slogan is the foundation for Democratic policies and solutions. It explains why we support a strong military, good public education, safe infrastructure, beautiful national parks, and oppose tax cuts for the rich.

I came to this conclusion while going for a run on Saturday and thought I was a very insightful and brilliant. Then on Sunday morning, I listened to a podcast from called The Gist. Zoe Chace was interviewing Al Franken and they discussed this very issue. Here is an edited transcript of the discussion that came towards the end of the interview.

Zoe: What’s next for the party? What’s the message? Besides hating Donald Trump.

Al: The message is that he is not on your side and we are. We are about creating high quality jobs. We are about making sure that everyone has an opportunity.

Zoe: Can you sum that up? Hillary Clinton did not have a concise message. I want to hear a concise message out of the Democrats.

Al: That is one of our problems. All of our bumper stickers end with continue on next bumper sticker. There is a reason for government. Make sure that we provide security and opportunity and (pause) that we all do better when we all do better.

Zoe: There, you got that at the end. I could see that as a bumper sticker.

Al went on to explain that the quote was from Paul Wellstone and that he had dedicated his new book to Paul and Sheila Wellstone.

Obviously, Al Franken came to the same conclusion as I did on Saturday. The difference is that he probably came to the conclusion years ago.

My suggestion to Senators Franken and Klobuchar is that they take this message nationally as they campaign for the 2018 elections and when one, if not both, run for president in 2020. They should start their speeches and interviews with this quote rather than end with it. As the reaction from Zoe shows, it still is a powerful and effective message and slogan for today’s voters.

That is the reason I asked Al to sign his book for me like this: “To Jerry Gale, We all do better when we all do better!”  


           Autographs by Al and Amy         Picture of me with the next President

Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth at the Humphrey-Mondale Dinner

2 thoughts on “Democratic Message for 2018 & 2020

  1. Jerry,
    Not only does the message need to change for 2018 and onward, but the audience does too. In 2016, Democrats lost rural voters, blue-collar labor, and a surprising number of women. Plus, mid-term elections traditionally turn out more Republican voters than Democrats. We have to find a message that transforms the DFL into a party for ALL the people, including those whose optimism and high hopes for change under Obama were shattered by the reality of a stagnant economy, stuck wages, and a failure of his actions to match his oratory. I’m worried that the DFL party has splintered into multiple different voices: one for young activists, another for social issues segments like LGTB, feminists, immigrants, etc, another for labor, and yet another for center-left traditional DFLers. The party is no longer unified, nor does it have a consistent, linking message.

    Also, changing the message doesn’t alter regional gerrymandering that currently tilts election results to Republican advantage, nor will it produce rapid change in GOP-dominated state legislatures and gubernatorial seats. Somehow, Democrats aren’t impacting local and regional politics in ways that build the infrastructure for DFL policies to work broadly and stick!


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