Democratic Messaging Shirks Security
Most of you have heard by now that the Beltway Democrats rolled out the first look of their fall campaign last week, and it frankly is lame. When Nancy Pelosi rolled out the “New Directions for America” platform Saturday on the Democrats national radio address, one could not help but see that it was easy to ignore. Once again, the agenda and its packaging seemed to be a creation of the same losing Beltway consultants who have lost elections for Democrats repeatedly. There is nothing wrong with touting an increase in the minimum wage, making prescription drugs more affordable, making college tuition tax deductible, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and calling for 2006 to be a transition year in Iraq. All of these ideas could have been cribbed from the most recent polls and written by any consultant for thousands of dollars, or by me for free. And as stated and packaged, they are still losers when this party has been out of power for six years and has still not figured out how to deal with voters’ gateway anxiety over security above all else.
Democrats cannot close the sale with voters and neuter the usual Rovian counterarguments this fall until they gain the voters’ trust that the party gets it on terrorism and real security. Lobbing a bunch of poll-driven bite-sized chunks of primarily domestic initiatives without the right framing and storyline allows the GOP to use its media to not only ignore this agenda but to trample it into the ground as they yell how weak Democrats are on everything. We already have determined that the Democrats will not agree on Iraq, and that the White House and GOP will actually bulldoze the Democrats this fall for talking surrender and appeasement in Iraq. Because of their disagreements on Iraq, it still looks like Pelosi and Reid haven’t cobbled together a narrative on Iraq that can push back against this smear, and attack the over-arching White House plan to fight terror by taking over and permanently occupying the Middle East, toppling regimes as deemed necessary.
Framing the miderms as an election about the country’s true security choices can turn the debate back against the GOP and make them defend their record, while showing voters that Democrats are comfortable addressing security concerns on our turf and not as defined by the GOP. And we can show voters that there is a Democratic alternative, which can give voters a real choice this November, and an opportunity to envision how a Democratic congress can become an equal partner in the government and a true overseer of a failing executive branch. But to do that, Democrats need to frame the debate by grasping security at the outset, instead of seemingly running away from it or treating it like a sideshow. To that end, I have a few suggestions.
Instead of talking about “New Directions”, why can’t we confront the GOP directly and debate this fall what "Real Security” could look like?
To the GOP, homeland security and fighting terrorism means permanent war, a collapsed state of our creation in Iraq, a failing Afghanistan, Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans, the Dubai Ports deal, unguarded nuclear and chemical plants, and open borders. Democrats will bring home the National Guard and reserves from Iraq, improve FEMA, secure our critical infrastructure and ports of entry, secure our borders, and hire 100,000 new police to attack gangs and the methamphetamine problem in our communities. Democrats will also refocus our security efforts overseas away from the GOP’s desire for permanent bases for ongoing war in the Middle East, towards stabilizing Iraq through a regional security agreement with our allies and a focused campaign against Al Qaeda using our Special Forces. Democrats will also ask the tough questions about how we were led into the Iraq war.
To the GOP, economic security at home means a tax system tilted for the wealthy, record deficits driven by tax cuts and auto-pilot defense spending, wasteful corporate welfare instead of help for Main Street, and declining wages for most Americans at a time of rising prices. Democrats will improve economic and job security by raising the minimum wage; make the tax system simpler, fairer, and more pro-growth; eliminate corporate shelters, loopholes, and subsidies that sacrifice our jobs and communities; rein in defense spending; and make Main Street just as important as Wall Street. Democrats will also find out why Corporate America is dictating our tax policies.
To the GOP, energy security means an energy policy written up in secret by Dick Cheney and the oil companies that leads to rising gas prices, a war driven partly by oil, record oil company profits, all without reducing our reliance on oil or the Middle Eastern states that produce it or finance terrorism. Democrats will push for energy security and independence by eliminating Big Oil’s tax breaks and subsidies, investigate price gouging by the oil companies, push for the development of home-grown fuel supplies and the creation of alternate energy industries and jobs. Democrats will also raise fuel mileage standards and push automakers to build fuel-efficient and safe cars here at home, reduce our need for Middle Eastern oil, and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions while making other countries meet the same standards we do.
To the GOP, health security means subjecting our seniors to the whims of the drug industry; ignoring the need for health insurance to be available and affordable; and ignoring the rising cost of health insurance for employers, while devising new tax breaks for the wealthy with health savings accounts. Democrats will push for real health security by fixing the Medicare Part D drug benefit by removing the doughnut hole and stripping the corporate welfare for drug companies and HMOs. Democrats will push for universal health care by expanding Medicare gradually over the coming years, and allow employers to pool their purchasing of health policies to reduce their costs.
To the GOP, government security means acting like both Big Brother and the Big ATM, by hiding from Congress what the White House is doing; raising millions from corporations and giving them special favors while ignoring everyday Americans; and violating your privacy and grabbing your personal information without telling Congress who ends up with that data and why. Democrats will make our government more secure by making it more representative, by holding the White House accountable for its contracting with campaign contributors, providing real oversight on government spending, and returning the control of Congress to the people by pushing for a clean Congress through the voluntary public funding of congressional races.
To the GOP, Social Security means privatization and leaving your pension to the mercies of Wall Street. To Democrats, it means protecting Social Security from the GOP, as well as protecting your pension from being mismanaged and then dumped on the taxpayers by your employer.
I submit that this message and framing can be improved, but it will in the end be more successful than the pap that was rolled out over the weekend. And can someone explain for me why Social Security never seemed to come up in the "New Directions for America" pitch? Or did the consultants simply overlook that one?