The Perfect Democratic Stump Speech

We asked Democratic speechwriter Jeff Nussbaum to write a totally pandering stump speech for an imaginary Democratic presidential candidate — one who espouses only positions that a majority of Democrats agree with (we also did the same with Republicans). Here’s the speech he wrote, including notes to explain his phrasing, behind-the-scenes tips on appealing to Democratic voters and the data he used to decide which positions to take.

Thank you, CITY.

Every election is a choice. And this year, the choice could not be more clear.

And even more than a choice between parties, or personalities, it’s a choice between philosophies.

You see, we look at our country and say: We know what it takes to make our economy stronger and fairer. We know what it takes to make our communities safer. We know what it takes to make college more affordable, and retirement more secure. We know that we need to strengthen, not abandon, the promise of public education. We know that inclusion makes us stronger, and so, by the way, do the immigrants who come here to play by the rules and build better lives. We know what it takes to lead the world both with the example of our power, and with the power of our example.

We know what needs to be done. When I place my hand on the Bible and John Roberts has to pretend to smile while he swears me in as your next president, I’ll offer you another oath: We’re going to get to work.

Listen to our opponents and you hear a different refrain. Listen to all of their talk about liberty and freedom and government getting out of your way — and what you’ll really hear is one thing over and over: We are powerless in the face of our problems. There’s nothing we can do.

But I want to ask you a question: What if, at the most pivotal moments in our history, their philosophy had won the day?

What if, at the height of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt looked out on America and said, “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished … and there’s nothing we can do”?

There’d be no Social Security — and today, 22 million Americans would be thrown into poverty just like that.

What if John F. Kennedy saw Russia getting ready to point nuclear missiles at us from Cuba and said, “There’s nothing we can do”?

What if Lyndon Johnson had said, “I know we say all men are created equal … but there’s nothing we can do”?

There’d be no Civil Rights Act. No Voting Rights Act.

What if Bill Clinton had said, “George H.W. Bush left us a pretty bad recession, and people can be fired from their jobs just for wanting to take some time off to care for a family member … but there’s nothing we can do”?

What if Barack Obama had said, “I know millions of Americans don’t have health coverage … I know we’re mired in two seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan … I know we’re in the worst recession since the Great Depression, but can we change things? No. We. Can’t.”

Republicans say there’s nothing government can do, as if government is some entity that rules us. But this is a democracy. Government is us. By us and for us. And creating the America we want is up to us.

So in this election, you have a choice. You have a choice between a party that — to a man, and yes, it is almost entirely men — says government can’t do anything, and then they get into office and set out to prove it.

And you have us, who look out on an America that we, too, believe is exceptional — but we know isn’t perfect — and seek to make it that more perfect union.

So if you want to “make America great again” there’s a surefire way to do it: Elect a Democrat.

If you want someone “who can fix it,” there’s an easy way to find that someone: Look for a Democrat.

The Economy

And that work begins with our economy.

Today, working Americans feel like they’re playing a rigged game. Heads, Wall Street wins. Tails, Main Street loses.

When a bunch of bankers rig the interest rates so that you pay more to borrow for your house, or your car — that’s a rigged game.

When companies stash their profits offshore and millionaires and billionaires squirrel their money in tax shelters and sneak it through tax loopholes, refusing to pay their fair share to the country whose laws and infrastructure and universities allowed them to accumulate that wealth to begin with, that’s not fair.

When the top 25 hedge-fund managers in this country are making more than all of America's kindergarten teachers combined, and usually paying a lower tax rate, too, that’s not fair.

Close the loopholes. Tell American companies that if you want to profit under the protection of our laws, bring those profits home. Create a fairer economy. That’s something we can do to make America work for everyone.

When Donald Trump can escape from his own bad deals by declaring bankruptcy four times, but Americans who can’t afford to pay a traffic ticket go to jail — it’s a rigged game.

That’s not the free market. It’s a fixed bet. It’s loaded dice.

Since 1978, CEO compensation has gone up by 937 percent. Worker productivity went up by 65 percent. But what did the workers who delivered that productivity and who made it possible for those CEOs to take home an average of more than $15 million last year get? Nothing.

When America’s workers play a rigged game, we all lose.

When unions are busted and workers can’t organize, we all lose.

But look at what happens when you raise wages, even by a modest amount.

