Democratic Messaging Must Change. Now.
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
When I visited the Democratic National Committee’s website today, I was greeted with these words:
“Together, we are the Democratic Party. We are fighting for a better, fairer, and brighter future for every American: rolling up our sleeves, empowering grassroots voters, and organizing everywhere to build back better.”
That brief paragraph must have been written by a committee of people who didn’t want to offend anyone. Trouble is, they didn’t say anything, either. Are you inspired? Do you know what Democrats stand for?
Even the phrase “build back better” – besides being awkward – is a reaction to the former president, not a proactive statement of empowerment.
This lack of a straightforward message is a recognized problem. Writing for The Baltimore Sun 10 days after the 2020 election, education policy analyst Kalman R. Hettleman said:
“... the Democrats' emphasis on identity politics and elite culturalism overshadows their proposals to combat economic inequality ... [S]ome well-meaning Democrats give the impression that because of their superior education and income status, they know what’s best for other people.”
In The Root a week later, Terrell Jermaine Starr quoted an unnamed Democrat who said:
“Too often, we allow the Republicans to define us. They get their message out and it’s consistent. The problem that we have in the Democratic Party is that we’re a big tent. Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We have the Me Too movement, we have the Black Lives Matter movement, we have the gay rights marriage issue in our tent. So, it’s a lot more difficult to hone our message down to three points.”
Yes, Democrats have a big tent. The fact that we welcome just about everyone is to our credit. The problem occurs when we try to create messaging that embraces everyone and every issue. It’s hard, so we fall back on platitudes like “rolling up our sleeves.” Ugh.
Now’s the time to get it right, though. Republicans are positioning themselves as being “for the working man.” Trump got too many votes because rural America turned out for him.
We need messaging around concepts that everyone can relate to. We have lots of highly educated, well-paid, woke people in the party ... but we also need to appeal to those who would like to support us, but their business pays far less tax under a Republican presidency.
Here’s a suggestion: Individual liberty
What can we all relate to? Individual liberty: the freedom to pursue your own dream. You can’t do that unless you have a fair chance at a good job and Social Security when you retire, a good education for your kids no matter where you live, access to affordable health care and the freedom to make your own decisions about your health.
What’s more American than freedom?
And on the issue of abortion, we have to flip the script. Democrats have let the GOP define and oversimplify this issue for too long. Oppose abortion? Prove it by enacting legislation that gives women access to healthcare, education and jobs. Support sex education in schools. Attack the root causes, which are the difficult ones, not the easy tactic of simply outlawing something that happens no matter what.
In the past year, we’ve seen Democrats in every community stand up for their convictions even at great personal risk. I hope Democrats at the national party level can find a way to reflect the same unrelenting courage in their messaging to voters before the next election.
Cindy Dashnaw is a freelance copywriter for nonprofits and the current secretary of BCDCTX. Visit her online at cindydashnaw.com.