Bet­ter slo­gan, bet­ter party?

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Jonathan Allen

Democrats are so lost they don’t know how lost they are.

In­stead of work­ing fever­ishly on the sub­stance of a con­trast with the im­plod­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, they de­cided it was most im­por­tant — a year and a half out from the next elec­tion — to pub­licly un­veil a new slo­gan first.

Not a new plan for boost­ing the econ­omy, mind you. Not a re­form plat­form that would ad­dress the egre­gious abuses of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his min­ions. Not even a navel-gaz­ing pro­posal to change the rules for pick­ing pres­i­den­tial nominees or party lead­ers in Congress.

What Democrats thought they needed most in the midst of the Trump-lo­sion was a slo­gan — and not even a good one. They should have kept their mouths shut and let vot­ers think they were rud­der­less rather than an­nounc­ing their mantra and re­mov­ing all doubt.

Here, in their in­fi­nite po­lit­i­cal savvy, is what they’ve re­port­edly come up with: “A Bet­ter Deal: Bet­ter Skills, Bet­ter Jobs, Bet­ter Wages.”

The Twit­ter­verse took about 10 sec- onds to com­pare the mantra to Papa John’s “Bet­ter In­gre­di­ents. Bet­ter Pizza.”

The Democrats missed the ba­sic point of the Papa John’s slo­gan: Bet­ter in­gre­di­ents are the pred­i­cate for a bet­ter pizza.

On the po­lit­i­cal level, that means bet­ter can­di­dates, bet­ter poli­cies, bet­ter strate­gies, bet­ter tac­tics, bet­ter fundrais­ing — and then, and only then, bet­ter mes­sag­ing.

We no longer have to won­der whether the peo­ple in charge of the Demo­cratic Party learned any­thing from the last elec­tion. We have our an­swer. Noth­ing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Surely, there is some Demo­cratic com­mit­tee some­where charged with fig­ur­ing out how to say zero in ev­ery lan­guage spo­ken in the United States.

What ap­pears to be miss­ing is a plan of ac­tion for ex­pand­ing the party’s foot­print so that it cov­ers both a left branch that found Hil­lary Clin­ton unin­spir­ing and the work­ing-class whites who turned the up­per Mid­west into Trump

coun­try in 2016.

“Stronger To­gether,” the Clin­ton-kaine slo­gan from last year, was weak. Clin­ton was un­able to dis­till her vi­sion for the coun­try into a con­cise mantra that stuck with vot­ers. But she didn’t lose the pres­i­dency be­cause of a bumper-sticker prob­lem.

That was a man­i­fes­ta­tion, and a telling one, of an un­der­ly­ing flaw: She couldn’t con­vince vot­ers that her plan was about them and their fu­tures, rather than about her and her fu­ture.

The Democrats’ new slo­gan — if they keep it — suf­fers from a sim­i­lar lack of un­der­stand­ing of the elec­torate. Fun­da­men­tally, the slo­gan is about the Democrats: They’re promis­ing to be bet­ter. But it’s not clear from the slo­gan whether they are vow­ing to be bet­ter than Repub­li­cans — or just bet­ter than they have been.

To the ex­tent that it’s about vot­ers, Democrats are ask­ing the elec­torate to de­velop bet­ter skills. What kind of a mes­sage is that? A con­de­scend­ing one. Oh, and the un­em­ployed aren’t as anx­ious to have bet­ter jobs as they are to have jobs, pe­riod. And in the post-fi­nan­cial melt­down era, most work­ing-class folks with jobs are more con­cerned about se­cu­rity than get­ting a bet­ter post.

And while bet­ter pay is an im­por­tant goal, the over­all mes­sage is so mud­dled as to be mean­ing­less. What will Democrats do to de­liver? What is their over­all ap­proach? They need a short­hand for their the­ory of the case — and, first, they need a the­ory of the case.

The slo­gan isn’t just an echo of a Papa John’s com­mer­cial. It’s rem­i­nis­cent of the old Avis slo­gan “We try harder” — a cus­tomer ser­vice con­trast with Hertz, which was the No. 1 car rental com­pany.

Fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the car rental in­dus­try isn’t so bad; in fact, the slo­gan — bol­stered by the cus­tomer ser­vice — helped Avis thrive. A com­pany can be very prof­itable as the No. 2 in a crowded mar­ket. For a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal party, sec­ond place is death. And, un­for­tu­nately for Democrats, it’s what their party has be­come very good at at­tain­ing in a very short pe­riod of time.

While a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date needs a pos­i­tive mes­sage as well as a neg­a­tive frame for his or her op­po­nent, Repub­li­cans proved in suc­ces­sive midterms that they could win con­gres­sional races largely by run­ning against Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and House Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Of course, they pro­duced their own plat­form — “The Pledge” in 2010 — but it was an un­der­stated part of their cam­paign. And it wasn’t un­veiled un­til about six weeks be­fore that midterm.

I can’t fathom why Democrats are in such a rush to prove that they can of­fer up a bet­ter slo­gan. But the rea­son they’re so bad at it is that they haven’t solved the sub­stance part of of­fer­ing vot­ers a win­ning plan for Amer­ica.

Roll Call colum­nist Jonathan Allen is a co-au­thor of “Shat­tered: In­side Hil­lary Clin­ton’s Doomed Cam­paign” and has cov­ered Congress, the White House and elec­tions over the past 16 years.

Hy­oung Chang, Den­ver Post file

The Demo­cratic Party’s new slo­gan is sim­i­lar to Papa John’s “Bet­ter In­gre­di­ents. Bet­ter Pizza.” But the party missed the ba­sic point of that slo­gan.

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