10/11/2012 02:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It's the Values, Stupid

Ever since us War Room Warriors in the Clinton campaign in Little Rock came up with our informal slogan for the '92 campaign, "It's the Economy, Stupid", and for reasons I never quite figured out it became universally famous, everyone in politics and the media has adapted "It's the ______ , Stupid" as their slogan of the moment. It's been like "-gate" in Watergate becoming the new phrase for every new scandal that comes along, except for political slogans.

I have never used the "It's the ____ , Stupid" in anything I have done since -- maybe I was too close to the founding and have wanted to guard it from being over-used, I don't know. But it has been striking me like a ton of bricks over the last few days how dominant the values discussion has to be in this election if we Democrats are to win this race, so even I have now given in and proclaim: It's the Values, Stupid. Voters are feeling far too mixed over both Obama's economic performance and Romney-Ryan's muddled and un-spelled out economic plans for the economic issue to be the clear-cut issue voters end up voting on. A great many voters will end up heading to the polling place very uncertain as to who to trust on economic policy.

But on values, there is a big, deep, fundamental divide -- or at least there will be if Democrats keep people focused on what that divide is. The Republicans, as my old boss Bill Clinton put it so succinctly, say you are on our own; the Democrats believe that we are in this together. Americans clearly have chosen the latter, which is why Mitt Romney in the first debate sounded like such a completely different man than he has sounded the entire rest of the campaign. But no matter how much Mitt tries to shed his old skin and become a brand new man, the video evidence is there for all to see that this is not what his values are.

Here's a video I put together the other day, showing the absolute night and day contrast between debate Mitt and private Mitt. It could not be more stark, more clearly, dramatically contradictory:

For Democrats to win this race, we have to go back to the values debate and the 47 percent video every day. This is our ultimate trump card because it makes 100 percent clear what Romney's core values are, even as he is now running from them in public. Take a look at this extended description from DCorps on how focus groups are responding to the 47 percent. It is so important for all Democratic messaging people to read and digest what is going on here:

Why is the "47 percent" so powerful? Our extensive research shows that voters -- the elderly on Social Security, unmarried women, young people, veterans, the working poor, and even those in the middle class -- strongly identify with the "47 percent." During focus groups in both Columbus, Ohio and Fairfax, Virginia, participants instantly identified with the "47 percent." When asked about Mitt Romney's comment on the "47 percent," participants quickly responded with disgust and then explained, "he's talking about me."

"It's hurtful. I am probably one of them 47 percent. By speaking of that 47 percent, he's probably never been in that 47 percent... I work and pay my taxes. I wake up at 4:30 every morning, feed my kids and go to work." (Swing voter, Columbus, OH)

"He's putting me down." (Swing voter, Columbus, OH)

"[He's talking about] us. Probably everyone in this room." (Columbus, OH)

"I've worked and I paid into that Social Security. I started working at 15. I paid into that." (Columbus, OH)

"[The 47 percent is] us. Normal people. Who may have jobs, who need some assistance." (Columbus, OH)

"There are a lot of people out of work who can't find jobs. I spent 8 to 10 hours a day looking, and the state of Virginia doesn't really provide a huge amount of unemployment insurance. And hearing from some people in the media and politicians saying they are lazy, it's not true." (Fairfax, VA)

And these same voters expressed disgust at Romney's inability to understand middle class and working people's everyday realities.

"The tone is so accusatory and so demeaning. Rather than talking about helping people. It's not about lifting them up, it's about dropping them down." (Columbus, OH)

"Where's the compassion?" (Columbus, OH)

"He doesn't know who those 47 percent are. Most of them are working people, the working poor, they get up and go to work every day." (Columbus, OH)

"Using the word 'entitled.' I hate that word. He makes 47 percent sound like spoiled brats who sit at home and do nothing. It shouldn't be a dirty word but it is. That word really got to me. Like these people are so entitled." (Columbus, OH)

"My mom was embarrassed to use food stamps. If she wouldn't have had them, she wouldn't have eaten. The woman couldn't help it. It just bothered me that yes, it was a safety net, but she had enough going on that she didn't need more problems. She was never comfortable with it, ever." (Columbus, OH)

"These people feel they are entitled to food?! To housing?! These stupid stupid poor people feel they are entitled to food! Shame on them!" (Fairfax, VA)

"He is saying he doesn't care. It makes you take a step further -- does he care about anyone at all?" (Unmarried woman, Fairfax, VA)

And these voters were especially upset when they thought about it in terms of their elderly parents and relatives on Medicare and Social Security, or students who need loans to pay for education, or those who are disabled and require some assistance just to get by.

"A lot of them are retired. After my dad died, we had to get my mom food stamps. That's 20% of the 47." (Columbus, OH)

"Who are the people who pay no income tax? You could be a student and pay none. Or an elderly person on Social Security." (Fairfax, VA)

"They aren't all people in poverty. There's middle class people. People on disability. Veterans. It's not a lot of people cheating off the system. It's a lot of people." (Columbus, OH)

To come back strong, the president must address future policy choices in a much bolder way -- and he must make this election about choosing a country that stands up for and elevates the 47 percent versus a country that tells its seniors, veterans, the working poor, the disabled, and, yes, the struggling middle class: "You are on your own."

The Obama campaign's biggest mistake since the Denver debate debacle has been to leave the 47 percent video out of their messaging. It, and the values Romney conveys in it, are central to Democrats winning this election.

What Democrats should be proclaiming is that we want America to be a better country than the cynical vision that Mitt Romney preaches in the 47 percent video. We believe, as Deval Patrick put it in his convention speech, that if inner city schoolchildren rise, we as a country rise. We believe that if the strong give a helping hand to the weak, it makes both the strong and the weak more whole. We believe that when you give to your community and your neighbor in need, the benefits come back to you 100-fold.

We believe, with Martin Luther King, that our fates are "inextricable linked in a garment of destiny." We believe, with pilgrim colonist John Winthrop, that America should indeed be a city on a hill, built on that idea that "We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body." We believe that we are a better, richer, wiser people when we as a nation take care of the elderly and the little children, the most vulnerable among us, the "least of these"-- and that our nation will be rewarded for doing so.

Those values will win the debate over the values of selfishness and cynicism amply demonstrated in the 47 percent video every time. It's time we got back to what was working before the Denver debacle, the real debate we need to be having, the debate over which values we want for America.