What are our values as Florida Democrats?

imageReading “Will the Florida Democratic Party Return To Relevance,” while getting settled-in at the Florida Democratic Party Leadership Blue Conference, it leapt out at me that the root of what ails us as a party are issues of trust and credibility. And, these problems stem from our inability to assert a consistent value set, which is why groups like the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida are gaining traction. It’s past time to have this conversation about values.

Any good marketing professional will tell you that when we’re doing branding we’re really defining values. If they’re really good at their job, they’ll be honest and let you know that you can’t fix a tarnished brand with new logos and websites. Instead, we need to get serious about what it means to be a Democrat in state, local and national contexts. We have to address issues of authenticity, and credibility because these are central to buillding trust back into our party.

When Kartik points out that we’re plagued by inauthentic rhetoric, and that we refuse to put forth a vision in a positive message, he’s showing how we’re failing on the level of credibility. If our best argument for electing our candidates is that they’re not as bad as the other guys, we’re setting the bar pretty low for trusting our people. And, when we ignore our progressive coalitions that already exist and need our help, we undermine the structures that should support the values our brand is supposed to stand for.

Lacking credibility is a big deal for any organization, let alone a political party that purports to be the one and only savior of Western Civilization. I mean, we DO purport to do that, right? That’s the only rational response to the GOP Clown Car — to be terrified for the sake of humanity seems perfectly reasonable.

We lack credibility because we’ve spent too long “moderating” our values, and every time that happens we shoot ourselves in the foot because progressive values are our brand and they provide us with authenticity which in turn is why people should trust us.


When we’re talking about “credibility,” how much can the FDP and county DECs actually do when progressive values are being undermined elsewhere in our brand universe?

One thing, that’s just the simplest thing in the world, is to distance yourself from bad ideas that don’t comport with our values. 

We saw this on Friday when the Trans-Pacific Partnership was so roundly rejected in the House by Democrats. This was the result of years of grassroots work and it shows that when you stick together and act on principle like Democrats, there’s victory — and voters take notice.

Our values, and the public’s perception of how we maintain our value set, determine if we’re going to be trusted. That’s our brand. It’s our credibility. There’s nothing more important because we’re in the business of selling values.

If we’re being told our rhetoric is inauthentic, we need to listen and change that. Yes, that it done on the local level. It’s done at the dinner table. It’s done at the state house, and it’s done in the White House. We are all brand ambassadors for the party. As soon as a Very Serious Person tells you you’re not, you have my permission to kindly tell them that Brook said that he’s wrong and you matter.

If the Very Serious Person tries to tell you that the reason you’re not connecting with people is because you’re not talking to them like they’re in line at Publix, (as Steve Schale does here) just remind them that we’re in the business of selling values, not deli meat. People in Publix generally don’t want to talk about about women’s reproductive rights, healthcare expansion or climate change. But we have to engage these conversations or else we’re going to find ourselves living in a world we don’t recognize.

The thing that’s critical to understand about branding is that you have a brand regardless of if you set out to craft one or not. Anything people think of you is your brand. If they only think bad thoughts of you, that’s your brand, until you change it.

And by the way, “yes we can” address this at the state and local level, even if there’s issues that impact us from national. Much of the damage is done at the state and local level, so you better believe that the responsibility lies there in fixing it.

But more importantly, grassroots push-back is demanded when our national brothers and sisters go astray. Even when it’s our President, as was demonstrated in yesterday’s Trans-Pacific Partnership defeat in the House. This is how it works in a Democracy.

The only authentic way to affect change in a Democracy is through the grassroots. We’re not doing transactions here. This isn’t Publix. There’s a big difference, and when our best and brightest can no longer see the difference, that, in itself is the problem.


  1. “We are all brand ambassadors for the party.” Love it!

  2. NRA Barbie · · Reply

    I’m a progressive, and a moderate. A real establishment style outsider. So pick me! Any party, any race, any year. I want to run.

