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Predicting the Democrats' Slogan in '06

October 25, 2005

The Hill is reporting that the Democratic Party may have settled on a slogan for the 2006 mid-term elections. The Democratic tag line being explored is "Together, America Can Do Better" or "Together We Can Do Better."
Even at this early date, I can say that I wholeheartedly approve. Why? Because I suggested the exact same slogan to the Kerry campaign on July 14, 2004.
In a memo titled "The Pessimism Gap", I argued over a year ago that the Democrats needed an uplifting message of national unity in the face of improving economic indicators and GOP claims that Kerry was the "candidate of pessimism."
Circumstances have changed, of course. Arguably, with the chaos in Iraq, out-of-control energy prices, 45 million Americans without health care, the disgrace of Katrina, and the ethics woes swallowing virtually the entire Republican leadership, another more visceral approach might be better suited for the times. One possibility: "Clean Up the Mess in '06."
For those with the willingness and intestinal fortitude to relive the 2004 election, my original July 2004 memo recommending "Together, We Can Do Better" follows below.


Memo
To: XXXXXXXXX
Cc: XXXXXXXXX
From: Jon Perr
Date: July 14, 2004
Subject: Reversing the Kerry "Pessimism Gap"
Summary
The Bush campaign has used improving economic indicators, such as GDP growth, consumer confidence, and job creation, to undermine the Democrats' attack on its mismanagement of the economy. Recent polls showing that voters view the President as more "decisive" suggest that the Bush/Cheney effort to paint John Kerry as "pessimistic" is having some success.
The Kerry/Edwards campaign has to counteract this perceived "Pessimism Gap" while avoiding the 2000 populism/class warfare trap of Al Gore or the "Just Say No" approach of the 2002 mid-term elections. To do this, the Kerry/Edwards campaign should highlight a positive, aspirational theme that tightly links wartime American national unity abroad to domestic policies at home:

"Together, We Can Do Better"

Objectives

  • Overcome the Bush campaign's optimism/pessimism contrast, including attack on Kerry's "dour" persona and "talking down" recent economic gains.
  • Immunize the Kerry/Edwards ticket, its key messages and critique of Bush from the growing perception of an improving economy.
  • Take back from the GOP the traditional Democratic "brand" values of universality (benefiting all Americans), aspiration (speak to Americans' dreams, futures, self-perceptions) and forward-looking policy (progress and reform).
  • Avoid a replay of Gore's 2000 "populism trap" during a time of positive perception of economic growth.

The Strategy: "Together, We Can Do Better"

  • Adopt an over-arching national unity theme to position Kerry as the only choice to lead and heal an America divided at home and isolated abroad.
  • Communicate a positive Democratic vision that offers all Americans a better future and a safer world.
  • Redefine the terms of the debate over the economy from "growth" (GDP, jobs gains, etc.) to "improving quality of life for all Americans" (access to health care, health security, education, income equality, median wage, etc.).
  • Show message consistency by leveraging current Kerry core message of "Stronger at Home, Respected Abroad" and enhancing Edwards' "Two Americas" critique.

"Together, We Can Do Better" is one potential umbrella theme to accomplish all of the above. It is positive and forward-looking. It labels the Bush administration as dividing Americans from each other and from the rest of the world during a time of war. It encompasses all Americans and avoids charges of "class warfare." And just as important, "Together We Can Do Better" can be used to positively differentiate Kerry/Edwards across the range economic, homeland defense, national security, foreign policy and social issues.
Tactics
The "Together, We Can Do Better" theme can be applied to the campaign's policy messages and as a means to negatively brand Bush/Cheney. Some examples:

  • National Defense. "Our military forces have been stretched to the breaking point all over the world. Our troops and their families have sacrificed so that we might live safe and free. They deserve more than our gratitude. We owe our fighting men and women every resource they need to win our battles, to heal the wounded, and to comfort and support their families. We can do better. We must ask more of each other. That's why I've proposed expanding the Army by two divisions and enhancing veterans' health care. It also why I am asking the wealthiest among us to forego future tax cuts to help pay for these essential programs."
  • Foreign Policy. "America's power and security rest on much more than our military might alone. To enhance our security at home and abroad, we need healthy alliances and a larger circle of friends. America must be respected, and not just feared. We must be admired, not just envied. We must live up to the American ideals esteemed around the world, not turn our backs on them. This requires that we listen to our friends, try to understand our enemies and earn support and goodwill of the international community through persuasion, not coercion. By renewing our alliances and respecting our friends, we will be safer and more secure. Together, we can do better."
  • The Economy. "After three years of recession, our economy is growing and jobs are finally being created. These are steps in the right direction, but none of us will rest easy until the benefits of a growing economy reach all Americans. I believe that we can create an economy where Americans not only work, but feel more financially secure. We can have an America that invests in both skills of its workers and the innovative sectors that will produce the good paying jobs for them. With free and fair trade practices, American workers and companies based in America can be the most competitive in the world. We can have an America that provides access to health care for all citizens regardless of age or income. And we can have an America that faces the twin crises of budget deficits and social security head on, instead of passing the bill to our children. In the Kerry/Edwards administration, you will be able to look ahead, not over your shoulder.
  • Social Issues. "Our armed forces are fighting around the world to protect values we Americans all share. These include respect for the dignity of each person and the freedom to worship. It also includes the mutual commitment we Americans all make to each other to allow each of us to freely realize our dreams and happiness in exchange for fulfilling our responsibilities and obligations to our communities and our nation. That commitment, that American Bargain, often requires that we all respect the choices a person makes in the most deeply private areas of his or her life, even when we disagree with them. When it comes to personal, intimate decisions about marriage, children, and companionship, Americans deserve, in the words of Justice Brandeis, the "right to be left alone."

Branding and Messaging
Branding Kerry/Edwards

  • Consistently use "unity" terms like "common, shared, united, community, public, together, mutual, joint, responsibility," etc.
  • Use positive words such as "future, dreams, destiny, achieve, realize, accomplish, empower," etc.
  • Emphasize and extend "national unity" from the need to win the war on Al Qaeda abroad to being critical to addressing our challenges at home.

Branding Bush/Cheney

  • Consistently use "division" terms like "split, divide, private, wedge, alone, own your own, go it alone, balkanize, ignore, intolerance, abdicate, radical, opt out" etc.
  • Use "selfish" words such as "greed, irresponsible, crony, favoritism, dynasty, unchecked, etc."

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About

Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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