PHILADELPHIA – Democrats’ new message on America’s economic recovery is: We told you so, and we’re going to keep telling you so.
The economy is rebounding on nearly every front, even if the middle class still needs help, and it’s time to tell that story loudly, top Democrats say. That’s the key to reversing their midterm election setbacks, according to a host of House Democrats, President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden, all of whom came to Philadelphia this week for pep talks and strategy sessions.
“Democrats have to stand up, you’ve got to explain what we did,” Biden said to loud applause Friday. “Be proud of it… We can’t let the Republican Party rewrite history.”
Obama said much the same the night before. “The record shows we were right” the president said, referring to the 2009 stimulus, the bank and auto industry bailouts, and other strategies to pull out the great recession of 2008.
If the Democrats’ were so right, reporters asked, why did Republicans clobber them in the 2014 midterm elections? Poor messaging, top Democrats said, which must be remedied.
It might be wishful thinking, of course. Even Obama jokingly warned how hard it will be to overcome the Republicans’ 58-seat House majority in next year’s elections.
He said youthful, dark-haired Rep. Ben Lujan of New Mexico — newly named to head their 2016 House campaigns — will end up with “hair like Steve Israel.” Israel, a New York congressman who preceded Lujan, is fully grey.
Israel’s new role is to oversee messaging for House Democrats. He told reporters his colleagues will stick to their well-known priorities: a higher minimum wage, tax increases on the rich, advancing the president’s health care law and other measures largely associated with Obama.
This time, they’re counting on Obama’s rising popularity — and fading headlines on Ebola and terrorist beheadings — to help persuade voters they’d be better off with a Democratic-run Congress.
Israel acknowledged that Democrats talked a lot about the middle class in last fall’s elections. But world calamities distracted voters, he said, and Democrats failed to show that their economic policies would directly benefit working-class families.
Riffing on a campaign line from presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, Israel said the Democrats’ new theme will be, “It’s MY economy, stupid.”
Republicans scoff at Democrats’ talk of better messaging. “Updating the packaging doesn’t help if the product is still lousy,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Republicans say huge numbers of Americans dislike the president’s signature health care overhaul. Israel, by contrast, says only the “tea party base” strongly opposes it.
In a sense, both are right, which is why skilful framing and messaging are crucial to campaigns. Polls show that many Americans like key details of the health law, such as guaranteed insurance for people with pre-existing medical problems. The law’s overall image is less popular, however, especially when it’s portrayed as a big-government mandate.
Democrats groused about Obama’s poor approval ratings last November, and most in tight elections kept him away. Now that jobs, the stock market and the president’s popularity are rising, however, they’re more content to acknowledge their ties to him.
“He’s our messenger in chief,” Israel said.
Some friction is inevitable, however, especially on trade. Obama wants authority to negotiate trade deals with minimal congressional interference, while many House Democrats oppose new trade pacts.