By Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 29/04/06):
AMERICANS have clearly had enough of the Bush administration’s record: 7 in 10 say the nation is headed in the wrong direction. But with the 2006 Congressional elections fast approaching, Democrats must not get so irrationally exuberant that they lapse into old, bad habits.
In January, President Bush’s adviser Karl Rove outlined the issues he believes will lead Republican candidates to victory in November: national security, the economy and taxes, and the courts. Democrats cannot allow Republicans to define the terms of the debate. Instead, they should take a page from history and from a different Karl.
In 1946, Karl Frost, an advertising executive, suggested a simple slogan to the Massachusetts Republican Committee: “Had Enough? Vote Republican!” Frost recognized that these simple words could unite his national party and blame its opponents, who controlled Congress, for causing or failing to solve the many problems facing the country, including meat shortages, economic difficulties and labor unrest. The strategy worked: in 1946, both houses of Congress flipped.
Sixty years later, Democrats would be smart to turn Karl Frost’s slogan on Karl Rove’s strategy.
“Had Enough? Vote Democratic!” is a slogan that spotlights the many mistakes in Iraq, the mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina and the mangling of fiscal responsibility with “bridges to nowhere.” Indeed, you can see and hear Democratic candidates rallying their voters at Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners with a passionate and rhythmic chorus:
“The administration said Iraqis would greet us with roses as liberators, yet our soldiers are attacked with homemade bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. Had Enough? Vote Democratic.
“The administration said it was prepared for a hurricane in New Orleans, yet our government’s feeble response prompted Bangladesh to offer us $1 million in aid. Had Enough? Vote Democratic!
“The administration said it would bring competency to our federal budget, yet our nation faces catastrophic deficits. Had Enough? Vote Democratic!”
And if you want to fire up the base, you can string together references to Jack Abramoff, Abu Ghraib and the Dubai ports deal. “Had Enough?” works well on classic campaign materials like buttons and bumper stickers while its simplicity makes it a cinch to “go viral” on the Internet.
“Had enough?” will speak to both Democrats and disillusioned Republicans. Liberals can use “Had Enough?” to reach out to voters enraged over the incompetent management of Iraq. Moderates might use “Had Enough?” to persuade swing voters on fiscal issues. And the implicit rejection of neoconservative politics will appeal to all voters who seek to spurn tainted Republican candidates.
“Had Enough?” also pre-empts Democrats’ worst habits. Too often we’ve made campaigns complicated and policy-heavy. We love to unveil 40-page position papers and wonky diagrams. “Had Enough?” clears a broad path through such minutiae. “Public sentiment is everything,” Abraham Lincoln said 150 years ago. “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”
Karl Frost’s simple words can serve as the cavalry charge to help win the coming electoral battles — something Democrats are in an incredibly strong position to do. But make no mistake: new ideas matter. Democrats will also need the artillery of a disciplined, focused set of core proposals to complement their criticism of Republican excesses.
As we head into the midterm elections, Democrats should finally understand, as Lincoln and Frost did before, that you must win the majority before you can make public policy.