‘A Better Deal” is not the worst slogan I’ve ever heard, but it’s far from the best. The Democratic Party has overwhelming support from the “creatives” on Madison Avenue and the marketing geniuses in Hollywood. Why are Republicans so much better at coming up with pithy phrases that pack a punch?
It was not always thus. John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” were aspirational in a reach-for-the-stars kind of way; Barack Obama’s “Yes, We Can” invited Americans to feel good about themselves and their collective potential. “A Better Deal” leans in the right direction, but betterness is relative. Why cede rhetorical absolutism – “Make America Great Again” – to Donald Trump, on his way toward being remembered as the least-great president in our history?
Of course, the slogan is less important than the policies behind it. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., acknowledged Sunday that the party failed last year to get a clear message across. “We didn’t tell people what we stood for,” Schumer said on ABC’s “This Week.”
At a kickoff event Monday in Berryville, Va., Democratic party leaders announced three initial policy priorities: Creating 10 million new jobs over five years, with new apprenticeship programs and a tax credit for employers who provide on-the-job training; “cracking down on the monopolies and big corporate mergers that harm consumers, workers and competition,” as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a Washington Post op-ed; and concrete action to lower the cost of prescription drugs, a big factor in rising health care costs.
All of which is fine. But somehow I don’t see Republican spinmeisters quaking in their Ferragamo loafers.
“A Better Deal” plays off the title of President Donald Trump’s first and best-known book, “The Art of the Deal.”
It is true that Trump has so far shown himself to be one of the worst dealmakers ever to reside in the White House, unable even to get his own party to agree on something it has been promising for seven years, the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. It is also true that Trump has reneged on all of his populist promises, instead following the standard GOP game plan of tax cuts for the rich and entitlement cuts for everyone else.
But if there is one lesson Democrats should have learned from 2016, it is that opposition to Trump is not by itself enough to win elections. I predict this will still be the case when the 2018 midterms roll around.
Yes, the Republican Party looks to be in trouble. Trump is sowing intraparty rancor and division, not unity. The base has remained loyal thus far, but independents and crossover Democrats have been given no reason to stick with the GOP.
It is possible that the stars might align next year to produce conditions for a pro-Democratic, anti-Republican “wave” election. But that has not happened yet. In the Senate, the Democratic caucus has 25 seats up for grabs next year, while Republicans have only eight seats at risk. And in the House, the GOP holds a 46-seat majority that will be difficult to reverse because of gerrymandering.
At the launch event Monday, Schumer promised “a strong, bold economic agenda.” He pledged that “Democrats will show the country we are the party on the side of working people.”
Schumer told a story of having recently gone to a Yankees game and sat next to two Teamsters, both wearing “Proud to be Deplorable” T-shirts. He said the two men had especially liked Trump’s pledge to spend $1 trillion improving the nation’s infrastructure, including the potholed roads over which the Teamsters have to drive. But the men now worry, Schumer said, that Trump will be unable to deliver on his promise.
Such infrastructure spending has long been a Democratic Party priority, however. Trump managed to communicate it in a way that Hillary Clinton did not.
I’m still waiting to hear the “bold solutions” that Democrats promise. I can think of one possibility: Why not propose some version of truly universal single-payer health care?
Yes, that would be risky. But it might generate real excitement among the Democratic base – and also grab the attention of some of the GOP’s working-class supporters. Incrementalism is not the answer. Democrats need to go big or go home.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.