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Elevator Pitch

Good Ezra Klein pitch criticizing a Kos-ian proposal for a Democratic elevator pitch. The Prospect ran a contest a little while back asking readers to submit ideas for a liberal counter to the conservative pitch of "low taxes, traditional family values, and a strong military." We got a few good ones, but the results were pretty bad. Largely, as with the example Ezra takes down, the problem was that people didn't even seem to understand the right kind of thing to be doing. What makes the conservative pitch work is that while it's general enough to be broadly appealing, it's specific enough that liberals will have to reject it. The submissions we got tended to either operate at an overly-broad level ("we're for good things happening and against bad ones") or else to just be policy laundry-lists.

It's important to recognize that for these purposes you need an idea that conservatives would reject as a self-description. If you say, "we're for the middle class, not just the wealthy" conservatives will say, "no, we're for the middle class." You may think (correctly) that this is an inaccurate description of the consequences of conservatism, but it's not how conservatives see things. Liberals, on the other hand, really aren't for low taxes. And part of the genius is that we wouldn't say that we're exactly for high taxes either. We're for, you know, adequate taxes, given necessary expenditures. And we're not against a strong military, but we really don't think that military strength is the essence of wise foreign policy-making. We're not opposed to traditional families, but we're not exactly for them in a straightforward way. It's a hard pitch to reply to. Which is precisely the idea.

April 27, 2005 | Permalink


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How about this: No Gods, No Masters, Against All Authority.

I like it, it's catchy. You'll have some following and then, later, you could gently explain to them that you aren't really against Gods, masters or any authrity, but only for raising top tax bracket by 4.83%; and try using some really big words, like 'epistemologically'.

Who knows, it just may work.

Posted by: abb1 | Apr 27, 2005 1:34:05 PM

When were the Democrats the party of the "3 A's"*--1972? The battle lines really haven't shifted much since then.

Actually, though, the suggested slogan ("Party of people who work for a living") reminded me of the best (and possibly cruelest) Newt Gingrich quote ever--the Democrats are "the enemies of normal Americans."

*Amnesty, Acid and Abortion

Posted by: SamChevre | Apr 27, 2005 1:34:31 PM

Why don't we borrow from FDR for the elevator pitch?

Liberals are for freedom from want, freedom from fear, and something else (maybe transparent government?)(freedom from lobbyists?)(a balanced budget?)

Posted by: Katherine | Apr 27, 2005 1:42:51 PM


Posted by: theCoach | Apr 27, 2005 1:53:27 PM

Prosperity, Peace, Privacy.

Posted by: Hipocrite | Apr 27, 2005 1:56:01 PM

Personally, privacy is a more comlicated issue for me, but to does seem like a good wedge to drive into (R)s, although perhaps splintering the 1% of libertarian-leaning Republicans like Bellmore would not really do that much -- but the Presidential election is awfully close so everything counts.

Posted by: theCoach | Apr 27, 2005 2:00:04 PM

Oh, God, "elevator pitches" (as though anyone ever got sold anything on an elevator). Please, please, don't write those words again. If you could avoid the word "brand" I'd be grateful as well.

Posted by: ostap | Apr 27, 2005 2:02:21 PM

Yeah, both 'elevator pitch' and 'brand' sounds soo like a hacked combo of madison avenue and silicon valley venture capitalism that they really grate.

The more I think about this shorthand stuff, the less plausible all the alternatives are.

Maybe we should say we are for sensible government and leave it at that.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 27, 2005 2:10:12 PM

I think digby is pretty close

>>How about "fair taxes, a secure safety net, personal privacy, civil rights, and responsible global leadership?"

along with one of the comments about adding the environment.

Posted by: fasteddie | Apr 27, 2005 2:16:08 PM

Two bones to pick.

One is with Matt: Democratic support for "traditional families" is unequivocal. The difference from Republicans centers on the fact that this support is not EXCLUSIVELY for "traditional families." And perhaps that would be a good element of the "elevator pitch." Such as, "We support families of all kinds. Regardless of size, religion, race, and orientation. We want all kids to have parents who love and care for them."

Second is with most of the previous posters. It seems like all y'all ignored Matt's point that the elevator theme needs to distinguish the Dems from the Reps. Saying, "All babies should get food" does not help distinguish the two.

Posted by: storwino | Apr 27, 2005 2:20:18 PM

I'm with Katherine - FDR is still the source, and liberals need to get back in touch with why he was such an incredibly successful politician. Everything FDR did was based on the idea of fairness. The injustices of the gilded age were still pretty fresh in the minds of Americans in the early 1930. The good times of the 1920s to a certain extent took economic issues off the table. The crash, emerging depression and abject failures of the Hoover administration put them back on and shined a very bright light on the inequalities of the rich/poor class divide. Bank foreclosures and events like the forcible eviction of the Bonus Marchers – and their families - from D.C. reinforced the idea that the ruling class was more interested in protecting their own economic interests than they were in serving the interests of the public at large.

Kevin Drum makes a good point that the Democrats since FDR have managed to achieve 80% to 90% of the liberal wish list. So yes, liberals pretty much by default are going to be defending the status quo more than they are playing to and riding on a wave of ideology and passion as the GOP does today. Still, the elements are all in place right now for the Democrats to stake out a clearly defined brand based on FDR fairness principles. We believe in equality for all Americans. Every child has the right to a quality education and the opportunity for higher education. Every American has the right to quality healthcare and a secure retirement….

