Democrats need to attend Elizabeth Warren’s “communication school”

Elizabeth_Warren_CFPBThe midterm elections are just four months away. Can you guess which party is flailing around on the campaign trail without a unified message?

The answer is easy. It’s the Democrats. Sadly, it’s déjà-vu all over again. Every election season progressives see their hopes dashed as the Democratic Party fails to deliver a coherent vision, and individual candidates try to distance themselves from even the meager legislative record they’ve tallied up during the past term.

In the run up to election day, you’d think it would be smart politics to guide voters to clarity on the very real differences between the two major parties. Unfortunately, that’s not how our crazy political world works. Contrary to the popular meme, on income inequality, immigration reform, healthcare, equal pay for women, access to family planning, student loans, tax policy, the environment, and a host of other issues the differences between the parties are deep and real. But you wouldn’t know that when listening to obfuscating Democratic contenders.

Think about it. When was the last time Democrats and progressives pulled together a coherent message before, during, or after an election cycle?

Perennial Democratic timidity and the failure to articulate a clear message means that Democrats fail to address head-on the serious issues and challenges buffeting confused voters who aren’t sure which way to turn. It’s no wonder voters believe politicians fail to represent their interests and that the system is rigged against them. Predictably, voter apathy is at a record high, and the percentage of the voting-age public turning out to vote is at a historic low.

One issue that should be ripe for Democratic picking is income inequality and the skewed tax policies that have crippled investment in infrastructure, education, and research and diminished the employment prospects and future of the middle class, low-wage earners, the poor, and young people. Perhaps the truth is that the majority of Americans have so thoroughly absorbed Republican messaging about the inevitability of an inequitable economy that they fail to see through the misinformation that Republicans have exploited so brilliantly to explain away their culpability in causing the economic disparities. It’s inconceivable that voters fail to understand that Republicans in Congress have spent the past six years maneuvering ferociously to maintain and even expand policies and tax loopholes that favor corporations, the financial industry, and millionaires and billionaires while doing nothing for the economic interests and needs of the majority.

Just look at the diminished prospects of the middle class. Americans should be out in the streets raging and protesting. At the very least we should be going to the polls in record numbers. And yet most of us are doing just the opposite.

The economic numbers below, which reflect the reality of a middle class losing ground, paint a dispiriting picture of an economy that produces unimaginable profits for the few and stagnation for the many.

– Since 1999 middle-class incomes in real terms have dropped by an incredible $5,000.
– Since 2009 fully 95% of all newly generated income has gone to the top 1%.
– 3.6 million Americans struggle to live on wages at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
– Every year the American taxpayer subsidizes the profits of the low-wage fast-food industry to the tune of $7 billion in safety-net benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, and subsidized housing.
– The low-wage policies of the biggest big-box giant—Walmart—costs American taxpayers $6.2 billion annually in public-assistance programs.

Make no mistake about it. This is the economy that the conservative movement and its mighty messaging machine have built over forty years. On issue after issue, the conservative lens has defined the terms of the discussion and hidden the true reasons for the economic struggles of what used to be a proud and expanding middle class. Republican think tanks and lobbying organizations, like The American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and ALEC, an organization that writes legislation favorable to corporate interests that ends up word-for-word on the dockets of state houses, have dominated the agenda and the direction of economic policy.

So is it time to throw in the towel and cave in to the propaganda, to conservative messaging shenanigans, and the pundits and pollsters (including Nate Silver of Five Thirty-Eight) who predict that the Democrats could lose their majority in the Senate? I say, not just yet. Not as long as there’s one public official out there fighting for the middle class and challenging other Democrats to become champions of the people who work hard at jobs that pay them less today than they did decades ago—jobs like designing and building our infrastructure, educating and caring for our children, providing health care. That lone fighter is Elizabeth Warren.

It’s my hope that every Democrat running for office in the upcoming election has listened to the exchange below between Massachusetts Senator Warren and Chris Matthews of “Hardball” and absorbed the lesson of how powerful a principled and coherent message can be.

And if Democratic candidates are still not convinced, I suggest that they step off the campaign trail and make their way to an undisclosed location somewhere near Boston harbor. There, at what might be called the Elizabeth Warren School of Analytic Thought and Communication Skills, they can hunker down and take a quick fix of intensive remedial courses.

So get out your notebooks and IPads, Democrats, here’s the curriculum that could help you keep or secure that coveted desk on Capitol Hill.

I. Defining the Problem
– Fact-Based Economics for Congressional Dummies
– Invisible Market Forces and Government Policy: Identifying the Differences and Destroying the Myths
– Somebody’s Got to Pay for It: How the Middle Class Got Stuck Paying
An Unfair Share of Taxes
– America: The History of Third-World Infrastructure
– Winners and Losers: Four Decades of the 1% and their Congressional Lackies Sticking It to the Middle Class
– Bye, Bye, American Dream: Recognizing the Causes of Institutionalized Income Inequality
– Standing on the Brink: The Systematic Destruction of Unions and the Living Wage
– Millionaires and Billionaires: How Much Is Enough?
– Anatomy for Politicians: Finding Your Backbone

II. Communicating the Solution
– Who Am I?: Authenticity for Congressional Dummies
– Finding Common Ground: Identifying and Simplifying the Message
– Learning to Connect: The Psychology and Communication of Empathy
– Verbal Tactics: Consigning Trickle-Down Economics to the Trash Heap of History
– Self-Interest versus the Common Good: Reconnecting the Politician with the Constituent
– Articulating Differences: A Primer for Winning Elections