Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Democrats fail to learn how to fight from GOP

While a lot of what the GOP is doing is illegal and immoral, there are a lot of valuable lessons our elected officials could easily be learning from them.

These fall into two broad categories, what the right does themselves and what they tell democrats NOT to do.

What they do themselves:

  • they have a few simple, understandable talking points/ goals.

  • The goals are concrete enough that any idiot could see how they would be translated into actions.

  • there are coherent principles under their talking points:

    Business is good and needs to be unchained.

    In fact, you can tell what they care about by applying their own principles:

    If you love it, set it free. If you hate it, regulate it to death.

    If you love it, give it money (budget funding, tax breaks, subsidies, or contracts). If you hate it, starve it of money (Norquist's 'starve the beast').

    Therefore, they love oil companies and hate education. (but they don't ever say this)

  • they repeat them ad nauseum for DECADES until they become conventional wisdom.

    One of their biggest successes at this was the 'Social Security isn't going to be there when you retire' meme. They repeated this so often that people under 40 actually believe it, which is why the Bushies had some hope of passing their privatization scam.

  • they actually work toward these as goals (with the glaring exception of balancing the budget)

  • they scream loudly when they suffer a setback on these goals.

  • They do not fear public, even emotional, conflict in pursuit of these goals.

    Conflict is what makes people pay attention and get emotionally involved.

    If you just say something nice in a nice way, you make about as much of an impression as that Hallmark birthday card your grandma sends you with calligraphy and a water color duck pond on the front--none.

    If the opposition starts to complain or criticize, that means you have done something right, not wrong.

  • They do not pre-compromise.

    They start with what they actually want and make the other side demand that they water it down. Then they compromise only grudgingly. Democrats often start with a compromise position and by the time negotiations are over, nothing is left.

  • They understand that EVERY vote communicates their values

    Even if you are going to lose, you should vote your core values. Even if the other side complains about it, they are doing you a favor by telling voters what you will fight for.

  • They figure out where their opposition is getting support and destroy that financial base.

    Grover Norquist has said this explicitly. Making lawsuits more difficult not only does business a direct, obvious favor, but it starves trials lawyers of funds and trial lawyers give money to democrats. Anti-labor laws and the complimentary DLC effort to shed union money from the Democrats has a similar effect; with that money gone, the Democrats either shrivel or turn to corporate donors who they then become beholden to.

    Democrats should do the same. An ethical way to do this is with public funding of campaigns, and requiring TV to carry a set number of campaign commercials for free in exchange for their broadcast licenses. This would choke corporate money out of the GOP, and leave them with just the religious right (who would actually agree with us on a lot of economic issues like trade).

  • They treat communication as a primary tool, not an afterthought or a way to reward loyal flunkies with a job (that's what FEMA is for).

    If there was a GOP equivalent of Bob Shrum who ran the kind of shitty, dickless, forgetable commercials and gave the advice to a Republican he gave to John Kerry, we would not know his name because he wouldn't have made it to the presidential level. He would be the janitor at GOP headquarters.

  • They energize their base.

    We saw this most clearly in Kerry v. Bush. Kerry was aiming for the middle, to pick up undecided votes, and Bush was aiming to excite his base to get them out to the polls. While Kerry may have won some the middle, his base went to the polls more to vote against Bush than for him. If he had a less obviously dangerous opponent like Papa Bush, the base would have stayed home.

    The GOP does this with hot button issues like abortion or gay marriage, and put them on the ballot when they want people to show up at the polls. The Democrats could easily find a couple of substantive issues to drive people to the polls too, like raising the minimum wage or anti-corruption initiatives.

    If there was a 'No More Dick Cheney/Halliburton style cronyism' propositon ont he ballot, I'm going to the polls, and I'd probably vote for the Democrat too, no matter how bland or weak-kneed.

  • they talk about morals

    It is immoral to let people die so drug companies and insurance companies can make greater profits.

    It is immoral that a smart kid takes ten years to get through college because he has to flip burgers full time to pay for it, or go to Iraq and get a leg blown off to qualify for government assistance to pay for school.

    It is immoral to invade other countries to give the oil to corporations as we did in Iraq, or try to over-throw fairly elected presidents to give the oil to corporations as we tried to do in Venezuela.

    It is immoral that corporations that send our jobs overseas often pay no taxes and get subsidies.

    It is immoral for elected officials to go to work for businesses they should have been policing when they were in office, or letting corporations pick the heads of the agencies that regulate them.

    It is immoral to take from the poor and middle class and give to the rich.
The other category where Democrats fail to learn from the GOP is the advice they give us, or at least Democrats learn the wrong lesson--they actually take it as sincere advice. We should do the opposite in nearly every case. When they say:
  • 'Don't be seen as obstructionist,' we should be obstructionist. Think about it. You are out of power and don't control the media. If you do nothing, it sends the message that you agree with what's going on, or worse, that you don't even exist.

    If you consistently opposed the other side, even when that other side is popular, you have at least established a recognizable brand. People would know what you stand for and when they get sick of the party in power, they already know what you would do.

    The current 'rope a dope' strategy at best sends the message that Democrats would be less obviously corrupt. It also plays into the GOP meme that we are weak on defense. If you don't fight for your ideas, why should I believe you will fight for our safety?

    The GOP meme of the Dems being the 'mommy party' is largely reinforced, and the 'daddy party' is a nasty drunk and wife beater. If you run to mom for protection a couple of times and she just gets the belt for dad, you stop going to her and either kiss up to dad or just hide.

    That's why the right feared Howard Dean so much--he fought back and didn't look like a coward.

  • Don't engage in class warfare. Rush Limbaugh says this so loudly and at the slightest provocation that it should be a clue that it's an achilles heel for the right. Even Bush himself asked Cheney if they needed to give the rich ANOTHER tax cut.

    It is possible to say the right is pandering to the rich without being anti-wealth and success. We are simply asking them to make a fair contribution and play by the same rules as the rest of us.

  • Don't be partisan. This is just asinine. When someone says this, repeat the core values you are fighting for, and ask the public if you want someone to fight for those or not, then don't address it again.

  • Don't go too far left. Remember Paul Wellstone, the most liberal member of the Senate? This would have been Paul Wellstone’s final election ad:

    "I don’t represent the big oil companies. I don’t represent the big pharmaceutical companies. I don’t represent the Enrons of this world. But you know what? They already have great representation in Washington. It’s the rest of the people that need it.”

    That was such a losing message that the only way he was removed from office was a plane crash.

    He not only had a distinctly different message than the GOP, it was simple, obvious, and right.

    That’s what they are afraid of, and why they are laughing at us when we put up half-assed DLC candidates—because even if the DLCers win, we lose and nothing changes.
There are probably more that I’m forgetting. Feel free to add them.

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