  3. Brook –

    I don’t respond to these often, but I will here because you missed the point of the Publix analogy. I wasn’t suggesting talking down in cliches to people – what i was saying is you have to recognize that we live in a world where people are distracted, and frankly fed up with and disinterested in politics. People are bombarded with messages everyday, some political, most not. They are also exceptionally busy – busier than ever. If you (not you specifically – but generically) don’t understand that you are communicating in that space, you are doomed to have people simply tune you out.

    Also, with all due respect, our party has people who are legitimately moderate and some who are legitimately liberal. Both need to have a way to feel at home.


    1. Thanks for the reply, Steve! That’s precisely the way I took your meaning — and it’s why I’m talking about branding instead of say, candidate events. We’re talking shorthand here.

      Yes, there’s truth in saying that people are distracted and that we have limited space in which to engage them. That’s true in any form of marketing. However, what’s suggested in the Publix analogy is that we should make our conversations less challenging to meet people in that head-space. The analogy brings to mind the scenario where a candidate is chosen, as if from a grocery shelf, because their label was more elegantly designed — or perhaps someone came along and sprinkled salt on the leaves of the other brand of lettuce. You look better or they look worse.

      I’d like to suggest that there’s a different “shortcut.” And that’s that authenticity sells. When a strong value set and brand are aligned to your audience, you have an authentic product that has a fighting chance of selling.

      Authenticity means people will believe you will do what you say you’re going to do. This is the bottom line to selling a candidate, no? To be authentic is to have a set of values that everyone understands. People understand authenticity (when it’s done right) because it’s manifested in your every move. We have a sixth sense for inauthentic candidates like Mitt Romney, and dare I say, Charlie Crist.

      Authenticity is critical because it’s a language that everyone speaks, and we have pretty good radar when it comes to sniffing out that which is inauthentic. We’re hardwired for it because it’s an adaptive strategy to know when we’re being lied to.

      So, a candidate with an authentic brand doesn’t have to have to have “the long conversation” at every interaction. Instead, an authentic candidate only has to present the index of their authenticity and the public responds. Moreover, an authentic brand means that your customers become the best sales persons for the product b/c they’re so enthusiastic.

      This doesn’t happen with transactional, value-free candidates.

  4. old guy on the bench · · Reply

    I am a proud Democrat, period. I am not a progressive or a moderate or and you fill in the blank. I am a individual who sees our party as the party of the big tent. I should like to direct the author of this and several other diatribes to the recent contribution of Steve Schale (http://steveschale.com/). Steve pointedly advocates that the debate on where an individual stands stop. We are the party of the big tent, that means we accept one and all as they are. It would seem our author demands a purity test, seemingly saying that to be a Democrat you must a progressive. As Democrats we cover the rainbow, we are not one stripe or another.

    Our energies must be focused on actions and not rants. We individually must commit to working effectively and positively on candidate recruitment and voter registration. We have to have an “elevator speech”. A ten second statement that will positively impact the person we are speaking with and get them to want to hear more. P. T, Barnum said it best, “leave them wanting more.”

    A unknown Democrat from California, Jesse Unruh, summarized the problem almost every Democratic candidate confronts – money is the mother’s milk of politics. In local elections we routinely fail to adequately financially support our candidates. Go look at the numbers from recent elections.

    We all each and everyone one us personally and individually must commit to having a positive impact on our local Democratic organization. Let us once again welcome everyone into the big tent.

    1. Naoya6161 · · Reply

      I agree! I feel that purity tests played a large part in creating the Tea Party, and I’d rather not see the Democratic Party fall to that either. If people want a better Democratic Party, they should start helping in a productive manner.

  5. So.. We are one big happy family under the tent, and let’s all have fun. Break out your checkbooks and support the candidates. All we need is more money and we can undo all this bad stuff that has been said and done.This is the jest of what I am hearing… oh and stop defining yourself as a Progressive, Moderate, Centrist etc…I am no paid consultant, but I see that lasting about a week. That is a free opinion, and you’re welcome.

  6. If the tent is too big, nobody knows what you stand for. Maybe that “big tent” explains why we continue to lose. Litmus tests might be in order (especially when it comes to my rights as a woman, or someone else’s rights as an immigrant or a gay or lesbian, etc.). Some things should be non-negotiable if you want to call yourself a Democrat.

