Democrats, Obama, President Obama, Republicans — January 30, 2010 at 10:45 am

In retrospect, Pres.Obama really made a strategic error


Anyone who has read my blog in the past year knows I’m one of those who is out front with in support of the president and his administration. This blog entry doesn’t change that. But I am going to acknowledge this: when it comes to messaging, the president has left it to Congressional Democrats and they don’t know what the hell they are doing. And we are seriously paying the price for that on nearly every issue we’re fighting for.

Barack Obama knows messaging. That much was clear from his campaign and we got another tasty glimpse of it yesterday when he went into the lions’ den of the Republican party and then tweaked their short hairs on national television.

But over the past year he’s put the message control into the hands of Democrats who don’t know how to handle it and that was a mistake. He’s a professor and he should have taught them how to do it first – they apparently didn’t learn by watching his presidential campaign. Yesterday’ fun in Baltimore with the GOPosaurs was Lesson #1. I hope they were paying attention.

Jed Lewison’s front page essay on the Daily Kos yesterday titled “Democratic message fail: Just 26% know breaking filibuster requires 60 votes” was what made this hit home for me. In that essay he points out that:

  1. Only a third of Americans polled by Pew Knowledge know that Republicans have given NO support to the health care bills in Congress and,
  2. Only a quarter of them know that it takes a super-majority in the Senate to break a filibuster.

Jed’s right. That’s message fail to the nth degree. There’s all this ammo just lying around in the middle of a firefight in the Messaging Wars and the Democrats are throwing pebbles instead. They seem to have no comprehension of how to fight the Messaging Wars. They have a tin ear when it comes to the messages that the Republicans are pushing and it constantly puts them in defense mode EVEN WHEN THEY HAVE THE SUPPORT OF MOST AMERICANS AND A MAJORITY IN THEIR CHAMBERS!!!


Here’s an example of how the Republicans do this so well from my own Congressional District, MI-07. I wrote about this last week. Far-right Republican Tim Walberg, who held the seat for a single term prior to 2008 when he was defeated by Mark Schauer, a solid Democrat, said this in a press release on January 26th, citing my Huffington Post piece:

Despite the Democrats’ loss in the Massachusetts Senate race and 61% of voters wanting Congress to drop the health care plan, Mark Schauer, himself trailing in his re-election bid, has decided to push full steam ahead for the Democrats’ health care plan.

At the Western Washtenaw Democrats meeting last Friday, Mark Schauer came out strongly in favor of pushing the Democrats’ health care bill through the Senate without the standard requirement of 60 votes.

It’s subtle but there it is. Walberg takes a bogus claim that 61% of Schauer’s constituents don’t want health insurance reform (69% in MI-07 favor a public option) then couples it with an even more bogus assertion that the “standard requirement” to pass legislation is 60 votes. Keep in mind this is a House race!

Will Schauer attack him on this? I hope so. He’s been showing a bit of fire in his belly of late and it seems like the freshman members of Congress are about the only ones showing any guts and fortitude these days. But I’m not optimistic because the Congressional Dems have shown a frustrating propensity to back down when they are confronted.

I know why this is. There are a number of reasons. The first is that it’s been about a decade since they wielded any real power in terms of a majority in Congress. Very simply, they have forgotten how. That’s why the newcomers are showing the most audacity these days: they haven’t learned to go lay down by their bowl/sit down, shut up/go wait in the truck.

Also, God love ’em, Democrats are generally just nicer people. Most of them, not all, of course, but most of them have a very hard time looking at a camera or a reporter or a constituent and telling a bald-faced lie like there is a “standard requirement of 60 votes” to pass laws or that health insurance reform is a government takeover or that the stimulus package last year to save our economy is a “bailout”, etc., etc. Democrats are lousy liars.

Probably the biggest reason we’re failing the Messaging Wars, though, is that Democrats don’t train their members how to do it properly. On the Republican side their candidates are trained from early on to use tactics like those employed by Lee Atwater and Karl Rove to smear their opponents. If they don’t attend the conservative Leadership Institute to be formally trained, they simply pick it up from watching the dirty tricks played and the steady stream of lies told by their Republican mentors. If they learn nothing more than to “pick a message even if it’s a lie then tell it over and over and over again until people believe it”, they are ahead of Democrats.

President Obama needs to teach Democrats how to win the Messaging War. His campaign staff were masters at this and those same people now need to come forward to show Democratic members of Congress how to shift debates & frame their opponents in a way that benefits Democrats and the American people in order to get things done.

Here’s a couple of places to start:

On Health Insurance Reform

  • Combat the Republican “government take-over of health care” meme by pushing a “government is on the side of the common folk, not the big-moneyed insurance companies” meme.
  • Make sure the American people know that over 100 Republican ideas were put into the House bill and still not one single Republican voted for it.
  • Make sure Americans know we spend more than any other country on health care per person than any other country and still don’t have the best outcomes.
  • Tell Americans the Democratic bill lowers the deficit without raising taxes, the Republicans’ plans do NOT.
  • Tell Americans how Republicans are supporting collusion between health insurance companies to keep prices high by protecting their anti-trust immunity.

On taxes

  • Tell Americans taxes have not been raised on one single individual under President Obama and 95% of all Americans had a tax cut.
  • Show how Obama lowered taxes on small businesses.
  • Show how super-wealthy Americans pay far less taxes than middle class Americans on a percentage basis.
  • Tell Americans that, even after the Bush Millionaire/Billionaire Tax Cuts expire, these wealthiest Americans will still be paying less than under President Reagan

On Congress and legislating

  • Make sure Americans know that a minority of Senators (the Republicans), are preventing passage of health insurance reform
  • Force Republicans to filibuster so that Americans can see them interfering on the nightly news for days on end.
  • Show this chart to Americans over and over and over again:

God knows they have plenty of ammunition laying around, plenty of low-hanging and deliciously-ripe fruit there for the taking. They have a very short time to make the best use of it before the November mid-terms. Let’s hope they figure that out.

I’m just sayin’…