AFTER SPENDING NEARLY two years pondering a new slogan, Democrats came up with one already associated with a nationwide personal injury law firm.
“For the People” was just unveiled as the party’s battle cry for the upcoming midterm elections. It also happens to be the signature motto of Morgan & Morgan, a firm founded in Florida 30 years ago by John Morgan, which now has some 420 lawyers in 14 states, including Massachusetts. Morgan, a longtime Democratic donor who recently mulled a run for governor of Florida, said his Twitter account “blew up” with people asking if he plans to sue.
He doesn’t. After all, he “stole” the words from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which ends with the phrase “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Besides, he said, it’s “free advertising.” But, since Democrats are embracing his firm’s mission statement, Morgan does have some advice. “A slogan without a messenger is just a slogan,” he said in a telephone interview. “To put meat on the bone, you have to have an effective messenger. And the messenger has to tap into the center of America.”
With that, he pokes at the major identity crisis lurking behind the borrowed slogan.
Personal injury lawyers serve clients who claim physical or psychological injury as a result of negligence. There are certainly plenty of Democrats who feel harmed by President Trump. Some may feel they are, indeed, “the people” targeted by the borrowed slogan. But who is best suited to represent them in their misery? Morgan, who now considers himself an independent and plans to drop his longtime registration as a Democrat, believes the party is leaning dangerously left, to socialism. To him, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat a longtime New York congressman in a recent Democratic primary, personify a leftward tilt that “plays into Trump’s Venus fly trap.”
Warnings from a businessman who built an empire on personal injury claims against insurance companies won’t impress progressives (“ambulance chaser” is a favorite dispargement of the field). From a consumer-protection vantage point, Morgan & Morgan does have critics. But John Morgan also articulates a real challenge as Democrats try to win back the House and position themselves for 2020.
The Washington Post recently deconstructed one of President Trump’s latest talking points, that the current economy ranks among the greatest in history. Yes, there’s a record number of job openings, and unemployment is the lowest since April 2000. But wage growth is basically flat, and the deficit is exploding. So Trump’s overblown optimism is undercut by the average worker’s paycheck. How many of those workers, already stretching to pay for mortgages and health care, will be attracted to a Democrat promising “free stuff,” which they know they will ultimately underwrite? Especially if they believe such benefits will go to people other than themselves?
Basic selfishness — and racism — fueled Trump’s appeal in 2016. While Democrats can and should embrace a more generous spirit, they have to be realistic. They can say they want to “do the most for the most with the least, within a budget,” said Morgan. He’s also championing a ballot question to raise the minimum wage in Florida, which he sees as key to winning back the middle class.
Slogans, meanwhile, don’t have to be original to work. Trump hijacked “Make America Great Again” from Ronald Reagan. But they do have to tap into aspirations voters perceive as achievable for themselves and the country. The problem with “For the People” is its ambiguity: What people? On its website, Morgan & Morgan is more expansive: “For the people, not the powerful. When you get hurt, we’re on your side. We battle bullies and insurance companies in court, so that you can focus on getting better.”
Not a bad pitch to a client — or, with Trump in the White House, to a voter.Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.