"Our Karl Rove is the blog you should be glad that Democratic strategists don't seem to listen to"
-- what they're saying on Republican blogs

Monday, October 16, 2006

Democrats - The Party of American Values


Conventional wisdom dictates that Republicans appeal to the "values voters." And while this is a fallacy (everyone has values -- just some different from others), solving this problem is a long-term challenge. The good news is that, thanks to the Congressman Foley incident, voters are now being reminded that Republicans are just normal people who happen to be good at pretending to be morally superior just long enough to be elected. By pretending to be people they're not, it was just a matter of time before charges of hypocrisy tainted the Republican brand. In fact, Foley damaged the Republican's "family values" product much like Iraq has tarnished the Republican's "foreign policy" product. This makes the political environment even more primed for a Democratic upheaval this fall.

But there are two good reasons to continue to be aggressive and innovative in your messaging in the final weeks before the election:

  1. Don't just win - win with a mandate
  2. Use your lead to invest in the future of the party

To continue to invest in yourselves and your party's brand, take ownership of -- and pride in -- the values that you do represent. No, this is not "spinning" Republican values. And, no, this is not about trying to pretend you're Republicans by sounding like them. This is about the genuine portrayal of the unique and specific values that you, Democrats, bring to the table as representatives and as a party.

Communicating Democratic American Values

  • The Rule of Law - Democrats promise to fight terror and corrupt ideologies by using our proud American history of abiding and respecting our laws and institutions
  • Ethics - Democrats promise to put the teeth back into the Ethics Committee in Congress
  • Governing Globally - Democrats will focus on getting the world back on our side
  • Fiscal Conservatism - Democrats promise to reduce the debt by striking the right balance between streamlining government spending and closing tax loopholes
  • Fix Iraq - Democrats will put an end to the faulty Republican-managed war, and begin a support & rebuild strategy. We don't need more war to fix Iraq. We need better solutions from a better party.
  • Directly engage America's enemies - Democrats will press this administration to engage in direct dialogs with North Korea and Iran. To their face. In their face. Set ultimatums. For some reason, Republicans are apparently too scared to work with "evil" directly. And now it's costing us big-time.

Yes, these values are different than the values most people talk about in politics. Just because these are not so-called "family values" doesn't mean that they're not values. In other words, it's time to embrace-and-extend the "values" political tool to your advantage.

Democrats Have American Values - Now go tell voters about them.

Special Note: To be sure, there are even more Democratic values that can be communicated effectively to help communicate your party's value proposition. If you are running for office, and would like to bounce messaging ideas off of Our Karl Rove that might work in your specific region, please feel free to contact us directly for messaging support.


Anonymous said...

This is great! You guys rock. thanks for giving words to the concepts. I'm excited to see conversation about how democrats can shift the paradigms, get elected, and actually make a positive politcal impact on the world again.

INTP said...

The Democratic Party. For the Common Good.

President Clinton is schedule to give a speech tomorrow at Georgetown titled "Securing the Common Good: A Vision for America and the World." Could this be an effort to brand the Democratic Party?

Regarding whether it would appeal to swing voters (which is the key to winning general elections) such as disaffected Republicans and Independents, consider the following poll numbers:

The common good is not only a concise and clear organizing principle for progressives but also a potentially potent political theme for appealing to voters across the partisan and ideological spectrum. March 2006 research by the Center for American Progress reveals that 68 percent of Americans strongly agree that the "government should be committed to the common good and put the public’s interest above the privileges of the few" (85 percent total agree). Seventy-three percent of Democrats, 62 percent of Independents, and 67 percent of Republicans strongly agree with a common-good focus. A common good progressive theme scored well above typical conservative values themes: for example only 54 percent of Americans strongly agree that "Americans have gotten too far away from God and family," and just 41 percent strongly agree that "religion is on the decline in America." Importantly, the study reveals that liberals/progressives hold a 22-point advantage over conservatives on which ideological approach most represents "the common good."

Note that the pursuit of what what Thomas Jefferson and James Madison termed the “common” good can be operationalized by solving our "common" societal problems.* That’s it! Simply put, it is far easier to first agree on a common “problem” than on a common pet policy “solution.” Also note that solving a common problem provides a focal point for collective action (i.e., the enemy of my enemy is my friend), and facilitates civil political discourse (i.e., what should matter is NOT whose pet policy initiative "wins," but rather that our common problem "get solved"). Furthermore, given that every reputable political or social policy is a proposed solution to a problem, asking the question “To what problem is this the solution?” for every key provision of a draft or markup of a legislative bill, every line item and earmark in the federal budget, and every proposed regulatory rule -- provides a “smell test” for whether the common good or some private special interest is being pursued (e.g., to what problem was the ‘bridge to nowhere’ the solution?). Finally, Michael Tomasky is WRONG! -- in solving a common problem, the pursuit of the common good does not require 'sacrifice' but rather 'compromise', which in turn requires the Democrats' core moral value of 'moral empathy' (i.e., Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain").

*In formulating a "common" problem, Karl Popper suggests that the guiding principle for public policy should be to “minimize avoidable suffering” (followed by “maximizing the freedom of individuals to live as they wish”), rather than the abstract “maximizing happiness for all” (e.g., the “altruistic” political-economic ideology of communism). Note that in the passion of the Christ, the Latin root for 'passion' (passio) is suffering.

Jon a.k.a. "Our Karl Rove" said...

David -- Thanks for the support. It's feedback like this that keeps the juices flowing.

INTP -- A great post! What you bring up is important: It's not just the message, but also the unique combination of the message and the messenger. This is why Kerry and Gore both lost elections: they were getting messages from others that weren't native to their own souls and belief structures.

The research bears out some hope for the "common good" message to resonate. And while I would not personally have developed that framework for Democrats here on OKR, I can see this message working for Bill.

The question is... can it survive Beyond Bill? Can the less experienced Democratic politicians who have a very difficult time understanding what exactly they stand for philosophically effectively connect with "the common good" message?

I struggle to really believe this. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton was a political master of One. He did not successfully "infect" the party with his philosophy. He was only good enough to keep himself afloat. That was his genius and his failing as a leader.

There is something different about the Republican Party... their message seems to instantly connect to every Republican politician and voter almost effortlessly. I could talk to a Republican almost anywhere about the War in Iraq 2 years ago and hear the same talking points... and these are just regular people!

I do have to confess that I am concerned that a 'common good' message might not be very compatible with the 'rugged individualism' and 'economic Darwinism' that Americans tend to subscribe to as a philosophy.

I think concepts like the 'common good' (and other Democratic principles) work best when people feel safe. When people do not feel safe, there appears to be less spiritual currency available for others as one feels compelled to take care of oneself.

With all this, I believe that one of the major bridges to cross is communicating a Democratic message that is relevant in a time of fear and uncertainty. Democrats thrive in times of security and safety, and Republicans now thrive when people are scared. Presuming that globalization will create much uncertainty and unrest for the near term, Democrats best find a set of messages that connect their core values with uncertain and unsafe times.


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Anonymous said...

Don't say fiscal conservatism, say fiscal responsibility. There's nothing good about what conservatives do fiscally, and I'm tired of their trademark on good management and not following through. Democrats are not fiscally conservative, we're fiscally responsible, and there's a difference.