Jayne: For Dems, it’s not just about message, it’s about actions

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor

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Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

It was an inexplicable loss of their own making, as if they had thrown a pass from the 1-yard line with 26 seconds left in the Super Bowl (sorry, too soon?).

So, taking a break from licking the wounds of the 2016 presidential election, Democrats last week announced a new agenda geared at winning back power in Washington, D.C. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California revealed their plans for … oops, I think we have a problem.

You see, the 66-year-old Schumer has been in Congress for 36 years; Pelosi, 77, has been in Congress since 1987. When seeking new, fresh ideas that can resonate with the populace, you probably shouldn’t trot out old, tired faces. There is a reason, after all, that Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said of his party earlier this year: “The brand is just bad. I don’t think people in the beltway are realizing just how toxic the Democratic Party brand is in so many parts of the country.”

Therein lies the problem. While Donald Trump won the Electoral College and captured the popular vote by minus-3 million votes, Republicans also won the House by a count of 241-194 and maintained control of the Senate.

So, as Democrats promise to refine their message for the 2018 mid-terms, it is instructive to ask some local leaders what they think should be the foundation of that message.

“Authenticity,” said Sharon Wylie, a state representative from Vancouver. Wylie didn’t name names, so we will read between the lines — authenticity is not one of Hillary Clinton’s strengths.

“It’s not what you tell the populace,” Wylie said. “It’s going out and spending time with the people who aren’t like you — and you’ve got to listen.”

That would be a good place for Democrats to start. Republicans have done an effective job of painting progressives — often unfairly — as out-of-touch elites. Early during his presidency, Barack Obama was criticized for putting Grey Poupon on a hamburger. OK, OK, on the scale of presidential malfeasance, it doesn’t quite equal collusion with Russia or being an incompetent misanthrope — but it reflects the importance of messaging.

So, what should Democrats do?

“No. 1, it’s critically important to resist what I consider to be un-American actions by our president,” said Bob Ferguson, Washington’s Democratic attorney general. “But it can’t be just, ‘stop Trump.’ It has to be combined with a positive message that we are standing up for families. We’ve got to be able to confront the administration while still affirmably saying what we’re all about.”

Democratic strategy

That touches on the strategy laid out by Democratic leaders. Among the announced planks is that the party will start “cracking down on corporate monopolies.”

The need for this has been well-documented. As Matt Stoller wrote recently in The New Republic: “Over the past four decades, the party has stood by as giant supermarket chains replaced local grocery stores and Too Big to Fail banks replaced local lenders. As monopolies broke up unions and drove down wages, Democrats increasingly came to rely on campaign contributions from the very corporations that were consolidating their control over the American economy.”

In other words, Democrats need to stress that they will drain the swamp. Not say they will drain it. Not sell the public a bill of goods. But genuinely work for the American public. “In order to really connect with everyone, you need to have a discussion about jobs,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said. “It is a unifying central message.”

Elections, after all, are about messaging. Governing is about competence, but you have to be elected before you can govern. As state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said: “The other side was really good at these short messages. People need to hear the same thing over and over.”

Good point. Now Democrats need to find a way to get those people to listen — lest they risk another defeat of their own making.