Hi there, here’s what you need to know for the week of March 18, 2022, in 9 minutes.


① Democrats' efforts to come up with a pithy sales pitch have flopped because the party's governing record is mixed at best, but at the same time they're unwilling to run against a fully degenerate Republican Party

② If they want to run on their record, with a slogan like "Democrats Deliver," they need to actually deliver while they still can

③ The alternative is to appeal to voters based on the real stakes of the midterms, which are about GOP corruption and sabotage, but to do that they'd actually have to meet Republicans on the battlefield

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Over the past couple weeks, Democrats in Congress and at the White House have been brainstorming ways to capitalize on a brief but sadly fleeting bump in President Biden’s approval ratings, and it led to a darkly amusing schism of the minds

The short version is, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Biden and his aides to develop a slogan for the party to use during the fall campaign, proposing her own favorite: Democrats Deliver. Unbeknownst to her, Biden's team had already poll tested that slogan among many others, and it was an embarrassing flop. Turns out there are bad ideas in a brainstorm!

But as long as it’s back to the drawing board, let’s talk through why Pelosi liked that slogan, why it does not land with voters, and where Democrats might look to find something that both resonates and has the advantage of being true. 


I don’t know exactly what process House Democrats (or maybe just Pelosi) used to come up with “Democrats Deliver,” but I’m not surprised about either the message or its poor reception. (In that sense, at least, Democrats did deliver.)

It's part of a familiar pattern: Unless some major initiative like the Affordable Care Act is at stake, Pelosi runs the House Democratic caucus for frontline members, and what they collectively imagine their political needs to be. And because they’re a timid, risk-averse bunch—members who represent a fair number of Trump supporters—they fear appealing to voters with even mildly controversial messages. “Democrats: Saving America” is a slogan I just invented that also happens to be true, but it implies America had to be rescued from dangerous Republicans, and is thus contentious and not something they’d embrace. “Democrats Deliver” is a way of claiming Democrats passed some bills that included policies that poll well, that will improve people’s lives, which should entitle them to another two years in power. 

I of course think it’s desperately important for Democrats to win another two years in power for reasons that have little to do with their legislative record, but if you’d ask me to guess how a random assortment of voters would react to “Democrats Deliver” I would’ve guessed “poorly.” If you asked me to guess how large a fraction of the electorate would respond well to it, I’d have said “maybe a third.”

A few reasons why: The biggest and least important is that about half of all voters already hate Democrats, and they'll laugh or recoil at just about any message that paints Democrats in a good light. Dems will hit a ceiling at about 50 percent no matter how cleverly they sloganeer. The more important explanation is that the message both feels untrue, and (unless you’re compulsively inclined to see the Democratic Party in the most generous possible light) is untrue as a matter of fact. 

Some large percent of persuadable voters will react with cognitive dissonance to Democrats Deliver because things just don’t seem that awesome. Democrats have not crushed the pandemic. They have created a jobs boom, but plenty of voters have seen their higher incomes swallowed by inflation, and other, luckier ones, are deafened by media and propaganda signals telling them that the economy is terrible. Oh, and there’s a war in Europe. How much of that stuff do Democrats want to claim to have delivered?

Meanwhile, a more sophisticated subset of voters might be sympathetic to the fact that leading Republicans made spreading coronavirus a top political priority; they might know that inflation will pass, and be a small price to pay long-run for the jobs and wages, which will stay. But they will have also borne witness as Democrats botched internal negotiations over Biden’s agenda, which then collapsed spectacularly, and failed to use their power to protect democracy, women's rights, or anything else under assault from the right. That stuff is probably important to them! And asking them to rally around the slogan “Democrats Deliver” probably strikes them as a bit insulting, almost like gaslighting. 

Add it all up, and you’ve got a slogan that, without doing more work, speaks only to the most loyal Democrats in the country. Generously, a third of voters. 


Now, just because people don’t buy it under current circumstances, doesn’t make it irredeemably bad. Democrats might still get it together to pass a rebranded version of the Build Back Better Act. The inflation rate could drop, the war in Ukraine could end, the price of gas could fall, the Omicron wave(s?) could prove to be our offramp from the pandemic. By September “Democrats Deliver” might seem pretty ingenious. 

But it’s just as likely that none of that will happen. Then layered on top of the status quo, we’re likely to see the Supreme Court eliminate the right to abortion, and gut the federal government’s power to regulate global-warming pollution. And when those opinions land, Democrats will be unable to respond in any substantive way.

Obviously, I’d like to see Democrats make “Democrats Deliver” a defensible slogan. Do it for Pelosi! Pass the bulk of Biden’s agenda; step in to protect Americans from the rogue Supreme Court, even if that means abolishing the filibuster; defend democracy. Do all that, and suddenly the election becomes an obvious choice: the party that built back better, or the party that tried to keep things worse? The party that saved the right to abortion, or the party that tried to eliminate it? The party that respects the choices people make with their votes, or the party that tries to steal elections, including with violence?

But since little or none of that appears to be in the offing, Democrats will need a sales pitch that isn’t self-discrediting to a majority of the electorate. And unfortunately for those squeamish frontline members, all of those hypothetical messages will be combative.


