The PR Problem (For Democrats)

Today’s Washington Post has a piece by Greg Sargent that lists many of the overlooked accomplishments of the 111th Congress.  This is the change millions voted for in 2008, and Sargent highlights some of the legislation that made its way through Congress and was enacted into law.  Some highlights:

  • Not legislation, but appointments:  Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan are now Supreme Court justices
  • The Lily Ledbetter fair pay act
  • Federal aid to college students
  • Expanded the FDA’s ability to regulate tobacco
  • Food safety
  • Credit card reform on fees and interest rates credit card companies can charge users
  • Start treaty
  • Health insurance reform
  • Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
  • Health benefits for 9/11 first responders
  • Bailout of the auto industry (which saved not only jobs, but other “feeder” industries that supply auto makers)
  • Wall Street bailout
  • Stimulus programs that helped prime the pump of the economy
  • Tax cuts for the middle class (and I’m not talking about the tax deal Obama recently negotiated with Republicans)

What’s missing from this list?  Jobs.  And, to me, that’s what was the Democrats’ Achilles heel in the 2010 election.  All these accomplishments are really impressive, and Congress (despite an amazing amount of stonewalling from Republicans) has been able move legislation away from the conservative goal of “starving the beast” of the Federal government  – with hurts the poor and the middle class the most — toward a pro-middle class agenda.  But how were they rewarded for all the work they have done?  Many had their hats handed to them.   Voters are a fickle bunch.  Many who voted for the Dems and Obama in 2008 thought they would get their jobs back once this center-left group of politicians were sworn in. Clearly, that didn’t happen.  Most don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the larger global economy, and how our own economic fortunes are tied in with what goes on in places like Europe, China, and India.  Sure, sometimes business news, economic indicators, and talk about trade is pretty boring.  What many people understand (or respond to) are things like “Death panels,” “Obama is a fascist, Muslim, socialist, terrorist,”or “Your freedoms are being taken away.”  Incendiary language like this is great for our A.D.D. culture where memes, 24 news cycles, and instant reaction overshadow more sober explanations as to why things are happening the way they are.

In short, the Democrats (and Obama by extension) have a PR problem.  That is to say, they don’t have mechanisms in place to basically give themselves credit when they do things right. How do you change that?  How about doing what the Reps do:  a message of the day that fits in with the overarching political narrative of your party. Sure not all Dems agree with one another (or fall in line, as Bill Clinton might say), but  politically they are part of the same party that should have the same core goals for the country.

Republicans are full of crap most of the time, but they repeat core political goals and reaffirm their ideology pretty consistently on TV, the radio, the Internet, and in print.  Why can’t the Dems do that same?  Well, part of the problem is that the Dems haven’t really articulated core principles to American voters in a long time. We’ve come a long way from FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech, but it’s high time to write those core principles down so voters don’t have to scratch their heads and say “What is it that Democrats stand for?”

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