The Way Forward

Will Rogers famously said “ I don’t belong to an organized party, I’m a Democrat”.
Democrats have generally had an aversion to simple agenda and message
delivery. In contrast, Republican messaging bypasses the brain and goes for the gut, (irrespective of truth many say). ”Death taxes” is a prime example. Democrats, on the other hand, talk policy and explain. How many times have we heard “if we just explain it,they’ll get it”? Well, voters generally vote with their gut, not their brains. If we were right and explanation was the key, the 2012 Presidential election wouldn’t even be close at this point instead of a horse race.

Since 2000, Democrats have not pursued and won a clear progressive agenda for
economic growth and innovation. Despite electoral success in 2006 and 2008,
Democrats are still in search of both an agenda and a positive brand. Polling tells us
that Voters prefer our policies but don’t necessarily trust us to carry them out. Our
entire dysfunctional political system is operating in a trust free zone between a self-
styled radical conservative social/religious/fiscal coalition and a Party running on
the fumes of the New Deal of FDR.

The fact is, Democratic agenda and messaging needs a makeover. I thought so
when I was in Congress and I’m even more sure of it now. I have met, over the
past year, with thought leaders, business leaders and political leaders including
at the White House and in both houses of Congress. EII’s proposed core agenda,
Education, innovation and infrastructure, is one that leaders with whom I have met
generally agree. Who on either the official side or the political side of the Democratic
establishment is in charge of cohesion around agenda, message and message
delivery? Who makes sure that when the President speaks, as he did in June, about
his economic agenda, Democratic amplifiers support and amplify the message?
What is the Democratic agenda anyway? What’s our brand? The answers should not
be a surprise. 1) Nobody; 2) Nobody; 3) Don’t know 4) Can’t say.

Part of the reason the economic recovery is tepid is that recovery implies a return to
what was. “What was” was unsustainable, built on too much credit and not enough
new jobs. We’ve got to be the folks who are able to convey that we know how to put
millions of Americans and their kids back to work at decent jobs for the long-term,
that we get what the next economy looks like, that we can be trusted to govern.

As I have said frequently to my mother, “I’m no economist, I just play one on TV”.
In the 21st century world of exponential change, there may not be a straight line
correlation between input and output in classical economic terms. Invest 100
million dollars in DARPA and the result? Trillions in economic value in the internet.
I believe that innovation is the key to growth. We’ve got to have a growing economy
to do what we want to do for people. Democrats need a new conversation with the
business community. How do policy makers create the conditions for businesses to thrive and properly balance protecting people with the drive for profits? How can we create a new social contract for those who labor and those who profit by that labor?

America was built on invention, ingenuity and innovation. It’s time that Democrats
recaptured a positive “brand” as stewards of the “next” economy. Whatever the
results of the 2012 election, the Party needs cohesion around agenda, messaging
and message delivery. EII has proposed an agenda for progressive policy makers.
EIAF is working to shape the foundation of the Democratic Party around that agenda
with messaging that works. I think the effort is critical for the Party and the Country.
Let’s shift the debate onto our terms. Let’s get beyond stale negative messages and
identification. It’s time Democrats owned “pro-growth”and “pro-innovation”. If we
can speak cohesively and clearly, using the right language about a core economic
agenda, we can change the debate in this country. Instead of debating “high taxes vs.
low taxes” or “big government vs. small government”, we can shift to “security vs.
decline” or, “transformation vs. stagnation”. It’s time we owned the future. We need
to be the party of the “next economy”. It’s time to be the Party of “Forward”.

Economic Innovation Institute and Action Fund , 2012.
All Rights Reserved.