Skip to main content

Dueling narratives: What should Congress tell voters in August?

By Ron Bonjean
updated 6:53 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Members of the House and Senate take a 5-week recess each summer.
Members of the House and Senate take a 5-week recess each summer.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ron Bonjean: As Congress leaves for recess, members face an angry electorate
  • The approval ratings for Congress are at a dismal 12.3%
  • Bonjean: Voters will be looking for solutions, not just spin

Editor's note: Ron Bonjean is a Republican partner with Singer Bonjean Strategies. He has served as lead spokesman for both House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- After two years of a virtual stalemate of progress in Washington, members of Congress are headed home for five weeks during August. The pressure is on for both parties to tell two very different stories to voters with only a short time before the election.

So who will have the better narrative? And will Americans listen?

Voters are unhappy with everyone, which includes President Barack Obama, Democrats and Republicans. According to Real Clear Politics polling average, President Obama's approval rating stands at 41.6% while Congressional approval is in the tank at 12.3%. Partisan warfare is a clear culprit to these low ratings.

Ron Bonjean
Ron Bonjean

During August, voters should be prepared to take plenty of Advil, because their headaches are about to get worse.

Expect to hear Democrats complain loudly that Republicans are going to try to impeach Obama, that an attempt to sue the President is a useless partisan exercise designed to fundraise from conservatives across the country and that women should be very afraid of the Supreme Court decision on contraceptives.

Republicans will shout that Democrats are driving the impeachment story to fundraise off their liberal base, that the Senate is obstructing progress to protect their vulnerable members in red states from having to take tough votes and that suing Obama is necessary because he isn't doing his real job of working with Congress.

The polarization merry-go-round in Washington can be very attractive for a member of Congress to fall into selling a partisan only message to their constituents. But, when Americans run into a TV show they don't like, they turn the channel.

Voters are desperate to know about what can be accomplished to help them. Climate change isn't going to cut it for Democrats and abortion isn't going to work for Republicans. They simply don't connect to the average voter concerns.

Obama: Congress holding up progress
Clock is ticking on Capitol Hill
Boehner vs. Obama: Lawsuit politics

The issues that matter are front and center in everyday American life. Both sides are going to have to address the border crisis and their solutions to the problem. We are dealing with innocent children who are caught up in this mess. The news has saturated America and is a common topic around dinner tables and water coolers across the country. People are concerned and frustrated that Washington has spent too much time finger-pointing at each other.

How do our elected officials plan to help create the conditions for more jobs, more money in their wallets and more food on the table? How can their lives be made better for themselves and their children? The Democrats will likely point to some positive economic indicators and rising consumer confidence to show that it is turning around. But they lack an overall agenda to demonstrate there is a future method toward achieving economic stability.

Republicans can show they have a plan to turn around the economy faster, but rightfully point out the inaction by the Senate Democrats to address Republican plans. The House of Representatives, run by Republicans, has passed myriad bills dealing with job creation, gas prices and small business issues. These bills can be used as basis for a forward-looking agenda.

The battle over the female voter will continue through August, with Democrats pointing to the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision on female contraception coverage as a threat to women's rights. The Democrats have also tried to push through votes appealing to the middle class on the minimum wage and the gender gap in pay.

House Republicans finally wised up and recently offered a female agenda of their own right before the August break that would increase job training, incentivize flexible work schedules, provide tax breaks for children and families, and strengthens charter schools. The package also includes new legislation to prevent retaliation when women ask about equal pay.

Beyond this rhetoric, there is a better opportunity for Republicans in this election cycle to sell a positive message to voters because Democrats are being forced to defend the White House and its handling of the crises at home and abroad.

It's more difficult for a Democrat to have to answer questions about the missing e-mail scandal at the Internal Revenue Service or President Obama's handling of Israel or the Ukraine and then pivot to a positive message on female gender pay.

Mad people vote. And people are mad at Washington.

Republicans can blame the President for his failure of leadership, but the bulk of their arguments must be centered on positive solutions that connect with people who are tired of the finger pointing. This means that Americans could lean toward the GOP when they vote this November, if the focus is kept on what people are demanding to know, which is, "How we get out of this mess?"

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT