The ten-word challenge

A slogan for the Democrats:
Honest, competent, Constitutional government to defend the country, families, liberty, and the environment.

Steve Benen wonders:

Is it possible, as Tom Vilsak proposes, to create a ten-word phrase to define what Democrats are about, to compete with the Republican “low taxes, traditional family values, and a strong military”?

Ezra Klein doubts it can be done; governing a big country is more complicated than that. Kevin Drum thinks the problem is that most of the Democrats’ basic work is already done. But I’m not so sure. The trick is to pack lots of implicit meaning into each word.

Ten words is a tough limit. Bu how about thirteen words? In particular, how about:

Honest, competent, Constitutional government to defend the country, families, liberty, and the environment.

“Honest” covers both the corruption issue and the need for the government to tell the truth and act on the truth.

“Competent” refers to pictures of an unreconstructed New Orleans.

“Constitutional” reminds the voters of the abuse of power that has characterized the Congress since the 1994 elections and the Executive Branch since the 2000 elections.

“Defending the country” means challenging the Bushite failures in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and homeland security.

Most of the progressive economic agenda can fit under “defending families.”

“Defending liberty” address both the domestic-spying issue and the threat from politicized fundamentalism.

“Protecting the environment” addresses the one public issue where the Republicans’ subservience to corporate interests forces them to do things voters really, really dislike. Unfortunately, the Democrats’ subservience to the UAW and the Mineworkers has kept us from pushing this advantage as hard as it ought to be pushed. But dirty air and unsafe drinking water are profoundly unpopular, and the Republicans are stuck being for them. Democrats need to be loudly and insistently against them. (Global warming and the “tree-hugger” issues — protecting wilderness, wetlands, and biodiversity — are all things I strongly care about, but the swing voters not so much.)

At a pinch, one could drop “Constitutional” or “competent” and “the environment” and get it down to ten:

Honest, competent government to defend the country, families, and liberty.

By comparison’s with Karl Rove and his red-state Leninists, Democrats tend to be weak on “message discipline.” But this is, it seems to me, a project worth pushing. If we don’t figure out something to say so often all of the activists are insanely bored with it, we can’t expect our message to get through at all to the largest voting bloc in America: those who mostly ignore politics.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: