Friday Democratic Talking Points

[ Posted Friday, September 21st, 2007 – 18:21 UTC ]

Why are Democrats so lame on basic PR?

Someone asked me that question on my blog the other day, and I didn't really have an answer. Why are Democrats so incredibly weak on framing their message correctly? Many books have been written exploring this subject and offering sound advice on how to make it better across the board, and yet it still continues.

Some would fault the Congressional leadership. Nancy Pelosi, for the most part, does a pretty good job. She's consistently on-message when interviewed by the press, she knows how to present an issue to the media and the public to Democrats' advantage, and she is well-spoken in general. Harry Reid is inconsistent. He can breathe fire at times, and use his power in the Senate to confound Republicans and allow Democrats to drive on issues; but then sometimes he appears incredibly weak and just lets Republicans walk all over him (see: that vote). On television, he is equally inconsistent. Sometimes he appears tough and forceful and take-no-guff, other times he comes across as whiny and unprepared for basic questions.

Perhaps what they need is a "war room" of sorts that would focus on nothing but spin. Um, excuse me, I meant to say "PR" or "framing" or... oh, the heck with it -- call it what it is: spin. Hire some spin doctors worth their salt, and stick them in a room somewhere, perhaps in the Democratic National Committee where nobody will notice them, and start cranking out the sprigs of parsley to be served up with the red-meat Democratic issues to make them more appealing.

A perfect example was pointed out today by Bob Cesca on the Huffington Post: where are the cute names for Democratic bills? As he writes:

This week, for instance, the Democrats should've carpet bombed the media with quotes including the phrase "obstructionist Republicans". The big ticket amendments this week should've been unofficially nicknamed "The Military Families Amendment" or the "Save The Constitution Amendment".

This way, they could saturate the media with quotes like, "Why is Senator McCain against saving the Constitution?" or, "Why is Republican Senator Lieberman against military families?" For fuck's sake, I at least hope the DNC is saving some of the floor debate video for next year. An entire campaign's worth of TV buys could be produced from yesterday's White House and senate floor performances.

This is such an easy and blatant example of Democrats refusing to use the right tools to frame the debate in the public's eye. You don't even have to have a sentence surrounding it, all you have to do is insist on calling the bill by its proper name, by correcting any media type no matter what they're saying about it: "Oh, you're referring to the 'Military Families Amendment'?" Pretty soon the media starts going along for the ride, and using your title. You've just won half the battle right there. Eventually, even the Republicans start using your title, and the PR fight has been won.

So why can't Democrats manage to do this?

Your guess is as good as mine. Which is why I'm presenting the second weekly column to aid every Democrat booked on a Sunday morning talk show. The following is the Talking Point List of the Week for Democrats.

I must say, last weekend's performance by Democrats on CBS, NBC, and FOX was pretty impressive. An enormous improvement over the week that preceded it. Guests were Carl Levin, Joe Biden, and John Kerry. The Kerry / McCain joint appearance on NBC's Meet The Press was especially interesting, because you had two veterans talking about the overall strategy and rationale for the war and what to do next. Seriously, it was worth watching, as it was very short on name-calling and scapegoating, and very long on "this is how I see things," which was a welcome change. Kerry did an admirable job of presenting the Democratic viewpoint, and (to his credit) McCain did an admirable job of presenting the Republican way of seeing things.

Lest I be accused of never bashing Democrats for silly misstatements (the way I am wont to do whenever Bush says something hilarious), I must point out a gaffe that Joe Biden made that I'm astonished nobody else seems to have noticed. He was talking on Fox News Sunday about Iraq, and about what the rest of the world would think if we pulled our troops out, and said the following:

"I think everyone [the rest of the world] would say they [the U.S.] finally started to come to their senses. They steinally farted to figure out the only way this is going to work is with three regions in [Iraq] that are loosely federated."

Steinally farted? Is that what happens the morning after Oktoberfest?

Heh heh. OK, I couldn't resist, sorry. The transcript of the show helpfully cleaned up Biden, but if you watch the un-bowdlerized video, it's clear what he actually said. Biden, to his credit, later showed how to reject an issue being framed the wrong way (he objected strongly to the term "partition" for his plan for Iraq) -- jump on it, force the media to use your terms, and don't give an inch.

