Friday, December 02, 2005

On what it means to be a Democrat - the rest of the story

Okay, so yesterday, we looked at Me-Too marketing and the way that the Democratic party will never get any respect or recognition unless it can define some values of its own, rather than trying to compete with the Republicans. Today, we’re going to look at Democratic values and figure out how to sell them to the American people.

Again, people, not dirty. Gutter brains. Another common advertising saying is that people don’t want a 1/8-inch drill bit; they want a 1/8-inch hole. People don’t care so much about the details and features of a product as long as it performs the way they want it to. By that logic, Americans don’t want national security; they want a secure nation. So to differentiate ourselves from the Republican party and create our own, marketable identity, Democrats have to figure out what we want for the country and how it differs from what Republicans want.

In theory, we all want the same thing: a safe country and healthy families. That’s why politics is so damned complicated; as Laura Bush said on an episode of the short-lived That’s My Bush!, “Maybe you can’t unite pro-life and pro-choice activists, because in a way, they’re both right.” The difference really comes in what we don’t want for the country, or more accurately, how we define a safe country and healthy families.

Republicans want a happy and sparkly society on their terms. Those terms usually involve (and I certainly don’t mean to generalize for all Republicans here, but at least for those in the current administration) traditional, two-parents nuclear families; a powerful government that is feared throughout the world; a Christian foundation in all aspects of society; and an unrealistic standard of individual wealth. The Democrats have more malleable terms, ideally centering around the concept that your way might not be the same as my way, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not equally valid: strong families of a variety of permutations; a government that is respected throughout the world; a good foundation for society based on whatever moral code you support; and a standard of wealth sufficient for everyone to live comfortably.

At this point, I am going to have to refer back to something I pointed out yesterday: conservatives, particularly conservative Christians, see the Democratic party as intolerant of traditional values and feel that they’re being persecuted. Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that there is the perception of persecution, and since perception really is reality in the end, we do have to make it very clear that one of the value structures we support is that of the traditional Christian worldview.

So how do we sell these holes to the American people? How do we take all of this information and boil it down from John Kerry to a less verbose, say, Harry Reid? How can we take our values, not just generic good-for--the-country values but specifically ours, and refine them into a bullet point that your average Kroger customer will embrace?

Democrats want strong families of a variety of permutations, whether they’re two-parent, single-parent, same-sex-parent, Christian, Muslim, pagan, take your pick. Strong families need societal support and a healthy environment. We want every child to have a safe and healthy environment in which to grow, and we want every parents to have the resources and opportunities to raise their children within their values.

Democrats want a government that’s respected throughout the world; fear only protects you as long as you’re powerful, but respect protects you all the time. We want a strong country that’s respected as a leader throughout the world, gaining the unconditional support of our allies and inspiring other nations to responsible government.

Democrats want a good foundation for society based on whatever moral code you support. Cooperative society is based on the idea that people don’t infringe on each others’ rights; my right to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose, and so on. We want a society where people can live their lives and practice their beliefs without interference from the government or each other.

Democrats want a standard of wealth sufficient for everyone to live comfortably. It’s not realistic to expect everyone to be Bill Gates, but it’s also not right that responsible, hard-working people still aren’t always able to make ends meet. We want a country where hard-working people take home enough money to reap the benefits of their hard work, and where no one has to choose between family and financial solvency.

Those are all really, really good things. Now we have four sentences that can fit easily in the space between the lobby and the tenth floor. But what if you’re only going to the sixth? Even Harry Reid won’t do; we need Nancy Pelosi. Those five sentences are going to have to be refined into a few quick, memorable core values.


1. A healthy environment
2. A fair, effective educational system
3. A respectable, responsible government
4. Personal freedom
5. A strong economic foundation

It’s as simple as that.


I don’t actually put a lot of bumper stickers on my car. I like the look of it without. I have been known, from time to time, to stick one on a magnet that can be applied and removed without threatening the paint finish. But not every message has to go on a bumper sticker. It could go on a sign, a flyer, a banner, a t-shirt, an unusually large button. But regardless of the medium, the message has to be strong and quick and memorable. Goodbye, Nancy Pelosi; hello, Howard “Wildman” Dean.

My strength is copy, whether editorial or advertising; headlines and taglines tend to be more of a collaborative effort. But if I had to come up with a quick slogan that Howard Dean could bark in a hypercaffeinated state of ecstasy across a crowded convention hall, it might be something like this.

Strength, security, freedom. For all Americans.

Does it suck? Of course it does. I pulled it out of my butt between trips to the coffee maker. But the point is that it’s brief, it’s memorable, and it embodies the goals and ideals of the Democratic party. If you saw that on a bumper sticker, you wouldn’t expect it to be sitting next to a W sticker, and if someone said that to you, you’d be likely to agree with them. Most importantly, if a candidate told you that’s what he stands for, you’d be likely to vote for him.

Am I an advertising professional? I am not. There are plenty of people out there who have far more experience and far better ideas than I. Some of them, God willing, are employed by the Democratic party. But the fact is, they really aren’t doing the greatest job right now of getting out a simple, cohesive message. Until they do, until there’s an official party line that everyone can get behind and chant at political rallies and print on t-shirts, there’s this. Not great, but good enough.

Hey, there’s something for the Republicans now, too! A rallying cry for the 2006 midterm elections. I am such a political advisor, y’all, seriously.

Vote Republican 2006: Not great, but good enough.

I should totally get paid for this.

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