Democrats watching GOP train wreck miss branding opportunity of their own

In a way, the impact of the Tea Party on the GOP brand is analogous to an old westernImage movie.The GOP brand is the train, the GOP leadership is the engineer in the driver’s seat, and the Tea Party is the outlaw who – having gained access to the engine – is fighting with the engineer for control. As the train tops the pass and begins down the grade, the train picks up dangerous speed, while the fight in the locomotive continues. Ahead lies the big turn and certain disaster…

And where are the Democrats in this scenario? They own the competing railroad, but like onlookers mesmerized by the unfolding drama, they appear to be unable to realize and act on the opportunity before them. Now is the time for the Dems to reinforce their value proposition and call attention to the differences between themselves and the competition. Now is the time to refresh their messaging, get creative and break free of the boxes in which they have allowed themselves to be placed.

For instance, it seems to me that the Dems have allowed the GOP to declare itself the more “Christian” party, based on its members’ opposition to abortion. Yet while making this claim, the GOP mounts ever increasing attacks on the safety net programs that may break the poverty cycle for the very children they would force to be born into such hopeless situations. A pro-birth stance does not mean the same thing as pro-life. While the Tea Party attempts to remove all rights to abortion, the democrats have an opportunity to redefine the debate as to which party is more committed to the civil rights, liberties and quality of life of its citizens, not just the embryo’s right to gestate. Not that I recommend the Dems seek to identify themselves as “Christian,” but rather to point out the obvious hypocrisy in the GOP platform. It may not make any difference in the long run – such is the nature of the true believer – but it may sway some of the more questioning members of faith.

Another box from which the Dems must escape is that of fiscal irresponsibility, you know – the tax and spend label – the big government label. What an opportunity to pin the donkey’s tail on the nose of the elephant! The “no new taxes” crowd would have you believe our society is on its knees, toiling under the yoke of oppressive taxation, when the fact is our grandparents and parents paid more in taxes as a percentage of income than we do today. No new taxes is an irresponsible fiscal policy. It guarantees that, as in the instance of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we go into debt when we have to mount any kind of initiative – military or otherwise. It guarantees that our interstate highway system, air travel, legal and research infrastructure – all those things that benefit our entire society – crumble and gradually breakdown. Sooner, rather than later, we will pay for the deferred maintenance, and a much higher price. Now is the time for Dems to show the public the real cost of this policy, and add fiscal responsibility to their brand attributes.

Last, I see a real opportunity for the Dems to call attention to “leadership” as central to their brand promise. While it has been an ugly 8 years and not without missteps, the Affordable Care Act serves as the latest in a string of legislative victories that have moved our nation to address problems that held us back morally or economically. Whether it was Roosevelt’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society, or Obamacare, each can claim to have addressed a problem within our society, while those who fought against these changes offered little in the way of alternatives. Leading means having a vision of a better tomorrow and identifying a means to get there. Simply put, if the GOP is the party of the status quo, the Dems are the party of change. The clock cannot be turned back. Time does not stand still. One thing we can be sure of is that returning to the policies of the past is no way to answer the demands of the future. This is a key point. The future will have new demands, and the nation must recognize that it is not prepared for them. Now is the time for the Dems to own this value proposition and feature it loud and proud in their branding.

In the rough and tumble environment of big business, when one’s opponent stumbles, you don’t stand there gawking and shaking your head. You seize the moment to serve his customers and invite a comparison of how well you meet their requirements. Back to the slow-motion train wreck analogy, if I were the Dems, I would be touting my safety record and offering discounted fares!

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