The DNC just gave a presentation on framing and messaging here at YearlyKos. It began by comparing a Republican campaign ad in which Bush (running for pres. in 2004) appeals to Latinos — no mention of legislation, just talk of values, faith, personal responsibility, wealth, patriotism, and so on. Soaring music, flags waving, children with their grandparents, you know the drill. That was followed by a New Democrat Institute ad that says 12 million Latinos have no health insurance and a Democratic plan would cover 8 million of them, all spliced with rapid fire shots of Latinos in America. Everyone immediately jumped all over the Democratic ad, which was the point. George Lakoff, king of framing, sitting in the audience, gave it a thumbs down.
The point the DNC made is that the average American thinks about politics for 5 minutes a month. Why appeal to them through the mind, as we have customarily done? Instead, mimic the Republican approach of appealing through the heart. Policy, which is on the forefront for Dems, should be secondary to values.
Okay, maybe. But this sort of thinking usually comes hand in hand with a second critique, one the DNC kind of made today: the Democrats have no ideas. Or if they do have ideas, they don’t know what truly animates them.
It’s surprising to still hear this. This was the idea that everyone pushed from 2002-2005: Democrats don’t know what they stand for, blah blah blah. It all ended in 2006 when the Democrats took both houses of Congress. The missed message of that election, I believe, was that Democrats didn’t have a better frame than the GOP, didn’t suddenly discover what they stood for, didn’t have new ideas.
Democrats simply waited until the Republicans did enough to piss off voters. Politics goes in cycles. And what’s more, just to do some more pop political science, I believe the Democrats will always represent enough ideas to claim roughly 50 percent of America, and the Republicans will do the same, given our current system, anyway. If an extreme right portion of the Republican base rises in importance, for example, the Democrats move slightly rightward to claim some more votes. Minute shifts of the parties keep things perpetually in balance.
So when, in 2005, the DNC unveiled the official Dem mantra, “Together, America Can Do Better… A New Direction For America” I would argue it didn’t do a whole lot. The DNC argued today that having everyone on the same page was useful, and I can’t argue, but… “A New Direction For America,” really? Maybe we should reconsider how important framing was in shifting the political balance leftward in the last year, and maybe the DNC should reconsider continuing to push the “no ideas” meme. It’s a schtick past its time.
PS — The Dems frame for the next election is “Strong Leadership for America’s Future.” Look for it.