New Democracy Mission and Strategy
New Democracy is a “home base” and support network for pragmatic Democratic leaders – governors, mayors, state officials and Members of Congress. Its mission is to expand the party’s appeal across Middle America and make Democrats competitive everywhere.
To this end, New Democracy pursues a three-part strategy:
- Convening elected leaders to develop an innovative governing platform for Democrats in 2018 and 2020.
- Supporting candidates for local, state and federal office who can win in places Democrats have been losing.
- Organizing a grassroots network of citizen allies for pragmatic Democratic leaders, ideas and candidates.
The Democrats’ Challenge
Following successive midterm blowouts, the Democrats’ loss of the White House leaves Republicans dominant in national as well as state politics. Democratic strength is confined to big cities and coastal states. In between stretches the continental expanse of a Middle America that’s red now but is desperate for new ideas and new leadership.
Democratic weakness is a problem for our country, not just our party. The fusion of Donald Trump’s demagogic nationalism and extreme, Tea Party conservatism threatens to derail America’s economic progress, deepen our social divisions and imperil our national security.
That’s why rectifying today’s dangerous imbalance of political power must be Democrats’ top priority. It’s clear that Barack Obama’s impressive presidential victories masked an underlying erosion of the party’s strength. Since 2000, the party’s electoral appeal has narrowed steadily, demographically and geographically. We have traded intensity of support among minorities, millennials, single women and secular voters for breadth of support across the whole electorate.
Having sleepwalked into minority party status, Democrats can’t win simply by “energizing” a base that’s not big enough. To lead America, we must expand the party.
Democrats are united in our resolve to resist the Trump Republicans’ assaults on the nation’s democratic institutions and norms, and basic standards of honesty and civility. But opposition alone won’t build durable Democratic majorities. That will take a positive governing vision that reaches beyond core partisans and gives moderate and independent voters something to say “yes” to.
The road to new Democratic majorities runs through the places we are losing – the outer suburbs and exurbs, smaller cities and towns and rural areas of America’s vast red interior. The party’s Washington establishment has yet to develop a plausible strategy for winning on this competitive terrain. We should look instead to Democrats who win elections and govern in America’s red and purple zones. Their successes highlight the kind of problem-solving pragmatism and crossover appeal that can help Democrats regain competitiveness everywhere.
Along with fresh faces, Democrats urgently need fresh thinking. Now is not the time to enforce narrow dogmas or suppress debate about new and different ways to fix what’s broken in our society. There’s a precedent for this free-thinking approach. In the early 1990s, at another dark moment for the party, elected Democrats launched a systematic effort to modernize the party’s governing outlook. That paved the way for Bill Clinton to synthesize new ideas and traditional party values into the winning “New Democrat” message of the 1990s.
Now as then, elected Democrats are best equipped to broaden the party’s base. Unlike party consultants, interest groups and ideologues, they have to face actual voters who often want contradictory things and rarely display philosophical constancy. These pragmatic Democratic leaders need room to maneuver, not purity tests and threats to “primary” incumbents who deviate from left-wing orthodoxy.
From FDR to JFK, from Clinton to Obama, Democrats have won by being open, inclusive and respectful of differences within a broad, heterogeneous coalition. It’s time for Democrats to pitch another big tent.
Where We Stand
Democrats have many electoral assets. Voters trust the party more on important issues like health care, education and environmental protection, civil rights and standing up for the middle class. We should build on these strengths, but bringing new voters into our coalition also requires facing and fixing some basic electoral liabilities.
New Democracy will focus on four strategic imperatives for rebuilding progressive majorities:
- Bridge America’s cultural divide
- Reclaim economic hope and progress
- Restore trust in government
- Close the security gap
- Bridge the cultural divide
Our society has fractured along fault lines of race, education and place. The economic fortunes of the best- and least-educated Americans have diverged sharply as we’ve moved into an economy that puts a premium on knowledge and cognitive skills. Citizens in rural areas and small towns increasingly seem to inhabit a different moral universe than city dwellers. Republicans are the worst offenders, but both parties have indulged in a civically corrosive form of identity politics.
To enlarge their appeal, Democrats must work harder to transcend these class and cultural divisions. For many working class and rural voters, the party’s message seems freighted with elite condescension for traditional values (especially faith) and lifestyles. What’s more, these families hear little in the national party’s economic message that seems aimed at their aspirations and struggles. That’s why Democrats should embrace a big national push to drive innovation and jobs to the people and places left behind by economic change.
It’s a mistake, however, to assume that we can reach these voters with economics alone, no matter how much we crank up the populist volume. We also have to avoid vilifying people whose social views aren’t as “progressive” as we think they should be. Listening, reasoning, empathizing and searching for common ground is integral to a new politics of persuasion.