When you raise the minimum wage, you give money to the people who spend more. If you give someone a $1 tax rebate or other one-time break, they only spend about 50 cents. But when you increase their income by a dollar, they actually spend more than a dollar, because, knowing they can count on those wages going forward, they can use credit. And by the way, if the minimum wage had gone up with productivity, today it would be nearly $22 an hour.

Plus, a higher minimum wage pushes up near-minimum-wage salaries.

Basic decency and sound economics both bring you to the same conclusion: It’s time to raise the minimum wage.

Again, that’s something we can do to make America work for everyone.

And by the way, in 2007, when the House passed a minimum wage increase, 82 Republicans voted for it. It got 94 votes in the Senate, half of them from the Republican Party.

This is not your father’s Republican Party. And if you have a grandfather who voted for Barry Goldwater, it’s not even his Republican Party. If Ronald Reagan showed up at a meeting of today’s Republican Party, he’d be laughed out of the room as too liberal.


Of course, if we really want to strengthen our economy, the best answer, the only answer, is to educate our way forward.

And education doesn’t mean teach our kids how to fill in little bubbles on a test sheet. It means strong community schools and well-trained teachers who not only spark a love of learning, but prepare our children for college, for careers, and for life.

We need to treat teachers like the professionals that they are.

And we know that in today’s economy, a high school diploma isn’t enough. College is essential. And more than ever, it’s expensive. The average student graduates college today with more than $35,000 in debt.

We’re basically telling our students that your degree is a mighty tool that you can use to do whatever you want. So long as the first thing you do with it is use it to pay off your loans.

So here’s something we can do to make America work for everyone: We can make sure that every student in this country has the opportunity to get a community college degree for free. And we can make sure that students who do take out loans can get the same low rates the banks get when they borrow money. Why should a student pay more to borrow money than Morgan Stanley?

Health Care

And when it comes to making things more affordable, here’s another something we can do: We can tell Republicans to stop trying to repeal Obamacare.

Sixty-one times, they’ve voted to repeal a health care law that the Supreme Court says is constitutional, and that 15 million Americans who now have health care can attest is working. It’s this simple: Costs are coming down. Coverage is going up. And it’s time for Republicans to get over it.


Education helps people get the best start in life. During their working lives, health care protects people from fearing that illness could mean losing everything. And we want to make sure our fellow Americans can feel just as secure in their later years.

That’s why when it comes to Medicare, nobody should have to decide between filling her grocery cart and filling her prescriptions.

And that’s why I’ll make you this simple pledge that my opponents won’t: The Social Security you know, the Social Security you depend on, the Social Security that provides a retirement with dignity and survivors benefits to those who will live out their lives without their life partners … that Social Security will be there for you.

Because when it comes to keeping the combined promise of Medicare and Social Security — that’s not just something we can do, it’s the least we can do.


Just as we work to make our neighbors and friends and loved ones more secure in their own lives, we can also do much more to make us all more secure in our communities.

Fort Hood. Binghamton. Aurora. Oak Creek. Newtown. The Navy Yard. Santa Barbara. Charleston. San Bernardino. And it’s not just the mass shootings that capture the headlines. It’s the daily tragedies of the streets of Chicago, and Los Angeles, and cities and towns all across our country. Thirty thousand Americans are killed by gun violence every year. When will we say enough?


There are some who see this plague and say, the only thing we can do is offer our thoughts and prayers.

But I think we ought to listen to the words of Congressman John Lewis: “When you pray, move your feet.”

We’ve got to move our feet. And we’ve got to recognize that there are ways, totally consistent with the Second Amendment, to make sure that criminals, terrorists and other dangerous people don’t get guns. This isn’t about hunters or sportsmen, who are some of the most responsible gun owners I know. This is about recognizing that there’s simply no reason for anyone to own an assault weapon. And we should all be able to agree that if you want to buy a gun, no matter where you want to buy it, you get a background check.

The gun lobby may own Congress, but they don’t own us. And we’re going to do something about gun violence in this country.


And I want to say something to those of you who have chosen to make America your home.

I know there are politicians who say that they want to build a “yuuuge” wall to keep people like you out. They say they want you to “self-deport.” But I want to lead a country that will allow you to work hard, play by the rules and better your life here in America.

President Obama has made it possible for 2 million young immigrants to stay in the only country they’ve ever called home. I want to go further and fix our broken immigration system for good.

Because yes, that’s something we can do.