    1. Naoya6161 · · Reply

      Just because someone calls themself a Democrat doesn’t mean they agree on the issues 100 percent. There are some issues where people disagree with the party’s stance on it.
      Purity tests will only hurt the Democratic Party more, not help it. All you’ll do is end up losing support that you already take for granted.

      1. Speaking of losing support that you’ve already taken for granted. “Democrats had little presence in North Florida or any of the Central Florida ex-urban and rural counties, which represented approximately 45 percent of the voters in 2014,” the report states. Abandoned. It’s a chronic problem for Florida Democrats.

      2. Naoya6161 · ·

        When I speak of voters that Susan takes for granted, I’m talking about the people who actually did come out to vote last year…the existing base. When you try to attack other Democrats by having a specific set of values, you lose their support.
        I don’t deny that Crist should have tried to campaign in those areas further. Others won’t be making that mistake though… And it is a presidential year too, so turnout always goes up.

    2. old guy on the bench · · Reply

      I am a Democrat. A Democrat that understands and appreciates the value of the efforts of those who have preceded me. The father of the modern Democratic Party, FDR, gave us the idea of the big tent. You and I will agree on a couple of different issues and together we will work together to get those issues resolved for the betterment of everyone. Yet we will disagree on other issues. Said another way, we are the catch-all party. Everyone is welcome here regardless of where they came from and their point of view. We don’t agree on everything, We respect the other individual’s absolute right to disagree with us and we don’t judge them for disagreeing with us. We are Democrats. We are loud. We are disjointed and we are confused. Our message arises from all of backgrounds. Our message is not micro targeted rather we open our arms and welcome one and all to the big tent.

  7. Which explains why many who were verbally attacked during the 2014 election by people in party who had “specific set of values” and one agenda, might find it ironic that when they did support, they were still blamed by the party for “an enormous setback” in which previous gains “were almost completely wiped out.”

    1. Naoya6161 · · Reply

      Yes and that should show us that infighting never gets anyone anywhere. Regardless of who’s fault it is. Anyone who thinks that purity tests will make better candidates is making the same mistakes from last year.

      1. And yet, that “purity test” is a tool that even now is being exhibited by people who still have the same mindset as they had when they was pushing that agenda in 2014. It is just “purity” of their points of view. And their choices of who should lead. And who should be backed by party. Ironic.

      2. Naoya6161 · ·

        Based on your comment, it seems like you don’t know what a purity test is.

  8. “purity test” is not even a term that should be used when you’re attempting to expand party by welcoming more diverse viewpoints. But when party “decides” they are only going to back and support people who have certain principles (centrist) that too is a form of “purity test”

    1. The “purity test” frame is what party centrists use to excuse rank transactionalism. This basically means that an “evil” the other party commits, becomes a “banal evil” when we do it.

      1. Naoya6161 · ·

        No…purity tests happen when people are too unwilling to compromise their beliefs to back a candidate who doesn’t share all of them. And in any case, purity tests aren’t limited to the party.

      2. old guy on the bench · ·

        We all must reach out actively and openly embrace all Democrats. It is destructive to our joint efforts to set a label on an individuals values. For us to be successful we all must forgo the petty divisiveness and actively reach out to all Democrats. We all have points that we agree on and other points that we disagree on. But to dismiss a fellow Democrat because that individual’s point of view does not fall in line with perspective is short sighted. We all need to say … Welcome, Welcome to the Big Tent!!!

  9. That is just a version without actually doing the litmus test and it reinforces the image of party more interested in reinforcing its base than trying to solve big problems and bring others into the tent

    1. Naoya6161 · · Reply

      It seems like you’re telling me that because the party keeps nominating centrists, that means that there’s some sort of purity test? There isn’t. All the candidates you speak of were the ones seen by most people to be the best candidate for the nomination. Sure they came up short, but it was close.
      If you want progressive candidates, you’re going to have to find one who has a proven record of winning first. You can’t automatically assume that everyone is just going to walk over and vote for you merely because of ideology.
      You say that the party should accept more diverse viewpoints, but no one comes up. The only ones who do are people with a bone to pick, and they never get anything done.