So is putting more emphasis on the “unum” of our national motto, celebrating the shared ideals that unite Americans and help us turn our differences into strengths. On immigration, for example, Democrats should stick to their guns in supporting a humane path to legalization. But we also should take seriously public concerns about the breakdown of public order and the impact of low-skill immigrants on native workers’ jobs and pay.
Most important, we need to engage voters where they live and refrain from writing any off. Even in the toughest places, rural communities and small towns, Democrats should show up and make our case. Practically speaking, we don’t need to convert GOP-leaning voters en masse, just win enough on the margins to tip elections our way.
- Reclaim economic hope and progress
Rather than compete with Trump in telling working people how miserable they are, Democrats need a more hopeful story about the new economy we want to build. That story would go something like this: We are well into an historic transformation from an industrial to a knowledge economy. Shaped largely by American ingenuity and technological prowess, the knowledge economy holds the promise of better, more interesting jobs for ourselves and our children. But as we also know, automation will make many existing jobs obsolete, and it’s clear that a knowledge economy requires higher levels and skills to get and hold middle class jobs.
Trump promises to slow or block economic change and try to “bring back” yesterday’s factory jobs. Our answer should be to spur more economic innovation to create new jobs and to raise productivity and wages so that working families can share in a new era of American prosperity. This will require big changes in public policy: pro-growth tax reform; lowering regulatory obstacles to innovation and entrepreneurship; fiscal policies that favor investment over consumption; balanced energy policies that deliver high employment and lower carbon emissions; an open and globally connected economy; and, a robust new system for upskilling workers that does not require four-year college degrees.
Democrats should seize the high ground of economic aspiration and upward mobility. Rather than centering on economic victimhood and business-bashing, our narrative should inspire confidence in power of a free people to innovate, reinvent their economy and adopt progressive policies to equip everyone to get ahead in the knowledge age.
- Restore trust in government
Only one-fifth of Americans have confidence in the federal government’s ability to help them solve their problems, down from 80% in the 1960s. The implications for Democrats are huge: Even when voters approve of our policy goals, they are deeply skeptical of the means by which we propose to achieve them.
It’s hard to say they are wrong. Washington is mired in bureaucratic bloat as well as political dysfunction. Unfortunately, the Obama years were a missed opportunity to use new technologies to modernize the vast federal apparatus and move it toward higher performance.
As polarization has nearly paralyzed our national government, and as ponderous federal bureaucracies fail to deal with the quickened pace of life in the digital age, Americans increasingly are looking to local governments to get things done.
Thanks to the genius of American federalism, metro America has become the nation’s epicenter of economic dynamism and public sector innovation. Mayors and metro coalitions are spurring investment in new jobs and businesses; pioneering public-private partnerships to build modern infrastructure; investing in clean energy, and laying the foundations for driverless vehicles; using technology to cut through bureaucratic barriers and empower low-income people directly; and, by ushering in a new, 21st Century model for public schools.
This suggests an exciting opportunity for Democrats to “go local.” After a century of concentrating power in Washington, Democrats can surprise voters by launching a systematic effort to push decisions and resources to local leaders. With a new vision of “progressive federalism,” we can align our ideas for solving problems with the level of government where democracy still seems to work and where citizens trust their elected representatives.
- Close the security gap
On questions of personal and national security, Republicans have long held the advantage. The public sees Republicans as better able to protect us from terrorism, and also gives the GOP the edge on keeping our military strong, patriotism and law and order. Democrats lead on “foreign policy,” but voters doubt our resolve should diplomacy fail.
It’s time for our party to confront and close this security confidence gap. That means putting security first in thought and deed. During our 2016 national convention, not one speaker mentioned national security on the first day. The issue is also conspicuously absent from Congressional leaders new “Better Deal” agenda. If we don’t talk about security, we can hardly be surprised if voters don’t think it’s a top priority.
Fortunately, President Trump’s half-baked “America First” nationalism creates big openings for our party. The administration has gratuitously alienated and alarmed our allies by questioning the value of the Atlantic Alliance. The president himself has shown a weird affinity for Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other thuggish autocrats. He has railed ignorantly against one of the greatest achievements of America’s international leadership: the construction of a rules-based trade system that has underpinned an unprecedented surge in global prosperity.
All this presents Democrats with ripe targets of opportunity. We should affirm not only the strategic value of our alliances, but also the animating principle of liberal internationalism – that a freer world is a safer world for America. Our party should stand resolutely against the tide of illiberal nationalism that is sweeping and destabilizing the world. We should give no quarter to Islamist terrorists who threaten our citizens and those of other civilized countries. And Democrats should lose no opportunity to demonstrate our resolve to keep our armed forces strong and qualitatively superior to those of potential adversaries.