By Carl Carter, APR
Much as I love the Democratic Party, we’ve gotten really bad at telling people why they should vote for us.
I mean really, really bad – nationally and in our own state.
It feels like we’re getting away with it for the moment, because … well, you know. But we can’t keep defining ourselves by what we oppose, because that sets us up for future failure. Someday, we’ll have a president who isn’t Donald Trump, and if all we’ve done is say how much we hate him, we’ll end up like the Republicans did on health care, with no ideas of our own.
But we’re not really getting away with it, are we? Democrats control hardly anything. We’ve won a few special elections – including the big Senate race here in Alabama. But the Republicans still own the presidency, the Senate and the House, as well as 32 state legislatures. Here in Alabama, they have a 70-33 majority in the House, a 26-7 majority in the Senate, and all the executive officers, including governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
At every level that matters here in Alabama, the Republicans can do whatever they want, and all we can do is stand by and bitch. Our main strategy is to stoke outrage and hope that gets us enough votes to get out of the cellar.
But what’s our message, and how good are we at making it stick?
Let’s review. We got our clocks cleaned in the shutdown showdown, because all Mitch McConnell had to do was start calling Dreamers “illegal immigrants.” It was game over at that point, because we weren’t ready for it and didn’t have a plan to counter it.
Here in Alabama, even with the best candidate Democrats have fielded in decades, we still got thrown off message and could have lost when Republicans found traction just by saying that even a pedophile is better than a Democrat. In terms of branding, that’s about as bad as it gets.
Doug Jones did a great job face to face at talking about the “kitchen table issues” like jobs and health care, but we barely held our own in the media war.
Our few attempts at a cogent message have been almost tragic. The much-balleyhooed “Better Deal” that came out of Washington was full of worn-out slogans and wonky details on issues that nobody’s talking about.
The Alabama Democratic Party has a statement of principles that’s nearly 800 words of high-blown language written at a 14th grade (college sophomore) level. It reminds me of the time when, as a rookie reporter for the Birmingham News, I turned in a story that was full of fancy language showing off just how smart I was.
Legendary City Editor Clarke Stallworth wadded it up and threw it back at me and bellowed, “If I’m a steelworker in Pratt City reading the paper at the end of the day and you lay that shit on me, I’m gone to the funny papers.” Clark believed in plain talk more than anything.
I’d give my right arm to resurrect Clarke and put him in charge of teaching Democrats in Alabama how to communicate with ordinary people.