Let’s give Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer some credit, they are trying to move from the Denial and Anger stages of grieving (#Resist) toward Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. They have heard enough people tell them that Russia-gate and trashing Trump are not enough; that they need a positive message. The result, rolled out in a New York Times op-ed and in a presentation in a suburban Washington congressional district – “A Better Deal: Better Skills; Better Jobs; Better Wages”. They want a $15 minimum wage, a trillion dollar infrastructure plan, a presumption against large corporations in antitrust cases, control of prescription drug pricing, employer-paid family sick leave, and subsidized apprenticeship programs. Let’s think about their predicament.
First, the immediate reactions:
– From the Bernie Sanders side of the party which wants full-throated socialism – break up the banks; free healthcare; free college, this is not enough.
– From snarky Roll Call, while the slogan is intended to conjure up memories of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, it is a poor version of Papa John’s Pizza slogan: Better Ingredients; Better Pizza – without any understanding of what the better ingredients would be in terms of people, policies, strategies, or tactics.
– From the Wall Street Journal, an interesting decision to launch the new populist identity at a news conference in suburban Virginia’s 10th Congressional district, whose $110,000 average income is the highest in the country, fueled by government workers and lobbyists.
– From the usually sympathetic US News and World Report, “no one, including some of their most senior political leaders, really has a clue how to get out of the hole they dug for themselves while Barack Obama was president.”
And some more serious thoughts:
– Chuck Schumer cannot speak seriously about breaking up the banks – in a normal role for a New York Senator, he is their (paid for) biggest supporter. Nancy Pelosi is the quintessential symbol of what Middle America has decided it does not like about the Democratic Party. If the party wants to change, they cannot be the messengers, or the strategists for that matter.
– The characters on the stage – Pelosi, Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and a dozen other Washington legislators – reflect the problem. Nobody from outside the beltway. No governors in party leadership. Not even Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee chair.
– The Democrats are fortunate that Perez narrowly beat out the Sanders favorite, African American Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison , for the position of party chair in February. Whatever one’s personal sensitivities, that would have been a heavy lift. While lots of special interest groups and pundits have analyzed the 2016 presidential election, the party itself has not been able to look in the mirror to identify what went wrong. It will be hard to get the progressive wing of the party – where today’s energy lies – to embrace the party after the party structure took clear, documented (thanks to the Russians) actions to get the nomination for Hillary instead of Bernie Sanders.
From a conservative’s perspective, the Democrats need more than slogans and a few sound bites. In fact, in the Business School definition, Marketing begins with designing products which meet and exceed the needs of the customers. The American voters want smaller government, not more. They want fewer regulations, not more. They want cooperation in government, not #Resist. They want a government which advocates for them rather than a global agenda. They want a government which serves all of the people, not just a collection of aggrieved ethnic, gender, and economic groups. Donald Trump’s personal failings, and divisions within the Republican party create opportunities for the Democrats, but the decades-long national tide which has produced massive Republican majorities at the state level and control of all of the levers of power in Washington will not be much affected until the Democratic leadership at the national and state levels responds to what the public wants. There will be a time when Democratic Party leadership understands why they have lost majority support and why “America First” succeeded, and change will follow. But 2017 is not that time.