Washington -- Two weeks after I wrote a post suggesting the Democratic Party should offer the country a "Decent Deal," its leaders rolled out a "Better Deal." The Better Deal, unfortunately, still needs work.
It's not all bad. In explaining the Better Deal, Senator Charles Schumer warned against defining its economic proposals in ideological terms. This is crucial; Democrats don't need internal ideological fights when the country is in mortal danger.* In her pitch, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi even mentioned agriculture and the struggles of farmers. Imagine that! What's next, an actual Democratic initiative to address rural America? Good for her.
But the Democrats' Better Deal, in focusing on economic issues, sidesteps those who (accurately, in my opinion) say that as far as winning future elections is concerned, "it's the culture, stupid." Democrats are not going to win back states where its brand, rightly or wrongly, has become cultural poison, even if its economic program makes all the sense in the world.
This is why a Decent Deal beats a Better Deal, because it introduces a cultural positive that is badly needed and will attract voters who are looking for decency in a time of cultural vulgarity and obscenity.
What else might Democrats offer to make their brand more acceptable again, especially to voters who went for Obama in 2008 only to go for Trump in 2016?
• Offer old-fashioned patriotism. Because the country as we know it is in danger of losing its institutions (even the rule of law itself) it's time for a little more flag-waving in support of the institutions that made America the country it is. Hand out those pocket-sized Constitutions. Become the party of patriotism, as contrasted with nationalism.
• Offer more veterans as candidates. Millions of veterans are Democrats. Recruit them to run for office. Did they risk their lives only to see their country turn its back on the principles veterans fought to uphold? Democracy, human rights, the four freedoms anyone?
• Offer a culture of charity and service. Democrats need to emphasize how important they consider citizens' charitable works and community service, and to structure their programs and messages accordingly. Too often Democrats are mis-characterized as believing only in big federal programs, driving away people who believe in and even define themselves in terms of their charity and service work. Democrats could turn around many voters who are eager to associate with a party that honors and promotes charity, service, and decency.
• Offer a refuge from single-issue voting appeals. Many voters may be ready in coming elections to resist appeals from interest groups that focus on a single issue, like guns or abortion. If they have lost their health insurance and are standing in line for hours to see a volunteer doctor in a make-shift tent, as in a third-world country, they may not be taking much consolation that they are packing heat during the wait. Democrats should actively welcome support from voters who may not want to change their positions on certain issues but who are ready to put all issues into perspective. They may be ready to vote for a party that does not beat them up with single-issue, cultural litmus tests.
• Offer a culture of respect for working families who live by the sweat of their brows. Historically, these are the people who made the Democratic party the party of the people. It's time to re-embrace that culture.
So far, the Democrats' Better Deal suggests a few good ideas on the economy, but does not offer much by way of making the party more attractive culturally to voters who have abandoned it. That needs to change.
* V.O. Key taught us, or at least some of us, that successful political parties organize pragmatically in America to win elections; they are not interest groups that focus on certain issues or ideological organizations operating in parliamentary government systems.