All kidding aside, here is this week's Talking Points List:


Democratic Talking Points


(1) This one is a holdover from last week:

Bush and the Republicans in Congress

Harry Reid almost got it right the other day during a news conference, when he said something along the lines of "This is not just Bush's war anymore, it is also now the Senate Republicans' war as well." Not bad for a first effort, but you've really got to tie them together in almost every statement you make about Bush's policies. "Bush and the Republicans in Congress just don't see Iraq the way the majority of the American people do."


(2) Also kind of a holdover from last week:

An up-or-down vote

"Senate Republicans refuse to have an up-or-down vote on almost every issue that comes up. They're scared of actually having to go on record to defend George Bush's policies." Since many bills (Iraq and otherwise) were effectively shut down in the Senate this past week, this phrase should be used whenever asked about any of them this weekend.


(3) Bring back an oldie-but-a-goodie from World War II:

War profiteering

This is one of those indefensible terms which paint the opposition into a corner. Who could possibly be "for" war profiteering? This is a story that is slowly gathering momentum through patient committee work, and the numbers involved are staggering: $6 billion of possible outright fraud, and $88 billion that is still being investigated. "When the Republicans controlled Congress they turned a blind eye to war profiteering for whatever reason, and now Democrats are cleaning up after them. We see war profiteering as treasonous behavior, and we will follow this story wherever it leads."


(4) This one is so pathetically easy it will be hard for Democrats to fail:

George Bush cares more about insurance companies' profits than he does about America's children's health care.

This is really a no-brainer. Democrats might even pass this over a Bush veto, it's such a winner of an issue. Point out that plenty of Republicans support the measure so it's "bipartisan," and that Bush is on the wrong side of the issue.


(5) Spotlight Republican hypocrisy on the military:

When Republicans apologize for the band-aids mocking the Purple Heart, then we will think about apologizing for

This one is tough to pare down to a single soundbite. It should really be a forceful rant:

It wasn't so long ago that Republicans -- at their national convention -- were mocking the three Purple Hearts of a decorated war hero by wearing band-aids -- band-aids! -- to ridicule John Kerry, the military, and every recipient of a Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is the oldest military honor in the American military, and is an honored medal first awarded by George Washington. It even has Washington's face and coat of arms on it. And yet Republicans saw fit to mock this award and everyone who has ever received it in order to score cheap political points. They didn't apologize for the Swift Boat ads, they revelled and wallowed in them -- together, as a party.

If that's not enough for you, consider the smearing of Max Cleland, another veteran who lost three limbs serving his country. Republicans ran ads against him with Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Where were all these indignant Republicans then? How many of them condemned such tactics as being despicable and disgusting? I don't remember many Republicans denouncing that ad, then or since.

Republicans have no "moral high ground" on the issue of smearing the military, and yet they've chosen to try to make cheap political points off an independent group's newspaper ad. I guess they only respect military service when it serves their political needs. I find this repulsive."


(6) From the "Did she really say that?" file, Hillary Clinton finally came out and called Dick Cheney what everyone else has been calling him for years:

Darth Vader

I prefer "Darth Cheney" myself, but hey, either one works. And her usage sets up a wonderful way of humorously defusing any question about it this Sunday:

"We've already heard from a special interest group that they are outraged over this term being used for the Vice President. The Imperial Stormtroopers are buying an ad in tomorrow's New York Times to clear the name of what they consider to be a fine upstanding soldier and member of the military: Darth Vader would like an apology for being compared to Dick Cheney."


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


12 Comments on “Friday Democratic Talking Points”

  1. [1] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    For the same reason that GOP smear campaigns always work; you got to have the pundits and media outlets to control the message framing in the media.

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michael -

    Yeah, that's why I included the bit about naming the bills, because I when I read it, I thought: that's a brilliant tactic to force the media talking heads to use your terminology.

    Michale -

    You'll recognize the first sentence in this post. See, I do read everyone's comments!

    For everyone (and Michale) -

    Other than contests where I'm openly soliciting entries, I never publish anyone's name even when I use their ideas in my writing. It's just a blanket policy I have. Just to let everyone know, I didn't "dis" Michale, I "dis" everyone equally.


  3. [3] 
    CDub wrote:

    At first, I didn't like the idea of adopting republican sounding names to legislation, but on second thought, it would be refreshing to have a 'clean air act' bill that wasn't actually a reward to polluters.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    I must be really REALLY tired (spent all day yesterday and today on the "back 40" and I am beat) but I don't see any dis...

    But I think you (and everyone else) is (are??) missing the "point" of talking points...