Recently, I read a story about a woman named Linda who came here from Syria. Her crime back at home was to live in a neighborhood where several people had led peaceful protests. So Assad’s government bombed their neighborhood. Soldiers ransacked their home, stealing cash and jewelry. Linda’s five daughters had to walk around army tanks to go to school. And then Linda gave birth to a son. Because he was born with jaundice, he was receiving treatment at the hospital when the government, believing that a rebel was hiding there, shelled the building. Her child’s life lasted all of seven days. After a year of applying — and a rigorous series of interviews that we put all people seeking to settle here through — we, America, gave them the right to resettle here. These people are Muslims. They love our country. They’re grateful to America. And they’re working hard to make it in America.

These aren’t the terrorists. They’re the people fleeing the terrorists.

If you’re someone who can trace your family to this country before the Pilgrims arrived, God bless you. I’m guessing most of us can’t. So let’s make America the beacon of hope it was for our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.

Foreign Policy

Look around the world today, and you see nuclear tests in North Korea, ISIS seeking territory in the Middle East and spurring attacks outside it. We have to protect against hijackers … and hackers. Never before have we faced so many threats, in so many places.

So I get why there are some out there who want to simplify things. With us or against us. Put a wall up, or drop some bombs down. To them, the world is as simple as it is scary.

But we know that the world is something else — it’s interconnected.

When someone who aspires to be our president says we should register Muslims — ISIS uses that to recruit more terrorists.

When kingdoms and petro-dictators in the Middle East don’t give their young people something real to live for, radicals are happy to step in and give them something false to die for.

But our best defense against militant Islam is moderate Islam.

Our best defense against extremism is to drain the swamps from which it rises — and to do that we have to be strong as well as smart, supporting development when possible and deployment only when absolutely necessary.

Yes, we have the only military force in the world capable of projecting force anywhere around the world, at any time. Look at Osama bin Laden’s notes from his hideout. He was terrified that we could listen to him, track him and kill him. He was right to be scared.

(hold for applause)

And so should anyone who means to harm American people, at home or abroad.

And when we send our men and women to protect us abroad, we'd better make sure they receive the benefits they've earned when they come home. They served us, and we have an obligation to serve them!


Of course, there is one threat right in front of us — and that is the threat of climate change. Yes, voters get to judge an elected official every two or four or six years. But I believe we’ll face a much more meaningful judgment. The judgment of our children, and grandchildren, who will say to us: “When the science was so clear, and storms were getting more severe, and cities and entire countries were sinking, why weren’t you brave enough to do something?”

This shouldn’t be a political issue. In 2008, the GOP platform acknowledged the impact of human activity on our climate. John McCain campaigned on cap-and-trade. But when your biggest funders also happen to be the biggest polluters … which Koch Industries is … well I guess in today’s Republican Party, whose bread I eat, his song I sing.

In Paris, we’ve taken a good step. But how strong a step it is and whether it’s followed by more depends on who we elect.

Supreme Court

And there’s something else that depends on who we elect. The Supreme Court. We already have a Supreme Court that denied Lilly Ledbetter fair pay and that’s rolled back the Voting Rights Act. We are one right-wing justice away from putting the government directly between a woman and her doctor, between two people who love each other, between you and your desire to have a voice on the job. And we can’t let that happen. And with me as your president, we won’t.

In our courts, and in Congress, I will defend a woman’s right to choose.


Look, we all learned everything we need to know about this country when we took drivers ed. If you want to go backward, put it in R. But if you want to go forward, put it in D!

And we need to move forward.

For women’s rights, and workers’ rights, and civil rights. Forward!

To ensure that black lives do indeed matter. Forward!

To create a fairer, safer, more prosperous America for everyone.

(Crowd is now responding: Forward! )

To create an America where every child gets a world-class education. (Forward!)

Where every worker earns a decent wage. (Forward!)

Where every senior has a retirement with dignity. (Forward!)

Where every person is allowed to worship the god of their choice and love the person of their choice, where every woman is allowed to make her own health care decisions … and is paid the same as a man for doing the same job. (Forward!)

To fight the rising tide of extremism, and the rising tide of a changing climate. (Forward!)

My friends, we can bend the arc of history toward justice.

This is within our power.

But for us to do something, I need you to do something.

I need you to vote. I need you to get your friends and neighbors to vote.

I ask you to stand with me. Join me. And together we’ll build the country we know we can be.

Thank you, and may God bless America.

Illustration by Joel Plosz.