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An American Agenda
A Plan of Action for the Democratic Party
I don’t want to hear any more Democrats talking about the strategy they’re going to use to defeat the Republicans. I can sum that up in one sentence: We’re going to try to get more votes than them.
Beyond that, everything else about strategy – as far as the public is concerned – is a meaningless detail. Strategy is nothing more than the means by which you communicate your message. It is, ultimately, a communications device. It’s no different than a cell phone.
As a result, when it comes to strategy, it is impossible to draw any distinction between a Democrat and a Republican: If we find a successful strategy, they’ll copy it. If they find a successful strategy, we should copy it (assuming it isn’t immoral, unethical, illegal, or all three).
Is it any wonder, after a week of talking heads all chattering about what cell phones they’re going to use, that large swaths of the American public can no longer distinguish any difference between Democrats and Republicans?
Contrary to popular belief, politics is not about image. Image is just another strategy for communicating the message. And it’s the message that wins elections. Politics is ideology. It’s about the ideas. And if you’re a Democrat, it’s because you believe our ideas are better than their ideas. And if you believe that, then you owe it to yourself, to your party, and to the American people to put those ideas before the American people.
There is one place where it is, of course, appropriate to talk strategy, and that’s the Strategy Room. And so, for a moment, I’m going to turn this into a Strategy Room and talk about the most successful and powerful strategy to be used in American politics in the last fifty years:
The Contract With America .
Whatever you may think of its actual content, the Contract With America was undeniably a brilliant political strategy. It quickly and succinctly, on a single sheet of paper, summed up the entire philosophy of the Republican party. Because of its simplicity it could be photocopied, e-mailed, faxed, televised, discussed, bullet-pointed, powerpointed, and virally disseminated in hundreds of different ways. In an era where the media only wants to talk about how a political party is going to say something and rarely about what is actually being said, the Contract With America brilliantly combined the medium with the message: Whenever a newspaper wanted to discuss the Contract With America, for example, it would inevitably reproduce its ten bullet points.
And here’s the most important point: The Contract With America made it perfectly clear exactly what the Republicans would do if they were given power. It served the same function once served by party platforms (which have, of course, become bloated documents completely dissociated from the party’s actual goals).
This was crucially important in 1994, when the American public was entirely unhappy with a Democratic congress which seemed incapable of accomplishing anything. In fact, it was entirely unclear what the Democrats were actually trying to accomplish. The Republicans, on the other hand, were clearly for something. And even if you didn’t agree with all of it, there was a good chance you agreed with some of it.
The result was the Republican Revolution.
A little over a decade later, we find ourselves in the same position: The public is completely disenchanted with a Republican congress and administration who seem to be either at odds with the public good or completely ineffectual or both.
But unlike the Republicans in 1994, the Democrats have failed to clearly communicate a message: What do they stand for? What will they do when elected?
They need something like the Contract With America.
Hey, here’s a thought: Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, why don’t the Democrats just use the most successful and powerful political strategy of the last fifty years?
Of course, we won’t call it a Contract with
What should it contain?
(1) I want wedge issues. I want the issues which will separate us from the Republicans. Those are the issues which define us.
(2) Not every Democrat in
(3) It needs to be a positive document, not a reactionary one. It can’t be about what the Republicans should be stopped from doing, it needs to be about what the Democrats will be doing.