One of the biggest problems the Democratic Party has is its failure at communication and messaging. They’ve had this problem for a long time and at times it doesn’t appear like they care to do anything about it.
What’s in the health bill? Can “average” Americans describe it? I doubt it. Can elected Democratic officials? They haven’t yet, that’s for sure. Instead of a five minute, convoluted laundry list of “cool things”, how would this have played out:
Medicare For All.
There’s no need for expanded explanations with that. Americans generally know about the program. Cons’ complaints about paying for the program wouldn’t have done much against it. Instead, there were five different versions of health-related legislation running through different committees and the Cons took the lead in whining about imaginary negative aspects from all of them. Democrats didn’t deliver a unified, simple message telling Americans what they were trying to pass. The result? Confusion, mistrust and rejection.
What’s in the climate and energy bill? I doubt you could find one person in a thousand on any street in America who knows anything of substance in it. Why is that? How much time did Democrats spend on getting their message on climate and energy out? There are some really good policies in the House version. Democrats should be out there championing those policies and demanding that Republicans in the Senate get on board with them. Instead, what have most Americans heard of it? The Cons calling it cap-and-tax. It doesn’t matter that calling it such doesn’t reflect reality – they’ve done so much work to develop a negative reaction to “taxes” that it automatically generates the response they want. In contrast, different liberal interest groups all want to focus on different parts of the bill, diffusing any potential high-level message that would present something Americans could get behind.
The MA Senate race that just ended offers up a perfect example of what I’m talking about. The tea-bagging Con, Scott Brown, did a masterful job of defining himself as an “independent”, “regular guy”. Who was Martha Coakley? A successful AG is probably the closest anyone, inside MA or out, could come of describing her. One of the most important aspects of any political campaign is defining your opponent before and better than they define you (just ask Angie Paccione and Marilyn Musgrave about this). On this, Brown did a much better job than Coakley. In a week’s time, the progressive blogosphere found item after item that could have and should have been used to define Brown. Why wasn’t this done a month ago?
Think of this another way. Corporations use commercials to deliver their message. The more simple and direct that message is, the more successful the advertising is and, generally speaking, the more successful the corporation is. Nike doesn’t make commercials with 15 messages. Coca-Cola doesn’t have mushy advertisements leaving you wondering what their product is.
The Cons get that. They spend time and money finding out what simple message illicits the exact response they’re looking for on any issue. Then they all deliver that simple message over and over and over. Things like “Death Panels”, “tax and spend”, “tort reform” and “activist judges” easily come to mind.
There are examples of Democrats “getting it”. Obama’s slogan of “Hope” strongly resonated. So did John Edwards’ “Two Americas”. So did Bill Ritter’s “New Energy Economy”.
The Cons are much better at politics than Democrats are. The Democrats are better at governing than the Cons are. Guess what – you can’t do the latter until after you’ve done the former. Even then, once in office, we progressives are constantly frustrated that the Cons have an easier time of defining the debate than we have. Death panels. Tax hikes. What about the public option, an approach to health care that most voters still want, even though few have pushed the meme publicly in the past year.
Democrats operate too often in Con frames. Passage of policies that a majority of Americans want will continue to require more work than it should until that changes.
Cross-posted at SquareState.