“Democrats Deliver” was devised to be as safely non-contentious as possible; it’s 100 percent “we’re good” zero percent “they’re bad.” And that’s why it’s a poor match for a historical moment of enormous uncertainty, during which Democrats were unable to deliver the core of their agenda, but Republican attacks on the country’s pluralist majority continued almost unabated. If a Democratic trifecta couldn’t stop the tide of right-wing minority rule as it mowed over our most cherished liberties, how can Democrats claim to have delivered, and what good would re-electing them do?

Well, as it happens, it would do a lot of good, but not in a way that “Democrats Deliver” conveys. 

As I’ve written recently, looming Supreme Court decisions might present an opportunity for Democrats to level with voters: We can’t restore the right to abortion unless we keep the House and gain two Senate seats, so please, please vote to give us those things. I don’t know how to whittle that appeal down to a pithy slogan, but by definition it can’t be one that declares victory, or writes the harms Republicans have done out of the equation. And, of course, Democrats would have to be willing to make the promise. 

That boils down the challenge. This isn’t a presidential election; if it were Democrats could probably just point to Donald Trump and most voters would know exactly whom to vote for and why. Under current circumstances, they’re going to need to be able to point to good things they would do, or bad things they would prevent or undo, if they keep their concurrent majorities, and they can’t do that by pointing backward to their mixed record of advancing bread-and-butter legislative initiatives in this Congress.  

That’s why a kitchen-table issue campaign, even a combative one, will be evasive of or oblivious to the real flashpoints in American politics. For instance, this new ad from Alex Lasry is worthy for painting Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) as an extremist. 

But! But, but, but… In reality, the main consequences of divided government will not center around which economic policy bills become law. We’ll go from the status quo of Biden not signing progressives bills that never pass to a bold future of him vetoing right-wing bills that do pass. Or, perhaps, not signing right-wing bills that don’t pass.

Ron Johnson absolutely wants to repeal Obamacare and tax the poor, and phase out Social Security and Medicare, and voters deserve to know all that. But in the unlikely event that Republicans take both the House and Senate and pass bills to do those things on a partisan basis, Biden will just veto them, with panache. Democrats have been giddy since Johnson admitted he still wants to repeal Obamacare, and since Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) released the new GOP agenda of soaking poor and retired people. But Democrats have run on health-care, against regressive right-wing economic policy, in every midterm since Obamacare passed, and it succeeded only once, in 2018, when Republicans had actually come within a hair’s breadth of repealing Obamacare, and probably would’ve if they’d retained their majorities. The same strategy got Democrats crushed, twice, in 2010 and 2014 when the threat to health care was abstract. Even though Republicans at the time were foaming at the mouth about Obamacare, and Paul Ryan was brandishing a GOP agenda every bit as radical as Rick Scott’s. 

What actually will change if Republicans control Congress? For starters, they’ll engage in reckless procedural brinkmanship, taking hostages like appropriations deadlines and the debt limit, and using them to mug Biden who (if he learned anything at all from 2009 - 2016) won’t negotiate with them. It isn’t “policy” that makes the case for Democrats, it’s a tried and true Republican commitment to harming America when the president is a Democrat for political gain. They will launch bad-faith investigations or even impeachment inquiries (over Hunter Biden, or whatever the new Benghazi happens to be in 2023) and, most critically, they will gain the power to steal the next election. 

“Democrats Deliver” doesn’t speak to any of that. Neither does picking apart a GOP policy agenda that Republicans will simply lie about and claim they don’t support. To clarify the stakes for voters, short of a new slogan, Democrats could subpoena Kevin McCarthy and other congressional Republicans who possess evidence about Trump’s failed coup; when they resist the subpoenas Dems could run a “WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?!” campaign about the urgency of defeating a party that would coverup crimes and corruption. But in the real world, Democrats have reportedly taken that option off the table. They could devote more investigative resources to more Republican corruption scandals, and haul Merrick Garland up to the Hill to explain why two Trump-loyal prosecutors held over from Bill Barr’s DOJ have been given free rein to harass Democrats and their families for the purposes of creating propaganda for the GOP, while the statutes of limitations on Trump’s crimes lapse, and others go uninvestigated. 

Boiling that all down to a slogan may or may not be necessary. I don’t claim to know, and if asked to give it real thought, I’m not sure I could do better than “Saving America.” But that is the true ground of contestation between the parties at the moment, and Democrats will struggle to come up with a worthy rallying cry as long as they're scared to take the field. 

Speaking of contestation, as the political world tries to cover itself in Volodymyr Zelensky’s heroism, it might behoove Democrats to remind everyone that Donald Trump criminally extorted him by withholding weapons just two-and-a-half years ago, and every Republican except for Mitt Romney thought that was ok. 

Speaking of things Democrats should get their act together over: Pandemic funding?!

Here’s an idea: Impeach Clarence Thomas.

Here’s Kevin McCarthy defending Putin [checks watch] one week ago. 

This is insane

Watch this

For some reasons, Democrats granted earmarks to Republican House members who never committed to voting for the underlying bill

You will never forget this

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