10 words

10 WORDS….I’m glad to see the fine folks at National Journal’s Hotline are back after a holiday break with a pretty good round-up of political/campaign news from the last two weeks. But like Ezra, I thought one of the items stood out.

Best Good Question To Which I Don’t Yet Have An Answer: IA Gov. Tom Vilsack, who asks in a Heartland PAC e-mail “What are your ten words that define the Democratic Party’s message?”

Ezra suggests it’s crazy to think “a major political party in the world’s most powerful country should be able to define its message in ten words.” I’m not so sure.

I don’t think it’s controversial to believe that Democrats need to do a better job with message development and party sales pitches. Matthew Yglesias noted some months back that The American Prospect solicited ideas from readers for a liberal counter to the conservatives’ “low taxes, traditional family values, and a strong military” frame — and the results were hardly encouraging. It’ll surprise no one to hear that the left is still dealing with the whole “elevator pitch” problem.

With this in mind, it’s not necessarily absurd to think a party’s general approach to government can be summarized quickly and easily. Using Yglesias’ question, the right’s pitch of “low taxes, traditional family values, and a strong military” is only nine words. If you take out “a” and “and,” it’s seven. Does it even begin to address important policy questions like the environment, the judiciary, health care, the budget, and poverty? Not even a little.

But when the typical voter wants to know what the Republican Party is all about, the GOP has these nine words. The nation won’t necessarily hear these nine words and understand where the Republicans fall on every important policy question, but it’s a quick summary of what drives the party.

Of course, it doesn’t matter whether these ideas are good, fair, or even accurate; it’s about whether the Republicans have a coherent idea about guiding principles that they take to voters. They do. Dems are making progress — admitting you have a problem is always the first step — but I don’t think they’re there quite yet. I hope they keep trying.

Over a year ago, Kevin laid out a rough pitch for the left that read, “Equal rights, economic security, personal liberties, and protection from huge corporations.” Sure, that’s 11 words, but it’s clearly on the right track.