Campaign Memo to the Democrats
The President. The single most important factor in every congressional election is the voters' job rating of the incumbent president, and Ronald Reagan has just had, politically, the two worst weeks of his presidency. On the Monday after the Friday when we learned that unemployment had reached its highest level since Franklin Roosevelt's second term, the president was seen on television speaking to a campaign crowd of Texas Republicans. The Texas Republicans, who are mostly richer than strawberry cheesecake, cheered the president's bulletin that the Dow Jones stock average had just passed the 1000 mark. But to Americans, worrying about losing their jobs or their homes, he might as well have been announcing a major breakthrough in solving "the servant problem."
For no apparent reason, Reagan seems to have decided this month to become the president of the Republican Party rather than what he had successfully been: the president of the United States who was Republican. Partly because he had been so free of any enemies lists or visible meanness, he has been better liked than some of his policies. But now Reagan takes a cheap personal shot at Speaker Tip O'Neill and implies that those who support a nuclear freeze are "com-symps." This abrupt change from Mr. Nice Guy to Dr. Nasty hurts Republicans and helps Democrats.
Social Security. Stop promising that there will be no changes or reductions in benefits. Give the voters credit; they already know that there are serious problems that demand serious remedies. Present the question this way: major changes are going to have to be made in the next two years. Whom do you want making those changes -- Democrats, who founded and have defended Social Security, or Republicans, who opposed it from the very beginning?
Keep it local. Democrats are a congressional party in 1982, not a presidential party with a national program. Democratic candidates should stress whatever local issues work for them and against their GOP opponents, consistent with their ethical codes and good taste. San Francisco Democrats will emphasize different legislative priorities from those of San Antonio Democrats.
In 1980, the Democratic Party held a majority of the congressional districts in the nine western states outside of California, but the Carter-Mondale ticket was able to carry only one district in those nine states. A party platform that called for "federally funded teacher centers in every state . . . which should address such issues as bi-lingual, multi-cultural, non-racist and non-sexist curricula" wasn't much help. "Local" won't do in the presidential year of 1984, but it's all there is this year.
Keep it positive. The president has sounded uncharacteristically negative this fall. The Democrats must be both positive and practical. On jobs, Rep. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) says it well: "More than four decades ago we rejected the idea that if people cannot find work they should starve. Now we face the choice of either paying people for doing nothing or paying them for being productive." There is much work to be done and willing Americans to do it.
Hang no more crepe. The message must be: "It doesn't have to be this way. We can do better."