About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Messaging & Politics

So it's That Time of the Year, that biennial season when you can turn to CSPAN at off-hours or streaming on their website with oodles and oodles of political debates.

And it's that time when I am perennially reminded how good the Republican Party is.  Not on ideas or policies, there are very few of those that I agree with, but their messaging is always so much better and so much more consistent.  You watch a handful of debates, you'll see the Republicans trotting out their well-tested talking points.  And you'll see the Democrats -- well, you never know what you'll see the Democrats doing.  Do Democratic strategists watch debates?  Can't they figure out after the first few what the Republican message is and start to get some counterpoints out by the time debate season is into its third or fourth weeks?  Will Democrats ever realize that you can get only so far trying to distance yourself from your party or your President, that one of the great Republican successes of the past four years is their unity, the single-minded purpose of their opposition to the President, their ability to get everyone to switch gears and oppose things they favored two days ago?  Why do I want to trust the Democrats to do anything when they go years and decades not getting their political messaging together?

Several election cycles back, it was clear that the Democrats were doomed when they couldn't seem to figure out any way to sell the estate tax, when week after week in debate after debate they were utterly flummoxed by the Republican message on repealing the death tax.

So of course, it's pointless to look at debates and try and figure out the main message the Democrats are trying to get across, but we can see some of the main Republican themes.

I'm seeing a lot of focus on entitlement programs this year.

Argument #1 is a very nice line, that we need to do something about Social Security and Medicare, and if younger people like myself or my employees will just realize that something needs to be done, if we're willing to recognize that these programs will have to look different in the future than they do today, that we can leave things the way they are for our grandparents.  This is a very powerful argument, and the mainstream media isn't picking up on it or talking about it very much.  It's an argument that is directly contrary to a shibboleth in the commentariat that nobody asks for sacrifice from the American people.  Well, stop, look, what's that sound, one of the main Republican talking points this year is a direct appeal to sacrifice.  This is politics, the argument isn't being made in detailed specifis on the sacrifices that will be needed, but the idea that one generation can make things right for another with a little bit of sacrifice is being made very clearly.

Argument #2 is related, that we need to "fix" Social Security and Medicare.

Now, if I'm a a Democratic political strategist, I'd have a little bit of a hard time finding the right counter to Argument #1.  But what about Argument #2?  There's no Democratic strategist who can get the candidates saying "yeah, haven't we all seen the movie where the bad guy says 'I need to you to fix this for me,' and we all know even though it's never said what the fix is supposed to be?  

Also on the messaging front, the 47% remark Mitt Romney made does seem to have done a lot more severe damage to his presidential hopes than the "legitimate rape" comment to Todd Akin's Senate race in Missouri.  Why do some Republicans think, and maybe correctly, that Akin could still win with the right support, while Romney's remarks have clearly hurt not just his campaign but had some downwind effect on Senate races as well ??

Agree or disagree with the statements, or with the positions they lead to, Akin's actual position isn't really different from the Republican party's platform.  He takes a different approach than others might to get to that position, but when you get down to it, his comment will cost him votes mostly from people who disagree with his reasoning.  If you disagree with the position itself, you probably weren't voting for him anyway.  Since his position is reflective of the party platform, he has a valid argument now when he campaigns against the political bosses who are running from him.  Which helps to limit losses from that group of "position yes, reasoning no" people.

The problem with Romney's remark about the 47% is that he doesn't seem to realize that a lot of the wonderful political messaging the Republican party has, see Argument #1 and Argument #2 above, see turning the estate tax into a death tax, is designed to get votes from the 47%.  From seniors on Social Security who don't pay income tax, and might be willing to have Social Security and Medicare fixed or saved so long as it's more the other guy's burden than theirs.  So leave aside all of the agreeing or disagreeing with the statement, it costs votes from people on his side.

That's when the gaffe can become a really huge problem, when it will cost you votes among people who were planning to vote for you on a position basis, not because they already disagreed with the position, or who wish you wouldn't say things like that in public, but with people who were on your side of the ledger and now wonder if/why they should be.

And downwind, it's a lot harder for the Republican candidates for the House and Senate to disavow Romney's positions.  If there are people on the Republican side of the ledger who start to question if that's the side to be on, you can't do what you just did with Todd Akin and kind of disavow the person while keeping with the policy.

Personal preference aside, Bob Kerrey doesn't deserve to win his Senate race in Nebraska.  He was saying yes, we need to fix or repair or mend Social Security or Medicare, only with less passion and less articulately than his opponent, Deb Fischer.  Who clearly considers these to be winning issues for her.  So if both candidates support the same policy, you've got to vote for the better advocate.  Isn't there a Democratic strategist somewhere who can supply Kerrey with words that he can say with enthusiasm and passion that don't try quite so hard to cede the main issue in the campaign to his opponent.

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