  10. When you say “seen by most people”, what are you basing that on? What was that decision based on exactly?

  11. I would think it should be the responsibility of elected Florida candidates and the Party, to train and scout candidates who represent the diversity of the party

  12. It is not a case of people not “coming up”, they do. And they are met with an immediate “You can not win” “You have to have this amount of money before we will consider you an option” and then described as “people with a bone to pick, and they never get anything done”. No wonder more don’t step forward.

    1. Naoya6161 · · Reply

      I don’t know why you keep replying in separate posts but I’ll speak here.
      1) I’m still talking about the party itself. The reason they backed Sink, Crist, etc. is because they all had name recognition and the proven ability to win campaigns. What happened afterwards was due to poor decisions on the nominee’s own time.
      2) I agree! There should be training. It would definitely go towards making a bigger bench.
      3) Who? The party does have a job to pick the best candidates for the position, and you do have to win trust by winning elections.

      1. “You do have to win trust by winning elections” exactly! And by stopping the widespread practice of eating your own!

      2. Naoya6161 · ·

        It goes both ways. Simply attacking the party itself because you don’t like their candidates never does anyone any good. You do have to work with the party to get changes done… Or at the very least, understand their POV.

      3. Let me be very clear, I observed and did not respond to any of the attacking I witnessed during the 2014 election. Social media pages had to close comments on their pages because of attacks on Florida voters who supported Nan Rich. I watched as I saw a systematic full assault on progressives. I continued to watch after the election when party officials accused them of being the reason for the huge loss. I continue to see a full assault in 2015 on progressive candidates. Only to see now in this recent report for it to be stated that the reasons for the loss had to do specifically with actions the party took. I personally have watched a party before my very eyes, who never publicly supported Gay Rights, yield that stance, because of progressives and activist fighting for their rights. THEN the party steps up and claimed it as their doing. Simply attacking progressives is not doing the party any good, and THE PARTY will have to work with progressives to get changes done. That will include understanding their POV. So bottom line, enough with the leaked news stories attacking people. And focus on what is best for the people who you represent. That includes Progressives. Good day, I have work to do.

      4. Naoya6161 · ·

        Yes, but you do also have to provide solutions. You say that there’s an “assault on progressives” this year. As far as I’m aware, the only race that has gotten any attention until now is the Senate race. That’s a whole other story, but long story short, the progressive candidate you are likely speaking of has brought most of the criticism on himself via his own actions. There’s no real basis for your claim of an assault on progressives.
        And I have yet to see a progressive come up and say “OK this is what you should be doing differently” All they do is continuously bash the party without providing solutions.
        Florida progressives are their own worst enemy. If you want more of them, it’s time to let go of your anger and provide ideas. Now.

  13. And some of these candidates run on their own, work endlessly against all odds, with no support hardly from party. And they lose to Tea Party, because GOP will support and back their candidates.

  14. I Cuceleste · · Reply

    Absolutely. Values is all we have to sell as Dems. They can say it a thousand times — all due respect, Steve — but insider connection and money are NOT the sin qua non of winning elections. Furthermore, if you win with a Murphy who was a Republican last week, and votes for TPP and Keystone SL, what exactly have *Democrats* won?

    Party folks can keep repeating that only they understand the pragmatic realities all they want, but we can see for ourselves that isn’t true. In fact, the pragmatic realities run in the opposite direction. Republ-Dems are. Not. Winning. Democrats really can.

    What the party is also missing is that the overall national pendulum is swinging back, and all the donor money in the world isn’t going to validate this urge to lazily sail by with local trust fund kids willing to put on a “Democrat” pin for a few minutes.

    We have better IDEAS. That’s not “purity;” it’s the sole thing we bring to the table as Democrats. Grand bargains to “get our financial house in order” by putting Social Security on the chopping block are not going to fly. That’s not “centrism,” it’s selling out, and it’s not only selling out our values, it’s selling out our chances.

    We can do better.

    Great post.