Just as important – as Matt points out – the brand needs to contrast sharply with what the republicans are selling. And with the passage of the bankruptcy bill, a woeful healthcare system, GOP attacks on social security and unfair attacks on judges, this kind of brand would do just that.

Posted by: pinson | Apr 27, 2005 2:29:14 PM

How about:

Democrats stand for everyone having an equal shot at building a good life for themselves.

Now consider Matt's "conservatives must reject the description" test:

1) You can't support estate tax repeal and simultaneously support equal opportunity. (Granted, true equal opportunity would imply 100% estate taxes, but at least the Democrats are closer to this ideal).

2) You can't be against health insurance for all children (e.g. Kerry's plan) and be for equal opportunity. Kids w/o health insurance are unfairly handicapped in the race of life.

3) You can't be for an education system where local property taxes supply a big chunk of funding and be for equal opportunity.

It doesn't capture everything liberals are for, but it's a start.

Preemptive strike against conservative rejoinder bringing up affirmative action: this comes down to a factual argument about whether affirmative action is necessary to level the playing field. So that debate is a debate on facts (i.e. what constitutes equal opportunity) not on the merits of the equal opportunity principle.

Posted by: Foo Bar | Apr 27, 2005 2:35:05 PM

"Low taxes, family first, strong military."

What's the problem? This is all liberal stuff. There is no duty to pay more than you owe is a famous liberal judicial ruling. Gay marraige is about family first. And who is against a strong military? This idea a 'strong military' has to come with a caveat is either foolish, or, hiding an anti military bias. "Low taxes, family first, a strong military in a secure world." What's to argue?

Problem is if someone's true slogan is "End patriarchy, and its corporate and military industrial complex property rights regime. Polymorphous perversity forever"
then, low taxes, family first, and a strong military in a secure word is not an option.

Posted by: razor | Apr 27, 2005 2:46:54 PM

How about "progressive taxes, universal health care, and academic freedom?"

Posted by: blogsy mcblog | Apr 27, 2005 2:55:32 PM

"We're all in this together."

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Apr 27, 2005 2:58:35 PM

Of course, to have "progressive taxes, universal health care, and academic freedom," as our elevator pitch, do we actually have to perpetually espouse these theories? According to these elevator pitches, Republicans have a perpetual use; reinging in spending with tax cuts. Two of the three pitch-policies that I suggest are perpetual, but "universal health care" is a one-shot deal, unless the conservatives are crazy enough to attempt to disturb an allocated benefit.

Posted by: blogsy mcblog | Apr 27, 2005 3:02:38 PM

Nah, 'academic freedom' is really going to excite the masses. You need to tone it down a bit.

Posted by: abb1 | Apr 27, 2005 3:19:10 PM

Leave taxes out of it. That'll never be a winning word for Dems. In the eyes of most people, I'm afraid you can't beat "lower taxes" (unless of course you want to advocate "no taxes").

I wouldn't worry about universal health care being a "one-shot deal". Once we've finally succeeded at scaling that mountain we can revise the slogan.

"Academic freedom" won't work for most of the populace outside of students and faculty. It also might conjure images of campus radicals.

How about Protecting Liberty, Cleaner Environment, Universal Health Care?

Posted by: Bragan | Apr 27, 2005 3:22:47 PM

Well I think the separation of church and state is an obvious one, as is economic security for all.

Politics of inclusion? Or dialogue and debate?

God, how much I would like there to be more dialogue in this country.

Posted by: At Home | Apr 27, 2005 3:24:37 PM

Here are a few slogans revolving around the idea that everyone who lives up to society's legitimate expectations should live decent lives:

"Decent people deserve decent lives."

"Liberty with Security" (as in Social Security)

"Free, Secure Lives for everyone who plays by the rules."

Posted by: Silver | Apr 27, 2005 3:25:14 PM

Or Safeguarding Liberty, Individual and Communal Health.

Posted by: Bragan | Apr 27, 2005 3:27:05 PM

Academic freedom!?! Reading these elevator pitch suggestions really does make it clear why democrats don't get elected.

Face it, Republicans have always been better at framing. What beats 'Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion' -- the three Democratic Rs, circa 1880. Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion? The Democrat creed, circa 1970.

The best retort Democratics ever came up with was 'God, Guns, and Gays" as a republican slogan circa 1990. And it didn't really work -- who's against God? Except maybe Nietzsche.

Posted by: Ikram | Apr 27, 2005 3:29:50 PM

"We're all in this together."

I'm finding this one tough to beat.

Posted by: J Wilson | Apr 27, 2005 3:35:28 PM

Public virtues, private rights.

Peace at home, dignity abroad.

Functional government.

Posted by: Uhu | Apr 27, 2005 3:39:21 PM

storwino, it is not really clear which posters you are picking a bone with, but as far as privacy goes, I think it is one of those buzzwords that goes along with abortion. Perhaps Right to Privacy would be more effective.

Posted by: theCoach | Apr 27, 2005 3:39:43 PM

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