Despite the dire predictions of the punditry, the Democratic Party has a strong case to make for this fall's midterm elections, and it is -- so far, at least -- failing to make it. But it can.
If there was ever a time when it would be imperative to nationalize a mid-term election, it is now. Even in this time of gridlock and slow economic recovery, the Democrats have a record of accomplishment and the Republicans have a record of obstruction and extremism. Building and arguing a case based on both of those records can provide a backdrop for winning in those states and districts where the party is being challenged and challenging.
That case can be made on three levels -- those who have benefitted from Democratic policies over the past six years; those who have been hurt by Republican policies during the last six years; and a comparison between Democratic and GOP policies. And the case can be made without gimmicks or distortions.
In my 76 years on the planet (two thirds of them involved in politics or observing the political scene as an analyst), the very best political campaign I was witness to was the one orchestrated by John Deardorff and Doug Bailey on behalf of Gerald Ford's 1976 Presidential campaign, a campaign elegant in its simplicity. There were exactly two elements -- ads of various lengths featuring a marching band to the created tune of "I'm feeling good about America," and ads featuring citizens of Georgia speaking to the camera about their unhappiness with their governor, Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. That ad campaign propelled Ford from a double digit deficit, created by Nixon's forced resignation and Ford's deeply unpopular pardoning of the former president, to nearly winning in a campaign deemed hopeless at its onset.
Voters are not now feeling good about America, but a great many of them are feeling good about many of the programs and policies of the Obama administration. At the same time, at least as many have negative feelings toward what the Republicans have done -- or not done -- during the past six years.
So let them speak to the camera and the American people -- in their own words without a script.
On the positive side, individual citizens could speak to various aspects of the Affordable Care Act (whatever they want to call it) that benefited them - getting insurance despite pre-existing conditions; getting more and better coverage; getting support for preventive care; not bumping up against a coverage limit; making it possible for more people to qualify and get Medicaid; allowing the young to have coverage through their parents policies through age 26; paying for contraception and thus reducing accidental pregnancies and perhaps unwed mothers.
Individuals could speak to ending the war in Iraq; bringing their sons and daughters home alive from Iraq and Afghanistan; keeping the nation out of ground combat elsewhere; finding and killing Osama Bin Laden; helping to remove Qaddafi and eliminating chemical weapons in Libya and Syria; ending torture in interrogations
Auto workers and auto parts suppliers can speak to having jobs, incomes and profits because the Administration provided support for a once failing auto industry. Citizens of all walks can thank the Administration and others for keeping the economy from free fall, as can they about better fuel economy, reducing greenhouse gases, providing wilderness and watershed protection. Parents can speak to better school nutrition and expansion of pre-K education;
On the negative side: a friend could speak about someone who died because the Republicans in the state didn't permit expansion of Medicaid; another could speak of how he or she lost their home because unemployment insurance wasn't extended, or barely had enough to eat because access to food stamps was reduced. People in North Carolina and West Virginia could speak to chemical spills that polluted waters because Republican regulators refused to do their duty, and Republican legislators refused to enact effective legislation. Several citizens from across the nation could speak to dangerous infrastructure decay because a GOP House wouldn't allow consideration of legislation that would provide for infrastructure improvement. Somebody with a modicum of economic knowledge could speak to how the Republicans are pursuing a policy of austerity that prolongs and exacerbates the recession, and puts a disastrous squeeze on needed services; or, how the Republicans are eroding the safety net for citizens while providing benefits for those not in need.
People also could speak to the extremism of the party -- Citizens in Colorado, Texas and Wisconsin could tell how they didn't want a party that advocates or even considers secession from the Union. Or someone from Missouri could testify about a Republican party that would act like the segregationist South did in seeking to nullify federal laws.
On each of these issues and many others, citizens could just speak to the facts and tell their story without any embellishment or demagoguery.
These ads should be produced, widely distributed and placed on visual media by the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and should serve as the backdrop for the battles that are being waged in the states.
There is a third part of this approach that should be sponsored by an independent entity which might be called Choose Wisely.
That entity would put forward a series of ads that accurately juxtapose GOP and Democratic positions on a variety of issues -- taxes, financial regulation, environment, employment, inequality, the safety net, educational support, etc.
An example on the minimum wage: the Republican side of the ad would publish their claim that 500,000 jobs would be lost and employers would raise their prices hurting consumers. The Democratic side would publish that the minimum wage would lift x millions out of poverty, would boost consumer spending by x and that demand would lead to more jobs.
Or extending unemployment benefits: The Republican side of the ad would have their claim that if people are getting unemployment, they won't search for jobs and on the Democratic side could be if they don't get unemployment, they're plunged into poverty, lose their homes and can't feed their children.
Each of these ads should end with a borrowed tag line -- We Report, You Decide (if it doesn't have copyright protection by Fox), Choose Wisely.
This is offered, in part, because it would be a different type of campaign that citizens might be positive about and, in part, because what the Democrats are doing now is counter-productive.
Few know who the Koch brothers are (or for that matter, who George Soros is) and even fewer care about Citizens United, McCutchen or campaign finance in general which has always been at the very lowest levels of popular concerns.
The Democratic Party and where it has a governing majority should do the right thing for the LGBT community and with respect to the availability of safe abortions and contraception. But LGBT rights as a voting issue is not necessarily a winner among midterm election voters, and abortion tends to mobilize the right more than it does the left. Let the Democracy Alliance fund the Human Rights Campaign to let those relevant know which party is doing right by the LGBT community and help Planned Parenthood and NARAL carry the torch for women's reproductive rights and the party which will protect them.
The central issues are economic, foreign policy, governmental stalemate, inequality and extremism. On each one of these, the Democratic Party has the high ground and the more popular message. This memo is aimed at providing the best possible way of conveying that message, a way that will be seen favorably against the manipulations and distortions the GOP consultants will put forward.
Curtis Gans was active in Democratic politics three-plus decades ago. He is now director of the non-partisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate. The views expressed here are his and not the Center's.