Asheville Daily Planet, January 2018

If Democrats are to win big in 2018, they need to come up with a strong message. Right or wrong?

If Democrats are to win big in 2018, they only need to run against Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Right or wrong?

Both are right. They aren’t alternative strategies.  They’re our pow-bam one-two punch.

Ever since we woke up to Donald Trump as president-elect, the Democratic volcano has rumbled. Women marched.  Resistance groups organized.  Silent spectators  suited up.  Thousands announced as candidates.  Money poured in.  Democratic energy lit up the country.

But while Democrat momentum built everywhere, TV pundits clucked that Democrats will miss their opportunity if they don’t have a message.

So Democratic leadership, last July, thudded out what they call “A Better Deal” platform. It’s a tedious Best of Bernie rerun – a $15/hour minimum wage, for example, cracking down on corporate monopolies, banning “right to work” laws in the states.

Nancy honey, Chuck old man, that’s not what we meant by a message.  The Senate seats we’re defending are in dark-red places like North Dakota, Montana and Indiana.  A Better Deal is a bad deal for those guys.  I wouldn’t run for Congress in North Carolina on that platform.

But then Virginia popped, and Alabama. Now we hear pundits saying, “Maybe Democrats don’t need a message after all.  It’s enough to run against Trump and Republicans.”

After all, Democratic Drive is fueled by anti-Trump anger, fear, disgust, embarrassment, frustration. Wouldn’t our zealots snarl at any candidate wearing the scarlet-letter R?  Yes, they would.

But snarls aren’t enough. We also need a creed.  We should be part Australian Shepherd and part pit bull – smart and passionate.

To change the metaphor, some gladiators, called dimachaerus, fought with two swords, one in each hand. No shield, they defended themselves with one of the swords.  I want an army of dimachaeri, who can state clearly the Republican menace as they deliver the liberating Democratic message.

So what is that message?

A message of constant contrast. A message of moral Democratic government to come in the context of immoral Republican government we’ve got now.   Yes, a message of right and wrong, a message of morality!

We can quickly list Seven Deadly Sins from the six years of GOP majority in the General Assembly: lying and other deceptions, arrogance, favoring the rich and powerful over ordinary people in tax reform, injustice in voting, vengeance against their opponents, greed for power, neglect of our children and other vulnerable citizens.  Seven sins?  There are probably 70!

Let their wrongdoing be the context for our rightdoing! Actually, “The Right Thing” world be a better name for our agenda than “A Better Deal.”  Our message should be overarched with strong key words that describe our commitments to govern well:  Fairness, Servant Leadership, Cooperation, Openness, Authenticity, Truth.

Then we commit ourselves to specifics. National Democrats hit on exactly the formula we should use.  Under the proposal,  “Raise Wages and Create 10 Million New Jobs” in the full text of “A Better Deal,” they write:

“We pledge to fight for good-paying, full-time jobs with a promising future for 10 million Americans.”

I’m suggesting that, first, we state the Republican wrong as context, and then we contrast with pledges to principled governance. For example, Republicans cut taxes for the rich, cynically calling them “job creators.” That’s our context. Then: “We pledge ourselves to SERVANT LEADERSHIP,” with specific proposals that directly impact our constituents’ livelihoods.

Another context: Republican arrogance and deception in redistricting after the 2010 census. Then: “We pledge ourselves to FAIRNESS. We will use an independent commission to redraw district boundaries for General Assembly and Congressional seats. We will not gerrymander to favor our candidates.”

First we say it, then we do it.