One Good Lesson From 2014

So the DNC issued a nine-page report of “preliminary findings” from a “Democratic Victory Task Force” that acknowledges the terrible outcome in 2014 and identifies “a number of areas for further study.”

This modest document is already being invidiously compared by Republicans to their own mini-jumbo 100-plus-page “autopsy report” after their own 2012 debacle.

The DNC thing ain’t all that, but if I were a Republican, I don’t think I’d spend too much time reminding people of the 2012 “autopsy report,” since Republicans have spent a good deal of time ignoring if not defying its findings on non-technical, non-money issues, especially with respect to outreach to minority voters. There’s this famous passage, for example:

If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.

The GOP as a party has promptly moved in the direction of embracing forced deportation as an alternative to self-deportation. But whatever….

The one nugget in the DNC report that I found both valuable and amusing is this:

It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity). This lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party’s ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.

The Task Force recommends creating a National Narrative Project to work with party leaders, activists, and messaging and narrative experts to create a strong values-based national narrative that will engage, inspire and motivate voters to identify with and support Democrats.

I’m amused because I spent about a decade conducting “values-based messaging” training for state and local elected officials in a majority of the states. This was a program of the DLC that none of its critics much noticed, and that in the dozens of sessions I was involved in, never once elicited accusations of ideological heresy or “Republican Lite” tendencies, even among initially wary or even hostile groups. It basically taught people how to develop a message rooted in widely shared values and their own more specific, party-differentiating policy goals, in part to fight the tendency among Democrats to talk about programs first, not last. I’ll never forget one week in 2005 when I did training for state legislators in Alabama and Vermont, and both groups seemed to benefit equally.

Glad the DNC has caught up, though I hope they don’t think “values-based messaging” just means coming up with homey “narratives” of “real people.” Values-based messages are worthless if they aren’t authentic, so ultimately they have to be self-developed, not issued like military rations.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.