For Democrats, It’s Image Over Substance

The Democrats apparently are spending a lot of money to figure out how they want to present themselves to voters in November.

If they don’t know by now, we’re all in trouble – and not because this exercise in message-making will result in failed candidacies or a Republican takeover of the Senate. Both of those outcomes will remain possibilities regardless of what the “six-figure research project” being conducted for the party finds. We’re in trouble because the party continues to focus its attention on message, with little heed being paid to the nuts and bolts of making lives better for the millions of Americans who either are out of work or in danger of losing their jobs, who live below or near the poverty line or who find their overall economic health growing more precarious by the day.

The numbers are stark, but worth repeating: about 30% of Americans live at or near the poverty line, according to; one in six Americans are unemployed or underemployed, according to the Gallup Poll, despite the Obama recovery; about 10 million Americans owe more on their homes than they are worth, according to ABC News; and about one in seven Americans experiences some level of food insecurity during the year.

True, Democrats have talked about raising the federal minimum wage and have attempted to pass an extension of long-term unemployment benefits and have fought against cuts to federal nutritional programs, but their efforts have been anemic when compared to the scope of the problem.

And creating a fancy package of ads will not change this, though Democrats are hoping the right message will prevent a repeat of the 2010 mid-term elections, which saw the party lose the House and enough Senate seats to make advancing President Obama’s nominally liberal impossible.

House Democratic electoral gurus, as Carl Husle reported in the New York Times May 22, are “reassessing their electoral strategy based on a major internal research project that shows their candidates stand a better chance when they portray Republicans as unsympathetic to the economic situation of working Americans while protecting the wealthy.”

The Democrats, according to Hulse, have been testing ads against generic Republicans and focusing on issues like the government shut-down to show that the GOP is “more interested in the perquisites of office than representing (its) constituents.”

The research also found that voters “were already inclined to believe that Republicans backed policies favoring the wealthy and corporate American” and that “Democrats could build on this distrust by emphasizing support for policies such as equal pay for men and women, ensuring that corporations pay a fair share of taxes and increased job opportunities in the United States.”

It is an agenda that makes a lot of sense, but voters also should be asking many of these Democrats why it has taken so long to get the minimum wage on the agenda. Obama first pitched a minimum-wage increase during his 2008 presidential campaign, but did very little about it until 2013. The same goes for so-called card-check legislation that would make it easier for workplaces to become unionized. As for extended benefits for the unemployed, Democrats bear a large part of the blame for their expiration in December – they failed to include the extension in negotiations over a temporary detour away from the so-called fiscal cliff in 2012, when they had some leverage. Instead, they opted for a “clean bill” and have been unable to get the Republican-led House to support the extension. These failures will not deter Democrats from using economic populism as an election trope in 2014, especially when the alternative is Republican control of both houses of Congress. But no one should have any illusions that the Democrats have their backs.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email; blog,; Twitter @newspoet41;

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2014

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