THE BLOG
12/01/2014 12:04 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

If She Runs Hillary Rodham Clinton Determines the 2016 Democratic Message

Lack of an overriding message in 2014 speeded the Democratic Party down the path to their losses. Now Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) Chair of the DNC is asking people what they think went wrong. The question could be taken more seriously if she wasn't asking for more money at the same time. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) suggests the fight for the Affordable Care Act came at the wrong time and we should have done more for the middle-class when Democrats controlled the Congress. This is humorous coming from one of the biggest advocates for banks and hedge fund CEOs in Congress.

The after-the-fact criticisms and recriminations are coming fast and furious from those who could have made a difference if they spoke up and did something earlier. The President didn't help by delaying his immigration Executive Order (EO) until after the election because some Democrats were afraid it would hurt Southern Democratic Senators up for reelection. Turned out they all lost anyway and so did the candidates who could have benefited from an EO like Charlie Christ in Florida and Senator Mark Udall in his Colorado reelection campaign.

While Democrats debate the lack of a message and fight over what it should have been they forget one major point; it is the Presidential candidate who sets the Party message in Presidential election years. For Democrats in 2016 most are betting that will be Hillary Rodham Clinton. Republicans control Congress for the next two years so Democrats there will be playing defense. It will be up to the Presidential candidate to enunciate for the electorate what will be different beginning on January 20, 2017. In the interim a strong President Obama can continue to make bold moves like his EO on immigration which was recently compared to Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in a well written Huffington Post piece by Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer.

Clinton said her decision on whether to run will be made in the beginning of 2015. She has repeatedly said it is dependent on her determining what her message to the voters will be and what she believes she can accomplish as President. If and when she announces we will hear the message of the Party for 2016. It may be refined in primary debates but Hillary has a record on which to run and it includes fighting for equality, both political and economic; and advocating for a strong defense of democracy around the world. We can be fairly certain that won't change. Her message in 2016 will include how she believes a Clinton presidency will move the nation forward and accomplish the goals she has fought for all her life.

People tend to forget her life's work has been focused on the issues that all people care about. She worked for the Children's Defense Fund. In 1977 Hillary co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and in 1978 she became the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation. In 1983, then Governor Bill Clinton named Hillary to lead the Arkansas Education Standards Committee which improved the state's education system. As First Lady she courageously spoke out for women during the Beijing Woman's Conference criticizing the leadership of China. Hillary Clinton is not new to issues that speak to the needs of people including women, minorities, the middle-class, and millennials; the constituencies that Democrats will need to get to the polls. Her message, suggested in a previous column, will be broad based and speak to new economic opportunities for all. It is a message of fairness diametrically opposite to that being enunciated by the current Republican Party.

My advice to the Democratic Party is that they stop the recriminations and don't settle on a new message just yet. They need to stop eviscerating each other for the failures of 2014. Most Party leaders are actually on the same page and simply fighting around the edges. Schumer is a good guy and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) adds some good ideas. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently became a member of the Senate leadership and speaks for the consumer with a message we should heed.

Yet none will be able to develop a complete message as ably as Hillary. A message that will resonate with the broad swath of voters the Party will need to win back the Senate and keep the Presidency. If the message is clear enough it could even help take back the House of Representatives though gerrymandering makes that hard to do. But let's not jump the gun on defining the message because we didn't have one in 2014 until we have our candidate for 2016.