    1. Naoya6161 · · Reply

      You do have to provide a viable alternative. Even if you don’t agree with a candidate’s views all the way, you gain nothing by bashing them if you can’t give someone that can expand the base WHILE retaining the original base.

    2. My friend, did I ever say anything close to “insider connection and money are the sin qua non of winning elections”? No I didn’t. And remember, I worked for Barack Obama, who was hardly the insider choice.

      What I did say is you need money to win elections. I also said that candidates who tend to do well in swing districts tend to have some kind of meaningful connection to their districts — for example, they grew up there, taught school, ran a small business, etc.– and those kinds of people tend to have networks to raise money. And yes, it takes money to win campaigns. Just as it takes money to build a brand identity.

      Look at Barack Obama — he built a massive fundraising base outside of the insider circles. On a more important level to what I care about, building a bench, in 2006, Keith Fitzgerald, a local college professor in Sarasota, raised something like 200K by calling for hours to get $25 to $50 from people in his district. “Insiders” weren’t there for him, but he had more donors than any other candidate in a competitive swing district. Scott Randolph in 2006 is a similar story — raised from a whole lot of regular people, but he still raised a ton to win. But when people say “He/She is a great candidate BUT they can’t raise money” — if they can’t raise money, they might be a good speaker, but they aren’t a great candidate.

    3. Words matter more than names. · · Reply

      If you win with Murphy, what exactly have Democrats won? A strong vote for a woman’s right to choose, for LGBT rights, for clean waterways, for net neutrality, civil rights, and for social security and medicare. You’ll have a vote on the Dem side for the next supreme court justice. (Also – Someone who isn’t gaffe prone and does not profit off of a business marketing a cayman island investment fund with confidential donors.) There is NO comparison on these issues between him and Rubio. The idea that there is no difference between Murphy and Rubio is intellectually dishonest. Democrats will win a Democrat in the Senate, who will caucus with the D’s and vote for a great many things that progressives stand for.

      Further – Steve is 100% correct. A candidate can stand for all of the things you want, but if they can’t raise money they generally won’t be able to persuade enough voters to vote for them. They won’t have the resources to defend against an onslaught of misleading advertising on the other side. They won’t be able to hire top notch field staff, open offices across the state, buy supplies and equipment. Even a volunteer field staff costs money.

  15. Larry Babitts · · Reply

    horse-manure – why doesn’t the FDP and our very weak local county committees realize that the most important thing that we miss – is the PERSONAL TOUCH – yeah, you read it correctly, the PERSONAL TOUCH -Why do we think that just a couple weeks (or days in some cases) we contact the local rank-and-file Democrats – in between elections, pf-f-f-t we almost never contact ’em – that my dear brothers-and-sisters is the crux of their indifference when we try to GOTV  – most of the rank-and-file don’t know who we are – and you can bet your bottom dollar that most of ’em have not heard from the FDP or the LOCAL County Committee or their members for months, or maybe even years – Believe me, PERSONAL CONTACT is the way to get ’em out to vote because by regular contacts (that cost ZIP using the e-mail or periodically by telephone as well as e-mail, inviting them to meetings when we have interesting speakers etc) – just think, how you feel when you get a request for a donation (or to buy tickets or whatever) from some organization that only contacts you when their NEED your money or a local worker? That’s right, you finally got it – what you think when you get a cold-call from somebody whom you’ve never ever met, or sporadically heard from – well. that exactly what they think when we do it to a rank-and-filer ! Larry the B

    1. I agree, and if you really want to engage your folks at the door, sign them up for Vote-By-Mail. I just read a report that showed 58% voting rate of folks signed up for Vote-By-Mail by one group in Orange County. I find that astonishing.

      But it’s only the beginning. This is the work of building authentic relationships, which creates the space where you can have the conversations about values with people who trust you. There’s good non-profits that do VBM GOTV work, but they CAN’T talk about candidates. We can. That’s our superpower.

  16. Dems in Action · · Reply

    As party leaders we sign a loyalty oath which says we support the Florida Democratic Party platform. The whole platform, not parts of it.

  17. […] represents something beyond simple electoral and political “moderation”.  Right now we don’t have a clear set of values that drive us as a party collectively […]

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