About Friday Talking Points
Our weekly Friday Talking Points column (always available at FridayTalkingPoints.com -- bookmark it today!) grew out of a very basic idea: Democrats (as a group) are just pathetically bad at trying to get their own ideas across (in any sort of easy-to-understand way) to the multitude of people in America who live outside the Beltway. Time after time Democrats prove -- to themselves, their supporters, and the world at large -- that they are just downright incapable of conveying their political message in any sort of simple and effective way.
In fact, during the process of updating the text of the page you are now reading, I came across a perfect example of how true this is. From the Democratic House member who was asked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be the chief coordinator of the Democratic message on healthcare reform in 2009, comes (buried in an article warning about Sarah Palin's mass appeal) confirmation of this basic premise:
"I dutifully tried to put out some simple guidelines about themes we House Democrats should employ as we developed what at that point was an unformed proposal. ... Needless to say, virtually no one delivered the message. Many members were already freaked out by the public reaction to other major legislative initiatives we had pursued. And since we were internally divided over concepts like the 'public option' that dominated media discussion, the 'message' got away from us early on, never to be recaptured."
This, I should point out, is just one solid proof of the theory that getting Democrats to speak with a single voice in the media and in public is tougher than the old well-known superlative in the "hard-to-accomplish" category: herding cats. In other words, this is just the most recent proof that Democrats are, sadly, not able to do this sort of thing very well.
This inherent (one might almost say "inbred," if one were feeling particularly snarky) Democratic problem is what inspired me to start my own career in political commentary, I should mention -- by providing the impetus for writing my bestselling breakthrough book (so to speak... ahem...) How Democrats Can Take Back Congress, right before the 2006 midterm election. Democratic inability to communicate a cohesive message of why they're better than the alternative goaded me into writing this pamphlet of a book, in the hopes of waking up some Democrats in Washington. I then personally sent a copy to every sitting Democratic officeholder in Congress at the time. Since then, Democrats have won two subsequent elections and have, indeed, taken back Congress. I'm not saying I had anything to do with this turn of events, but there it is. But then again, by ignoring my sage weekly Friday Talking Points advice, Democrats have now lost the House of Representatives once again -- proving it is really hard to get through to these people.
Our work, in other words, seems never to be done here at the Friday Talking Points editorial offices. Sigh.
About the time I started publicly publishing my own political philosophy, I was influenced by a number of other progressive and scientific voices both in print and on the internet, which I feel duty-bound to mention here, in case anyone is interested in what the real professionals have to say on the subject. The most profound of these influences was psychologist Drew Westen, via his excellent book The Political Brain: How We Make Up Our Minds Without Using Our Heads, which is truly a seminal work for all left-leaning wordsmiths. Also of primary influence are the writings of George Lakoff, a neuroscientist who examines the subject from a unique perspective, in such books as Don't Think Of An Elephant! Know Your Values And Frame The Debate, as well as The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics With An 18th-Century Brain -- both of which I highly recommend. Less influential to me personally, but still worthy of mention, was Thomas Frank's well-renowned book What's The Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won The Heart Of America. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a book with a long and amusing subtitle, I don't know. My favorite, in this regard, has to be the gold standard of both subtitle length as well as basic message, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg's incomparable Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism Into A Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show, which is worth buying just on the strength of the subtitle alone, don't you think? Well, you should -- because it's another excellent resource for Democratic wordsmithing.
In other words, this column series stands as a toddler -- a shaky and newly bipedal being, as it were -- on the shoulders of the giants in the field. The only thing we can claim here which these pioneers cannot is that we try to accomplish a similar thing, on a very in-the-trenches weekly basis. We attempt to humbly put into practice their words of wisdom and linguistic suggestions in a continuing and ongoing effort to provide clueless Democratic politicians with a lifeline of proper framing and messaging, in a very up-to-date fashion -- as a handy reference any prominent Democrat should really consult before appearing on that weekend's Sunday morning talk shows.
Other influences on the column's format and tone were DemocraticUnderground.com's weekly "Top 10 Conservative Idiots Of The Week" column (once a regular weekly feature appearing Monday mornings, now sadly suspended for the time being). And (although I quite modestly believe Friday Talking Points actually predates it...) the "Sunday Talking Heads" column series by Jason Linkins over at The Huffington Post has also had a very strong influence on my Friday writing -- especially Linkins' bitingly sarcastic humor, which I routinely attempt to emulate (and admittedly fall short of, on a regular basis).
Originally, the Friday Talking Points column itself was pretty straightforward (as seen by the format of the first extremely-crude FTP column, published 9/14/07), which was (as measured by today's standard) a fairly short column. After a few weeks, the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award was added to the format. In fairness, and for balance, the complimentary Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award was also soon added to the program. The first MDDOTW appeared in FTP , and the first MIDOTW appeared in FTP , for those interested in exhuming such relics.
Since that time, we have admittedly become rather predictably formulaic. Our weekly offering now consists of three major parts -- introduction, awards, and talking points. The introduction can be as long or as short as necessary, and covers any subjects which demand attention from the previous week's political landscape, or otherwise spark our fancy. The awards, of course, are directed at Democrats and single out the best and the worst performers on the political stage from the previous week, in our awards committee's humble opinion. The actual "talking points" part of the program can be either serious and targeted, or whimsical and overblown; depending on the mood of the FTP editorial staff that particular week. And sometimes, the entire section is pre-empted by what can only be described as a rant -- whenever the ranting urge strikes us.
As you can tell, we here at Friday Talking Points have one definite quirk, which we share with the British royalty -- we simply love to use the pronoun "we." Now, when the Queen of England says "we," it is technically known as the "royal 'we'," while when we use it is more properly known as the "editorial 'we'," but it's still just as fun to do -- at least, that's what we think about the subject.
Silliness aside, though, feel free to browse through the full FTP archives, or check out the FTP Awards page which has full lists of the MIDOTW and MDDOTW award winners (and which is getting long enough that we really should update it and make it searchable, at the very least).
One last note (to give credit where credit is due), the standard Friday Talking Points images and section headings were created by our in-house cartoonist, C.W. Cunningham, for which we are eternally grateful.
If you have any suggestions, questions, or complaints about the Friday Talking Points columns (or anything else that's on your mind), feel free to drop me a note by way of the Email Chris page here.
[Note: Democratic National Committee members, please use the Email Chris page to send high-salaried job offers to Chris. It certainly couldn't hurt, could it?]