Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee, a nationally syndicated columnist and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She was the campaign manager for the Al Gore-Joe Lieberman ticket in 2000 and wrote "Cooking With Grease."
(CNN) -- It's always tough to know exactly what is going to be the overriding issue five months before a national election.
In 2006, Republican corruption came under the spotlight when GOP leaders learned about ex-Rep. Mark Foley's texted sexual suggestions to former congressional pages and chose to do nothing about it.
In 2008, the economy hit the skids right after Labor Day. I have to imagine something is going to be dominating this year as well.
There will always be those, in both major political parties, who disappoint. Instances of vice or dishonesty, without exception, must be openly and promptly handled.
On issues of national policy, it's the Democrats who must position themselves to act as promptly. We are, after all, in control of both the legislative and executive branches of government.
Like other voters, Democrats are still pessimistic over the direction of the country. Surveys show voters often point to inept politicians as the driver of our problems.
This is not a good thing.
Discouragement over gridlock is producing Democratic apathy. This explains the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters.
Republican leaders, on the other hand, gave up legislating almost the moment President Obama entered the Oval Office. Instead of helping to govern at a time of national crisis, many of them have rallied their base -- stoking the anger, fostering rage over a ballooning national deficit they helped to create.
They have turned major national issues such as economic stimulus, health care and energy reform into a political football to divide voters. They've fostered rage among their base voters as an antidote to their base's apathy -- even at the price of manufacturing phony issues. This has worked for them, but it can likely backfire this fall with independents and others seeking to end the incivility and gridlock in Washington.
As Democratic leaders struggle, literally, through every step of the legislative process against Republican obstructionism, where small changes come only by exhausting labor and timeless delaying tactics, Democratic voters have just tuned out.
Democratic voters feel that the super majority they helped to elect to Congress simply is afraid to protect the middle class by wielding their power against the entrenched special interests.
So they find little reason to get up and vote.
To counteract and prepare for the fall elections, Democrats need to make this election a clear choice with real issues -- starting with the economy.
There's no question that Obama policies have put the economy solidly on a path to growth. On the economy, we need focus how the economic stimulus bill is rebuilding confidence in our financial system, stemming the tide of employee layoffs, producing jobs and rebuilding our nation's transportation infrastructure.
The president can't let Republicans get away with pretending to be "born-again" budget-minded saviors, when they're actually seeking to keep in place their benefit-the-rich, spend-the-working-man's-taxes-on-the-wealthy schemes.
Democrats must also get out there and explain what the health care bill means to everyday Americans. The recent Kaiser poll indicated that the majority say they don't know what is in the bill for them.
Once the financial regulatory reform bill passes, Democrats need to explain quickly its consumer protection initiatives that the Republicans worked to kill. Every American preyed upon by loan sharks, or treated unfairly by credit card companies, will have a watchdog agency to stop those practices.
Democrats must confront the Republican leadership for playing politics with our national security. There is no national danger or emergency that they don't try to exploit. The Obama administration has the Times Square plot firmly under control. The president has made this country safer. And the president works daily to strengthen our security. Yet it happens to fall to his lot to deal with those Republicans leaders more interested in short-term political gains than fortressing our country against its enemies.
The president is revealing Republican hypocrisy over their grandstanding about big government. Republicans like big government when it comes to tracking down undocumented workers or oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, but they rile against Washington when it holds Wall Street accountable for the fiscal calamities or health insurance companies for raising premiums.
Democratic lawmakers must "get on message" and point out all the positive things Democrats have done. They must focus on all those things people supported in the last election and remind voters of the intense Republican efforts to kill or obstruct legislation for the common good.
The clock is ticking. Democrats have five months to sell their product and show the voters this clear choice: Go back, or move ahead. With Wall Street financial reform assured of passing, we now have a landscape where all of a sudden the Democrats are getting things done.
Democrats must keep hammering home that Republicans lack any plan other than opposition.
There was a song in the '70s titled "The Way We Were." This should be the Republican song, because all their efforts are aimed at keeping things the way they were during the Bush-Cheney years.
A Democratic Congress has shown leadership in tough times, while Republican "stop everything" tactics lead nowhere but back to "The Way We Were."
Independent voters need to see that the so-called "radical agenda" is a bogus charge.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.