The Democrats are having a major branding problem these days. Ever since they were blindsided by Donald Trump and lost the White House, they've been flapping around violently like freshly-caught fish on the dock, trying to figure out who's to blame for their near terminal state.
Now, the party is at an ideological crossroads, and like many others across the country, I'm not so sure I'm buying what they're selling anymore. The only message I can actually detect is rage. I really don't think their platform of "resist everything" will attract many people for any length of time. It's a little broad. Plus, it requires too much energy to resist everything. One or two things? Maybe. Everything? Doubtful.
Look at it like this. If the Democrats were a loaf of rye-bread in your local supermarket, the warning label on the back of the packaging would read as follows:
"Warning: This product may contain: extreme anger, violence, immaturity, temper tantrums and intolerance. Eating this product could be hazardous to your health. Mental or otherwise."
And then there's the allergy warning toward the bottom of the bag:
"Allergy Information: This product was packaged on machinery that contains ideas that are different than yours, and may cause a severe allergic reaction or suicidal tendencies."
Hmmm . . . Maybe I'll just skip the bread. It's fattening anyway.
If the last presidential election taught us anything at all, it's that the Democrats of tomorrow will look nothing like they do today. The party is still stinging from the election loss and their brand is in tatters. There's a deep fissure between the leadership of the party and its constituents. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate at the wrong time. That's no secret anymore. The younger, Millennial voters just couldn't relate to her. Yet, somehow, they could easily connect with the seventy-four-year-old, Bernie Sanders, mostly because he was a socialist and told them everything would be free. Oddly enough, according to many polls at the time, they actually showed Sanders defeating Trump in the general election. I just love the irony here. The Democrats would have had a better chance of beating Trump if they put up a socialist to challenge him. That little tidbit should have screamed volumes to the Democrats that something is terribly wrong with their brand, their strategy and their leadership.
New York Rep. Kathleen Rice recently said as much when she said "It's time for Nancy Pelosi to go, and the entire leadership team to go too” after the Democrats recently lost five out of five special elections to fill vacant congressional seats. And Rep. Tim Ryan, who challenged Pelosi for the leadership post last year, was even more brutal, saying, “Our brand is even worse than Trump’s.” Wow, that’s got to hurt.
Worse yet, just the other day, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said the Democrats can’t blame anyone else for their loss back in November. “When you lose to somebody who is only at 40 percent popularity, you look in the mirror and say, ‘what did we do wrong?’ And the number one thing we did wrong was that voters didn’t know what we stood for. They knew we didn’t like Trump, but they didn’t know what we stood for.”
But our two-party system has proven to be pretty durable up until recently. Both political brands worked well, certainly given the make-up of the country over the past eighty years or so. They performed as intended. If you were a Democrat, you believed in certain core values. Big government programs for the poor and middle class, higher taxes on the rich, the environment and global warming, civil rights, abortion rights, gender rights, gay marriage, and so on. And if you were a Republican, you generally believed in smaller government, a strong military, freedom of religion, promotion of democracy around the world, fiscal conservatism, anti-abortion, and so on.
Earlier generations of Democrats and Republicans, like those of my parents and grandparents, wanted America to work. My generation, the baby boomers, did too. Sure, we had our differences, and we certainly yelled and screamed a lot back in the 1960’s, but we eventually came together and continued on as one country. There was no shortage of anger to go around in those days, but not the deafening levels of outright hate and vitriol like there is now.
Today, all hell has broken loose in Washington. Why? Technology. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, among others, have changed the way politics is played forever. The internet and social media has given every single person on the planet a voice. A loud and very angry one in most cases too. And it can whip that rage around the world to millions of people in mere seconds. And because of that, party unity is breaking down at a rapid clip and devolving into something much darker than the traditional, post-World War II Democrats of Truman, JFK, and Clinton.
The older, Democratic party leadership has lost control of the message and can no longer dictate what they want their constituents to see and hear. So now, the new Democrats have become the party of few boundaries and parameters. They’ve become the “say-and-do anything” Democrats. The “resist everything” Democrats. And the internet is their megaphone. Now, what’s left of the current party leadership can only watch in abject horror as their traditional, core voters erode and the angry fringe groups that now make up much of the party assume the helm. Environmentalists, pro-choice marchers, gays and lesbians, Black Lives Matter, alt-left ideologues, socialists, globalists, and immigration reformers. It’s every man and woman for themselves. And it’s every message for itself. In essence, the Democrats are in a social media driven, ideological free-for-all without a single unifying face to the party.
In the event you’re one of the remaining centrists in the Democratic party, you’ve got to be feeling somewhat lost and abandoned these days. Now, in full-fledged panic mode, the standard flag bearers for the party, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, have recently had an epiphany and are now actually preaching a return to the ideological center after eight years of Barack Obama’s divisive identity politics, which they both fully supported and participated in. They’ve concluded that it would be prudent to put the focus back on the economy, job creation, raising the minimum wage, and health care. But the problem is few in their party are listening anymore. Because the party has changed. It’s getting younger and more Millennial. It’s becoming less Baby Boomer centric. Less philosophically centrist. And most importantly, less tolerant of the party that has failed them in the past.
So, if you’re a Democrat, remember this. The next time you go shopping, read those warning labels on the back of the packages carefully. Don’t assume it’s the same product in the box that you’ve always been buying just because the name is the same. They still may be called Democrats, but buyer beware. The brand has changed. And the ingredients have changed too. And the last thing you want to get is an allergic reaction.