One of the things we often lose sight of when we talk about politics, and what it takes to win elections specifically, is communicating what exactly it is that WE stand for as a movement and as a party.
Jon Faverau, who was one of President Barack Obama’s former head speechwriters, and is now a founder of progressive media organization Crooked Media where he works most prominently as a host of Pod Save America, did a series of podcasts last year called The Wildnerness where he highlighted this specific problem among many others.
Faverau’s podcast focused specifically on the causes behind why lost hundreds of seats at the state and federal level throughout President Obama’s time in office, and why we lost to Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. The goal of the series was not only to highlight what went wrong, but to also present potential solutions that could get the party back on track ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections.
One of the core issues that’s highlighted by Faverau’s series comes in episode four of the series called “The Voters”. Favreau got to conduct focus groups with two different types of voters who were pivotal to deciding the outcome of 2016: 1) Obama voters from 2012 who either voted third party or stayed home, and 2) Obama-Trump voters. The former group he interviewed in Texas. The latter group he interviewed in Michigan, one of the three states that was decided by a razor thin margin that swung the Electoral College to Trump.
The core issue that’s discussed in the episode is something that’s plagued us for a long time: People could’t say with any consistency or conciseness what exactly it is that we stand for as a party.
When people were asked what Republicans stood for, they could say what it was in a sentence or two, or in just a few words, even if they didn’t agree with what it was that the Republicans stood for. When they were asked to define what the Democratic Party stood for, virtually no one could give a concise answer. Almost all gave different answers too.
Winning elections isn’t just about running on great policies, or having a quality candidate/campaign, though those things certainly matter. It’s about crafting a message that communicates not only what it is that we stand for, but tells a story about those values and how they represent the way in which we can improve people’s lives.
What are some of those values? Here’s a list of the core values that I believe represent our party and our movement:
- Decency: We listen to people’s concerns. We feel people’s pain in their times of struggle. We’re respectful towards others. We fight to protect those people who are most vulnerable. We want to work to improve the lives of everyone, not just those at the top.
- Empower: Our government has become corrupted by big money and special interests. That’s wrong! It’s not about who has the most money or the most lobbyists. It never has been. It’s about the people! We are at our best when when we are giving people the basic tools they need to succeed and achieve a better life.
- Equality: We believe that everyone is entitled to equality under the law. That means things like equal pay for equal work, equal protection under the law regardless of someone’s gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, one person one vote, and giving people a chance to better their lives and make their way up the income ladder if they want to work for it.
- Inclusion: We’re stronger when everyone participates in our political process and we all work together. We’re striving to achieve many of the same things: to live a good life and leave this place better than we left it. Even if we may not always agree on a specific issue, we all deserve to have a seat at the table and have our voices heard. That’s a core tenant of democracy!
- Integrity: We say what we mean. We tell the truth. We fight for what’s right, even if it’s sometimes not politically popular to do so.
- Opportunity: We believe in the idea that everyone should have an opportunity to work towards a better life if they want to do so. We need to be making sure that our country is once again providing people with those opportunities.
These core values, to me, are what represent the heart of what we stand for as a party and as a country. Everyone running for office, whether it’s for President, Senate, the House, or state/local races, should never lose sight of this. This is what unites us.
We must be tying everything we talk about back to these core principles. That is how we win elections.