    It does no good to spew a cute little talking point on the Sunday Talk Show circuit and then run cowering back to your hole on Monday..

    The reason why the GOP is successful with talking points is because they realize that it is an ongoing process, not just a single quip... You have a GOP'er say something cute or meaningful on Sunday and for the next few days to a week or more, THAT is the message of the GOP... The Dems simply can't comprehend that THAT is what sells John Q. Pubic on the idea... Mr/Mrs Public hear hundreds of different people selling the SAME idea and he/she thinks, "Wow... So many people saying the same thing.. It MUST be true...."

    Now, look at the Dems.. You have a hundred different people saying a hundred different things.. No wonder the Dems can't get their message out.. They can't even agree what their message is!!!

    Which refers back to what I said about the inherent flaw in the Democratic Party. They can't rally behind an idea, a quip or a talking point. It's not in their nature...


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Another PR victory for the GOP...

    House overwhelmingly condemns MoveOn ad


  6. [6] 
    CDub wrote:

    House overwhelmingly condemns MoveOn ad

    Thank goodness our elected representatives are spending their time focusing on such important non-binding expressions of non-representative opinions, freeing up the American people to concentrate on what Britney's wearing ... white after labor day? What was she thinking? I hope those republicans have enough non-gay members to pounce on those panties.

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    >I hope those republicans have enough
    >non-gay members to pounce on those panties.

    Your biases are showing.. :D

    The House is overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats..

    Why can't you just admit the truth? That ad was vicious, unfair, flat out wrong and totally uncalled for...

    EVERYONE (except, of course) has said so...

    So, let me guess...

    EVERYONE else is wrong and YOU are right... Right??


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    This country needs more Democrats like this man:

    Democrat takes beating for pro-surge stance

    A person of integrity who can take a good long objective look at the FACTS and the evidence and come to a non-partisan decision that is in the best interests of the country.

    If there were more Democrats like him around, I would wager that the party AND the country would be in a lot better shape...


  9. [9] 
    CDub wrote:

    If by 'everyone' you're talking about that minority of people who believe that Petraeus told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, they are wrong, which is not new for them.

    For instance, 'overwhelming control', you might want to check the batteries in your calculator.

    Why can't you just admit the truth? That ad was vicious, unfair, flat out wrong and totally uncalled for…

    Imagine, a partisan organization swiftboating a decorated military man ... unprecedented.

    I suppose if your representative has nothing better, or more important to do than soak up tax dollars rattling on about the trivial and commonplace, I'm happy for you, I expect much more from my representatives.

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    Guess yer being disappointed all the way around, eh??

    Senate Approves Symbolic Rebuke of Iran,2933,298157,00.html

    Once again... Are your Democrats wrong or are you wrong???

    Iddn't it amazing??

    You people whine and cry that the Democrats can't further their agenda because they don't have enough of a majority..

    Yet the GOP, who is the MINORITY PARTY doesn't seem to have a problem with furthering THEIR agenda, as the recent actions by the House and Senate attest to...

    Can you explain this???


  11. [11] 
    CDub wrote:

    You're the one who voted democrat, or was that another lie?

    So it's YOUR democrats that are wrong. And it's your republicans that are also wrong.

    But it's not democrats that are supporting the republican idiocy, it's war profiteers itching for the next big score.

    Attacking Iran is just another war crime, and it's already in progress. You must be proud of your war criminals, the American people are not.

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    >You're the one who voted democrat,
    >or was that another lie?

    No.. I voted for Bill Nelson for Senate. He just happens to be a Democrat but, in my opinion was the best man for the job...

    >So it's YOUR democrats that are wrong.
    >And it's your republicans that are also wrong.

    Wrong again.. I claim no party affiliation whatsoever.. I even am registered that way.

    Can you make the same claim??

    >But it's not democrats that are
    >supporting the republican idiocy,

    No??? So, those weren't Democrats voting to censure and condemn and Iran??

    Who were they?? Body snatchers???

    >Attacking Iran is just another war crime,

    Really??? So, you are saying that you fully support Iran against the United States...

    Is that an accurate statement???

    >You must be proud of your war criminals,
    >the American people are not.

    I don't know of any war criminals or war crimes..

    I DO hear a lot of hysterical whining and crying about "lies" and "crimes" and such.. But it's all BS propaganda from the luzers who can't handle that they have been wrong about everything that has occurred...

    Present company excepted, of course.. :D


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