No Message, No Mission
by Deacon Blues
As noted around these parts for a while now, the same Obama team that was so good at messaging during the campaign has proven itself unable to establish an ongoing narrative and hammer a message while in power. A campaign that was built upon change quickly dissolved into a myriad of competing messages once the Chicago cabal met Wall Street and the Beltway inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As a result, both the President and his party are in jeopardy heading into the midterms.
The New York Times noted this morning that the White House seems to be flailing about for a consisent message and selling points. This is not new. Voters have no clear idea what Obama and the Democrats stand for after being in total power since early 2009. Sure, the Blue Dogs and effective GOP obstructionism have undercut any true numerical advantages the Democrats have, but the lack of an underlying message or distinction between the two parties allows voters to cast protest votes for political flakes and crazies even when they don't necessarily agree with their stated agenda.
Stan Greenberg and James Carville's Democracy Corps released a study last week which pointed out that the White House "message of the week" was failing to engage voters, while a consistent message built around "changing Washington for the middle class" scores the best with Democrats and winnable independents. So specifically, which messages work?
The Democrat is the one who wants to change Washington so it is not run by corporate lobbyists and Wall Street, but works for the middle class. He or she supports tax cuts for middle class and small business and new American industries, while the Republican has pledged to maintain tax cuts for the top 2 percent and protect the right to export American jobs.
There is a second message that centers on made in America, creating American jobs and opposing the Republicans who supports trade agreements and tax breaks for companies that export American jobs. The message is strongest with older women and seniors and with independents.
The strongest attack on the Republicans centers on Social Security and Medicare – that have re-emerged as issues as Republican candidates, the Tea Party and House Republican leaders decided this is not a third rail. It is the strongest attack here.
What doesn't work? Talking about "going back to Bush's policies" and talking about the economy showing signs of life. Voters don't want to hear happy talk about a sick economy they can see with their own eyes, or about the last president they already blame for the mess we're in. Instead, they want to know what priorities Obama and the Democrats have to move forward.
There's nothing magical about any of this. Talking about change in tangible forms is very easy to understand, and clearly differentiates you from your political opponents.
*What's good for Main Street trumps Wall Street;
*Health care should favor patients and doctors over HMOs and drug companies;
*Change Washington to work for the middle class, not lobbyists;
*Whatever is good for small employers and workers is good for America;
*Tax cuts are for those who create jobs and goods here at home;
*Big corporations have a responsibility to this country and our communities;
*"Made in America" is all that matters.
Once you've established the basic narrative of who you stand for and what you oppose, it's easier to toss in any subsidiary arguments or examples that buttress your overall message, such as any attacks upon foreign financing of our elections through the Chamber of Commerce, or the Big Oil bankrolling of the Tea Party. But since the Obama White House and Democratic leadership have failed to even establish the basic narrative, their most recent lunges towards a message come across as empty and desperate.
Obama let Larry Summers and Tim Geithner convince him he needed to be nice to Wall Street - a terrible mistake which immediately eviscerated his whole agenda and message. Add to that mistake a terrible and naive miscalculation by the Chicago cabal that the election was an affirmation of their candidate personally and less a rejection of the Bush GOP, rendering in their minds the need for a basic message moot. Let's hope that when the White House picks up the pieces for the next two years, they start by doing what should have been done two years ago.