What Created the Populist Explosion and How Democrats Can Avoid the Shrapnel in November
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On every one of these issues, a strong populist message trounces anything the other side can say. But Democrats need to play offense. They need to take up-or-down votes on bill after bill, including those they expect the other side to block, knowing that every one of those votes has the leverage of a campaign ad behind it. They need to change the narrative from what sounds to the average American like a whiny and impotent one -- "the Republicans won't let us do it" -- to a narrative of strength in numbers shared with their constituents. And they need to make every election a choice between two well-articulated approaches to governance -- and to offer their articulation of both sides' positions and values.
That leads to a final point. What Democrats have needed to offer the American people is a clear narrative about what and who led our country to the mess in which we find ourselves today and a clear vision of what and who will lead us out. That narrative would have laid a roadmap for our elected officials and voters alike, rather than making each legislative issue a seemingly discrete turn onto a dirt road. That narrative might have included -- and should include today -- some key elements: that if the economy is tumbling, it's the role of leadership and government to stop the free-fall; that if Wall Street is gambling with our financial security, our homes, and our jobs, true leaders do not sit back helplessly and wax eloquent about the free market, they take away the dice; that if the private sector can't create jobs for people who want to work, then we'll put Americans back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and schools; that if Big Oil is preventing us from competing with China's wind and solar energy programs, then we'll eliminate the tax breaks that lead to dysfunctional investments in 19th century fuels and have a public-private partnership with companies that will create the clean, safe fuels of the 21st century and the millions of good American jobs that will follow.
That's what Democrats stand for. It's time they said it.
Drew Westen, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University, founder of Westen Strategies, and author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.