What do the Democrats stand for? Is it as bland as “a better deal”? Is it as innocuous as “Forward”?
Clearly, the party is suffering from a marketing deficiency in a period when the script would seem to write itself. These are the times that Will Rogers talked about when he said he was not part of any organized political party because he was a Democrat.
There is a sporadic internal debate that is dominating this discussion — a standoff between the socialist and the moderate wings, with both believing that they have the best chance to take back the reins of the runaway stagecoach of government as it heads toward a cliff. Both sides have merit, but this amounts to small ideological bickering at a time of great national urgency.
Both wings of the party need to call a timeout, look ahead at the oncoming cliff and recognize that power sharing in service to a larger goal has never been more important. That begins with recalling the values that unite the party and once united the country.
But can anyone name the values of the Democratic party? No, being anti-Trump is not a legitimate “value”.
The proper next step for the Democrats is what we in the marketing biz call Brand Repositioning. This begins with an understanding that the challenge of building any brand is finding the fine line between what is unique about an entity and what is universally valued. The key question for all brands: How does an entity set itself apart from its competitors “uniquely” while still engaging the masses “universally”?
There are so-called universal values that all entities aspire to, but they do so at the risk of watering down their unique qualities. Things like Civility, Equality, Accountability, Dignity — these are all things that are considered of universal value to humanity, and as a result, neither political party could rightfully call them their own.
It turns out that the platform planks of universal values have now fallen right into the Democrat’s lap. Let’s call them “CEAD” (Civility, Equality, Accountability, Dignity) for short — a fitting acronym because they have been “ceded” to the Democrats by the Republicans. Because CEAD has been abandoned by the Republican party, they are no longer universal values, but instead, they are now unique to the Democrats, or at least they can be.
This is not to say that all of those who voted Republican have personally abandoned these values, but it has become exceedingly hard to make a case that their party still believes in them, which means they are there for the taking,
Let’s run through these high-quality weather-proofed planks and define them, both literally, and as a driver of Democratic policy. And besides, a lot of our fellow citizens may need a refresher:
Civility — Polarization reigns and our political rancor has become sad and exhausting. We have lost the ability to listen, hear and speak to each other with mutual respect — a once-common behavior that bridged every divide and made us Americans. We have instead been manipulated into a profit-driven tribalism that disregards shared truth and experiences as meaningful. We have relinquished the norms that held our leaders to a standard we aspired to — one that valued civil discourse and consideration for others over self.
Our youth is watching as our passive acceptance of incivility threatens to permanently embed itself into the bloodstream of our culture and poison us for generations. This raises the importance of civility to the level of morality — we must treat each other, with courtesy and respect, to ensure we are setting the best possible example for future generations. We must protect civility as if it is an endangered species, because right now, it is. The Democrats have the opportunity to say no to the contagion of incivility and restore the norm of mutual respect as the party of civility.
Equality — All men and women are created equal. It is an American value that need not be mythical, because America has always been at its best when it manages to extend equal opportunity with as much breadth and depth as humanly possible. It is why our ideals are the greatest example to the world — the reason so many risk their lives to reach our land — and why our government and our people are even greater when we live up to those ideals.
At the same time, our belief in equality should inform every element of social and economic policy because it is an American principle that values the right of all people to have an equal opportunity to pursue happiness. So as the Republican Party proudly and clearly wears the mantle of inequality (whether economic, ethnic, religious, racial or based on sexual orientation), the Democrats have never had a greater opportunity to become the party of equality.
Accountability — There are various layers to accountability: the legal kind, in which groups or individuals comply with requirements that are written into law. There’s the kind of accountability in which people are appropriately rewarded based on performance rather than based on what family they were born into. And then there’s the most basic form of individual accountability that shouldn’t even be up for discussion: the motivation to tell the truth. All of these things are no longer litmus tests for government service, which is why they can and should be exclusive tests for service as a Democrat.
Shockingly, the Democrats have the opportunity to become the party of “not lying” and raise rather than lower the bar on the basic principle of accountability. This means more than just not acting like a Republican — it means raising the bar on things like transparency for campaign financing, due diligence to avoid conflicts of interest, firm consequences for bad behavior, and rigidly enforced ethical guidelines when it comes to spending the people’s money. It also means doing all of these things “as if no one’s watching” — in other words, regardless of how low the bar is across the aisle.
The natural temptation for all in government is to rationalize less-than-acceptable activity based on the “everybody does it” formula — the very fuel for our current nationwide condition of cynicism and apathy. Today’s opportunity to draw a contrast is unprecedented — the chance to be “uniquely” accountable and own this value as part of the party’s brand. And so, the Democrats have never had a greater opportunity to become the party of accountability, if, of course, they are willing to live up to it.
Dignity — In the same way that we might consider Civility as a domestic policy principle, we should consider Dignity as the basis of our foreign policy. We believe in certain inalienable rights, not just for Americans but for humanity, and that signifies a belief in the implicit dignity of every individual, regardless of where they are from, what they look like, what they believe or who they love. We go in knowing that not every country, group or individual is deserving of dignity, nor are they all capable of reciprocating, but we as Americans can set the standard for how people should be treated by our example. Or at least half of America can.
CEAD. These four values — Civility, Equality, Accountability and Dignity — can become the Democrat’s core values, but they are also the guideposts for how all policy can and should be formulated, both foreign and domestic. They can inform all social and economic policies, while at the same time bridge the gap between party wings, and ultimately the major parties themselves.
If the Democrats can succeed in owning these values, we as a country will be back on the road toward what we used to call “norms” — the set of proper, respectable behaviors and expectations that characterize the core beliefs of our nation and are necessary to do something that we can only do if we all do it together: Make America great again.
But right now, our values, principles and norms are up for grabs, and only the Democratic party has a realistic chance to take ownership of them.
Let’s hope they will.