Monday, January 30, 2006

You want values? I’ll give you values!

I have never been one to buy into the 2004 postmortem that got all wet and wild over “values” voters, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be played to the Democrat’s advantage. How cool would it be if Americans saw Democrats acting out of principle instead of self-interest?

Republicans look to use the Alito fight as another example of how Democrats are weak, unprincipled, and lacking conviction. It’s a narrative that extends beyond the fight over the future of the Supreme Court, and runs through Republican positioning on the Iraqi incursion and domestic security. So, as Armando has noted, the fight for a filibuster

. . . may look like a ragged strategy in some respects, but it is good for us to be seen doing things that have no obvious political advantage and for which we can legitimately claim to have taken the moral high ground. Yes, the tittering cognoscenti will flutter their fans and whisper that Democrats are witless and dull, but in this case we are talking directly to the people not to them.

I really think this is an important moment—and not just for the very obvious threats posed by an Alito/Roberts court. If the Democrats are going to seize control of their own brand, so to speak, then they have to start telling a unique story. As my marketing and communications experience taught me long ago, a “not” brand is bad brand. When VH1 was simply “not MTV” (or “MTV for older people”), their ratings were in the toilet. When they sought to define their own brand as independent and distinct from their sibling, VH1’s ratings improved.

The Democrats have spent too much of the Bush decade being reactive. They have thought that when voters saw the truth—that Bush & co. is bad news—they would naturally walk across the aisle. By being reactive, waiting for Republican proposals, and then labeling them, appropriately, horrible, Democrats have allowed Republicans, time and again, to frame the debate. The Democrats have been left to argue on Republican terms, and so, what are they, but “not” Republicans.

If the Democrats are to re-position their brand, claim their own space on the political landscape, and start racking up some serious electoral victories, then it is time for them to write their own story. It could be a story about their values—but it needs to be about Democratic values, and not some touchy-feely rehash of what Republicans call values.

The Democrats can start writing this story on Tuesday, by fighting cloture on the floor of the Senate. In doing so, they need to steer clear of some of the legal points which fell so flat during Alito’s confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee, and, instead, speak to what Democrats think America should be, and how that vision will benefit Americans from many walks of life. Only after they convey the benefits, the beliefs, the values, of a Democratic vision, should Democrats point out how Republican policies (as supported by Republican nominees) will prevent our citizenry from attaining those benefits.

It may sound like a tall order, but, truth be told, it really is not. Corporations reposition brands every day. Consumer products deliver the promise of a better life with each flick of the dial or click of the mouse—and those are mostly ethereal, aspirational benefits. The Democrats, should they choose stand for something, have the power to deliver palpable benefits, real value, the power to actually change lives. Be it with better access to medical care, financial security in old age, well-funded public schools, freedom from the tyranny of fear, or the guarantees of equal protection under law, the Democratic values can be expressed in a proactive, principled stance.

A stance that starts by filibustering the Alito nomination. has a fantastic resource called “The Alito 48” to direct your phone calls so you get more value for your lobbying efforts—please make use of it.

Call now! Senators are waiting!


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