Democrats are so, so bad at this
“Supreme Corp.”! “Make America Sick Again”! The party’s messaging is an atrocity, and it won’t get any better until Pelosi and Schumer are gone.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that public-sector employees who are represented by unions in collective bargaining can’t be obligated to pay dues to those unions. Legal observers say that decision, in Janus v. AFSCME, could presage a similar ruling regarding private-sector unions. More broadly, Janus was a stark victory for the 1 percent, underlining a decades-long trend of working- and middle-class wage stagnation. It was the kind of development liable to outrage both politically engaged liberals and politics-averse but pocketbook-conscious swing voters. It was, in other words, a potentially catalyzing moment for the Democratic Party, a chance to make the case for the practical necessity of progressivism in clear and stirring terms during a crucial election year.
Presented with this opportunity, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi … did not rise to the occasion. “With this decision,” she said at a press conference, “the Supreme Court became the Supreme Corp.”
“That’s as in short for corporation,” she added helpfully. It’s a play on words! Woof.
“Supreme Corp.” is not the only egregious Democratic messaging swing-and-miss in recent memory. The most high-stakes such failure may have occurred in 2016’s first general-election presidential debate, when Hillary “Pokémon Go to the Polls” Clinton made laborious work of introducing a disparaging catchphrase for Donald Trump’s economic plan—”Trumped-up trickle-down”—that, suffice it to say, did not actually become a catchphrase. This foreshadowed Democratic efforts at Trump-related wordplay that continue to this day and have a collective batting average of .000. Senate Dems’ painfully awkward slogan during the Obamacare repeal battle, “Make America Sick Again,” was if anything a reminder of how Trump is way better at this stuff. (Relatedly, in May, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued that the president’s tariff policies would “make China great again” and that they demonstrate “the art of a bad deal.”) Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, riffed on the repeal bill’s “Trumpcare” nickname by suggesting it should instead be called “Trump doesn’t care.” (Zing!) In June, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Patty Murray wrote that “as a candidate, President Trump talked a big game on lowering drug prices, but after 500 days in office the only health care ‘Price’ he has dropped is his former Secretary.” That would be ex-Trump administration Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Hey-o! Barf.
Two years into the Trump presidency, the prominent Democrats who are called upon most frequently to speak on the party’s behalf about our many national crises—Pelosi, Schumer, other high-ranking legislators, the officials and surrogates of the Democratic National Committee—seem congenitally incapable of communicating in a way that is not beside the point and laden with clichés. This is in and of itself not totally crippling to the party’s electoral chances—there’s a lot that goes into messaging besides catchy sound bites. The toothlessness of establishment Dems is even somewhat understandable, given the way Pelosi, Schumer, and others came of age in an era in which the deployment of cautious, folksy rhetoric was a winning strategy. But it seems at least worth considering that, in 2018, being more direct, more aggressive, and more not-world-historically-lame—being, say, more like Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who concisely and virally said during a debate with his opponent Ron DeSantis that “I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist”—could help the party rally supporters, establish a rapport with new voters, frame news coverage in advantageous ways, and, like, actually win elections for once…